Core facilitation team
James Whelan (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 Muloobinba (Newcastle) on the land of the Awabakal and Worimi people.
Adele Neale is a 2016 COF fellow and a community organiser at Environment Victoria since 2015, following various roles with other climate campaign organisations. With a background in botany and marine biology, she loves nature and has developed a passion for shifting culture towards protecting the amazing world we get to live in, led by those most affected. Adele has worked with teams of local volunteers in Victoria’s most marginal seats, to build lasting public support for government action on climate change through thousands of conversations with voters. She particularly enjoys training and loves bringing people together to share knowledge and decide to do bold exciting things. She lives on Bunurong/Boonwurrung country in south-east Melbourne, and loves watching the waves roll in at sunset with friends.
Max is a Clean Air Campaigner at Environmental Justice Australia, where he works with communities and health experts to control toxic pollution from coal-fired power stations. Max previously worked at the Australian Conservation Foundation, where he was a community organiser for three and a half years: recruiting, training and building the infrastructure to support a national network of volunteers running ACF campaigns in electorates across the country. Max started life as a campaigner and organiser with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. Max has a law degree, but he’s never been admitted to practice as a lawyer. He preferred the idea of being a grassroots campaigner! Max is a 2016 graduate of the Community Organising Fellowship and a holds post-graduate qualification in community advocacy. Max likes dancing, playing soccer and performing stand-up comedy.
Erin Laurence works behind the scenes person to keep the Community Organising Fellowship running smoothly. They have a background in flat-structured organising and take a great deal of care to ensure the plethora of intersecting and sometimes competing priorities and needs of people and tasks are considered and addressed as efficiently as possible.
Erin takes a great deal of interest in the intersectional political nature of all aspects of life, and enjoys applying an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist perspective to virtually any issue or challenge, and working through solutions with the prioritisation of needs of oppressed and marginalised groups and people foremost in mind.
Erin is a qualified graphic designer, and has worked in a great variety of areas, from helping run a circus (yes, literally!) to working in the human services sector, to casting and producing national TV ad campaigns, and helping set up non-profit accounting and payroll systems, among many other varied roles both paid and voluntary.
You will often find Erin working from home, watering the sunflowers, and working on a pottery wheel or with a crochet hook in their spare time.
Holly Buntman-Ronnenberg has fed each and every cohort since the Fellowship began. Her catering provides us with fabulous vegetarian and vegan meals. The food – and Holly’s commitment to sourcing local, organic and fair-trade supplies – are one of the highlights of the Fellowship. Holly thinks seasonally and focuses on slow food principles.
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.
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 was CEO at the Nature Conservation Council of NSW until 2019, leading a team working for environmental protection in NSW.
Dave Copeman is an experienced community organiser. He was the founding organiser of the Queensland Community Alliance, an alliance of faith organisations, unions, community groups and ethnic associations in Queensland, working to build power for the common good. Dave has been 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. He has also worked for trade unions as a campaigner and as a political advisor. Dave is currently living in Spain with his family, watching football in more reasonable hours, and trying to write about organising.
Ian Lisser is Lead Organiser with the Finance Sector Union in Sydney. As well as having a long history in various roles in the union movement spanning 30 years, from shop floor delegate to union President. Ian is also known for his work in GetUp! and Amnesty International as an activist trainer and facilitator. Ian undertook the COF Fellowship in 2017, the Australian Progress Fellowship in 2016 and the Harvard Leadership, Organising and Action: Leading Change executive program in 2018 as well as having undertaken training with the ACTU, Plan to Win, Ayni Institute and the International Institute for Peace (IIP) and International Centre on Nonviolent Conflict. As well as being focused on organising and building workers power via representative workplace structures and networks, Ian focus in on member to member recruitment, leadership development, mentoring and training of both organisers and workplace leaders.
Jane Stabb is the Community Organising Program Manager at Environment Victoria. Jane leads a team that is building power for the Victorian environment movement, working with *incredible* volunteer and community groups in key areas and across the state to stop climate change and protect our precious environment. Jane cut her teeth grassroots organising and delivering field campaigns in Melbourne’s beautiful south eastern burbs, and is managing a program that uses an organising approach to deliver campaign outcomes on climate and clean energy. She has worked as a campaigner, organiser and facilitator in the climate and environment movements and believes that if we build enough power, we can stop climate change.