Core facilitation team
James Whelan (co-director) has worked extensively in the community sector, in research and adult education. As a community educator and activist, James has worked with many nongovernment and grassroots community and environment groups on campaigns for social and environmental justice. As a researcher and lecturer, he has been engaged by several Australian universities and has published widely on participatory democracy, environmental politics, popular education and social movements. His community and academic worlds merge in his work as director of the Change Agency, a not-for-profit that provides education, training, facilitation and action research support for social change groups throughout Australia and the Pacific. James has facilitated campaign planning, decision-making and evaluation workshops and meetings with hundreds of social movement organisations in the Australia-Pacific region. He is director of the Australian Community Organising Fellowship. James lives with his partner in Newcastle, on the land of the Awabakal and Worimi people.
Alex Ryan (co-director) has worked in environment, social justice and international development-related fields in the Asia Pacific region for over 25 years, including 13 years living and working in Indonesia. This has included local and international forest campaigns, disaster response and recovery, and waste reduction and prevention. She is the founder and principal consultant at Hijau Biru, a small team of dedicated and experienced bilingual educators in participatory processes including facilitation skills training, design, monitoring and evaluation and strategic planning. In this role she has led training and capacity building programs for community members, NGO and government staff to work effectively work cross culturally, to engage stakeholders, influence key decision makers, and achieve goals. Alex is also an associate consultant to Humanitarian Benchmark Consulting and RedR Indonesia, humanitarian experts supporting humanitarian agencies in Indonesia. Alex is currently working with people experiencing homelessness in care coordination, outreach and health education in Sydney’s Kings Cross. She has a background in performing arts and public speaking, and is a huge fan of using creative channels to engage community in social change. She has been member of Grup Gedebong Goyang, Bali’s top all-women comedy troupe for the last 8 years, who regularly perform outrageous skits in Balinese and Indonesian to a large fan base on controversial yet super important social issues.
Taya Seidler is an experienced facilitator and educator specialising in the design, implementation and facilitation of professional development and change management programs. Her areas of expertise include leadership development, maximising team performance, and communication and collaboration to support capacity development and lasting behavioural change within individuals and organisational change processes. Taya’s passion is improving the collective capacity of groups to realise their full transformational potential through increasing communication skills and process awareness. She possesses an excellent understanding of adult learning principles and a heightened ability to design learning pathways that are participatory, meaningful and resonant. Taya’s background in the creative industries informs her understanding and application of experiential learning forms and directly informs her engaging facilitation style.
Larissa Baldwin is a young woman from the Widjabul clan of the Bundjalung nation and the National Co-Director for Seed. Larissa leads Seed’s campaigns and strategy nationally ensuring that Seed works in partnership with frontline Indigenous communities and supports young people to be empowered and create change in their communities. Prior to moving to Seed, Larissa was the Queensland Campaigner for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition working across on the Reef and Galilee campaigns. Larissa is passionate about a range of social justice issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and believes in seeking change through self-determination and grassroots leadership. Larissa comes from a family with a strong history of standing up for Aboriginal rights and has worked for many Indigenous organisations, programs and community driven initiatives across the country including the Stronger Smarter Institute, Oxfam and the Ngayundi Aboriginal Health Council.
Dave Muhly has more than 20 years’ experience in student, community and environmental organising and is the Senior Organising Manager in the Sierra Club’s Eastern Region. He supervises seven staff in five states working on retiring coal-fired power plants and promoting renewables and efficiency, ending mountaintop removal coal mining, and addressing community toxics issues.
Dave has been with the Sierra Club for 14 years, working on public lands, energy, and environmental justice and economic transition issues and has been a national, regional and local trainer of other staff, activists and leaders.
Joan Staples has had a long career in policy and advocacy for various Australian NGOs, as well as providing training for community organisers. She was the ACF environment lobbyist in Canberra during the Hawke Government, and spent most of the 1990s in Torres Strait and Cape York employed by indigenous organisations, namely the Cape York Land Council and Apunipima Cape York Health Council. She has also worked throughout the Asia Pacific as director of a small NGO set up by Jose Ramos Horta teaching international human rights law and public advocacy to human rights activists.
In the late 1980s, Joan was state organiser for the embryonic Greens when she helped create a Tasmanian organisation to oversee the 1989 election campaign that gained the balance of power for Bob Brown and his team of Green Independents. She has held board appointments with national NGOs relating to environment, consumers, women, international development and social services and is currently Deputy President of Environment Victoria. She has been a teacher and Visiting Fellow in the Law Faculty at UNSW. Her academic research focuses on the important role of NGOs in Australia’s democracy with a particular emphasis on the environment sector, and she writes a blog on emerging issues in the sector.
Her passion is Australia’s natural environment, both enjoying it and protecting it.
John Hepburn grew up in Central Queensland where his father worked as an engineer in the coal industry. He completed degrees in business and engineering from the Queensland University of Technology and worked for several years as a production engineer making components for the coal, gas and oil industries, before making a career about-turn. After establishing several successful community recycling projects, Hepburn was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study community based environmental programs in the US and Europe. For the past 10 years, Hepburn has played a key strategic role with Greenpeace Australia Pacific, where he has performed a wide variety of roles including managing the climate and energy campaign, the genetic engineering campaign, and the outreach and mobilisation department. He has also worked for Greenpeace International as an advisor to campaign teams in India, China and Japan. Hepburn is currently the executive director of the Sunrise Project, whose mission is to support and empower Australian communities to protect our land, water, community health and the global climate from the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry. When he is not working, he spends most of his time with his family and takes every chance he can to get up to their small farm in the Hunter Valley, which is under threat from coal seam gas mining.
Bob Bingaman is originally from west Texas, and describes himself as a progressive, populist organiser. Bingaman has served since 1993 as National Director of Organising for the Sierra Club, the largest grassroots political environmental organisation in the USA. Bingaman has over 30 years of grassroots organising experience. From 1989 to 1993, Bingaman served as National Field Director for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL). Bingaman also served as NARAL Legislative Representative (1986-89). He has served as a member of the US Student Association (USSA) Board of Directors (1980-82), a member of the USSA Foundation Board (1991-94), a staffer for USSA State Student Associations in Kansas and Pennsylvania (1979-82), and on the national field organising staff of USSA (1982-85). Bingaman has also been an organiser for the National Clean Air Coalition (1985) and worked for nearly a decade as Co-Chair of the Utah Wilderness Coalition, which was dedicated to preserving and protecting nine million acres of Utah’s wilderness. He was Vice-Chair of the Environmental Support Centre, an organisation dedicated to providing organisational capacity building assistance to environmental justice and environmental advocacy bodies. Bingaman is currently Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of Green Corps, a body dedicated to training the next generation of professional environmental organisers.
Kate Smolski, originally from Boston in the US, is an environmental advocate with over 12 years’ experience in grassroots organising, campaign strategy, media relations, policy and lobbying. Kate has worked as a grassroots organiser and campaigner for several leading US environmental non-profits, including Green Corps, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. Kate co-founded the Community Organising Fellowship. Through innovative campaigns and training programs, she has worked with a diverse range of organisations and stakeholders to effectively advocate for action on climate change and clean energy, and for the protection of land and wildlife. From Congressional panels to community halls, her work has focused on effective advocacy, capacity building and the development of broad-based coalitions. Smolski has developed and implemented strategy and organising trainings for dozens of groups in the US and Australia. She moved to Sydney in 2012 and is currently the CEO at the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, where she leads a team working for environmental protection in NSW.
Linda Parlane is a veteran of many campaigns including those to protect the Franklin River, the East Gippsland and other forests, to tackle global warming and encourage sustainable transport. She served as Director of Environment Victoria in the 1990s. Known for her skills in community action, strategy and fundraising, Parlane has long recognised the need for training for environmental activists. In the 2000s she was Manager of Jika Jika Community Centre, and worked on the successful campaign to properly fund Victoria’s Neighbourhood Houses before moving on to manage a project retrofitting community buildings in Melbourne’s north. She has been a member of the Board of the Victorian National Parks Association and is a Life Member of Friends of Merri Creek. Parlane currently works in Community Gardens, and is a volunteer with Moreland Community Solar and on the campaign to save Tasmania’s wonderful Tarkine.
Dave Copeman works as the community organiser for the Queensland Community Alliance. This is the beginning of an alliance of faith groups, charities, unions, community organisations and ethnic associations coming together to work together for the common good. This alliance is based around relationships built across organisations in the local area. It is based on the community organising tradition of the United States, and inspired by and affiliated to the Sydney Alliance and the Industrial Areas Foundation. Copeman has previously worked as a human rights campaigner for Amnesty International in Queensland and East Africa, and was first inspired to work on human rights after volunteering with the Movement for Democratic Change, the political opposition in Zimbabwe, from 2002 to 2004. He has also dabbled in trade union campaigning and worked as a political staffer, an experience that reinforced his belief that communities must organise around their common interests and use mechanisms beyond simple party politics. Copeman is a father of two, Felix and Indigo, and partner to Monica Taylor, who coordinates the Pro-Bono Law Centre at University of Queensland. He is the President of Amnesty International Australia for Queensland and NSW, and a proud member of West End Partisans Football Club.
Joan Staples (profile above)