Who We Are

Core facilitation team

James Whelan

James Whelan

James Whelan (director) is director of the Change Agency, a not-for-profit that provides education and training, facilitation and strategy support for social change groups in Australia, the Pacific and Asia. In this role, he has facilitated campaign strategy, decision-making and evaluation workshops and meetings with hundreds of social movement organisations. He is director of the Community Organising Fellowship, an intensive, structured six-month training program for campaigners.

James has been a public interest organiser for three decades, campaigning on issues including climate change and air pollution, sustainable transport, forest conservation and human rights. He has also enjoyed 15 years as an academic and social scientist, working at several universities and think tanks.

James lives with his partner in Muloobinba (Newcastle) on the land of the Awabakal people.

Adele Neale

Adele Neale


Adele Neale lives on Boonwurrung/Bunurong country in south-east Melbourne. She is a graduate of COF2016 and a facilitator for the fellowship since 2019. Following various roles in the climate movement, Adele worked as a community organiser at Environment Victoria for several years in Victoria’s most marginal seats to build lasting public support for government action on climate change. With a background in botany and marine biology, she has developed a passion for shifting societal culture towards protecting the amazing world we get to live in, led by First Nations communities and those most affected. She particularly enjoys training and loves bringing people together to learn and decide to do bold exciting things.

Maxwell Smith

Maxwell Smith


Maxwell Smith
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.

Cat Nadel

Cat Nadel


Cat Nadel is a 2017 COF graduate and a lead campaigner at YOUNG Campaigns, where she supports youth activists to find their power, call out systemic inequality and win campaigns for economic justice.

Cat cut her teeth in campaigning while still at university, where she was part of the student powered campaign that successfully got Monash University to divest $450 million from coal. Before co-founding YOUNG, Cat spent four years as a climate campaigner and organiser at Environment Victoria. This role involved working with communities in the Latrobe Valley, Westernport Bay area and suburban Melbourne to build power for strong climate policies and a just transition.

Cat grew up on the banks of the Maribyrnong River on Wurundjeri country, and still lives and works in Naarm.

Larissa Baldwin


Larissa Baldwin is a young woman from the Widjabul clan of the Bundjalung nation. She now works with GetUp after three years as National Co-Director for Seed where she led campaigns and strategy in partnership with frontline Indigenous communities, empowering young people to create change in their communities.

Erin Laurence

Erin Laurence


Erin Laurence works behind the scenes to keep the Community Organising Fellowship running smoothly. They have a background in flat-structured organising and take great 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

Holly Buntman-Ronnenberg


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.

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Reference group

Dave Muhly

 Dave Muhly

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

Kate Smolski


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


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

Ian Lisser


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

Jane Stabb


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.

What are people saying about us?

Cate Faehrmann, Director, Nature Conservation Council NSW, 2005

We did a two-day workshop with The Change Agency early this year which provided our organisation with some much-needed tools for strategic campaigning and planning. There was nothing but positive feedback from our staff and board members about what they gained from the two days spent with James and Sam. The power mapping exercise was particularly insightful for staff and board members alike and as a result our campaigns are more pro-active - we are seeing results!
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:51:49+11:00
We did a two-day workshop with The Change Agency early this year which provided our organisation with some much-needed tools for strategic campaigning and planning. There was nothing but positive feedback from our staff and board members about what they gained from the two days spent with James and Sam. The power mapping exercise was particularly insightful for staff and board members alike and as a result our campaigns are more pro-active - we are seeing results!
dave & gemma

Dave Muhly, Sierra Club

What began at Pittwater as a collection of skilled campaigners became a cadre of skilled organizers by the final day at Baden Powell. On Sunday evening as we gathered, I overheard one participant chatting with another at a picnic table and heard, "challenge, choice, outcome" as part of her conversation. Another commented at the final circle at how what had seemed like such a large group at Pittwater now seemed like a much smaller group, reflective of how closely this group had bonded as a team despite their vast differences in geography or organizational size or style, but based on a common goal and identity. Concepts like "building teams" and "building relationships" were part of the normal parlance and just a cursory review of the evaluations to date show an increased appreciation for and attention to leadership development and strategic planning. A number of participants reminded me of my off-the-cuff set of definitions about the differences between mobilizing, campaigning and community organising (focusing on local power), and one told me she has it on the wall of her office to inspire her every day. This has been the successful launch of an ambitious and visionary program. Many thanks to James and Kate for their vision, wisdom, and care in developing and nurturing the curriculum and the cohort. Kudos!

The Change Agency
2014-09-15T10:27:41+10:00
dave & gemma
What began at Pittwater as a collection of skilled campaigners became a cadre of skilled organizers by the final day at Baden Powell. On Sunday evening as we gathered, I overheard one participant chatting with another at a picnic table and heard, "challenge, choice, outcome" as part of her conversation. Another commented at the final circle at how what had seemed like such a large group at Pittwater now seemed like a much smaller group, reflective of how closely this group had bonded as a team despite their vast differences in geography or organizational size or style, but based on a common goal and identity. Concepts like "building teams" and "building relationships" were part of the normal parlance and just a cursory review of the evaluations to date show an increased appreciation for and attention to leadership development and strategic planning. A number of participants reminded me of my off-the-cuff set of definitions about the differences between mobilizing, campaigning and community organising (focusing on local power), and one told me she has it on the wall of her office to inspire her every day. This has been the successful launch of an ambitious and visionary program. Many thanks to James and Kate for their vision, wisdom, and care in developing and nurturing the curriculum and the cohort. Kudos!
John Edye

John Edye, March 2017

James and Fee... Thank you for your inspiring leadership, commitment and engagement. You are epic facilitators, and the first workshop was one of the best training experiences I have ever attended. I feel very privileged to be a participant and am looking forward to the next three. Experiencing such a high level of training and working with so many young, intelligent and professional organisers left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by my lack of experience but very optimistic about the future challenges we face, instead of the rather bleak and jaundiced view I came with. Thank you for your compassion and thoughtfulness and the incredible resources that were on our seats on the first day. It was and will be an incredible learning experience.
The Change Agency
2017-03-28T12:18:24+11:00
John Edye
James and Fee... Thank you for your inspiring leadership, commitment and engagement. You are epic facilitators, and the first workshop was one of the best training experiences I have ever attended. I feel very privileged to be a participant and am looking forward to the next three. Experiencing such a high level of training and working with so many young, intelligent and professional organisers left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by my lack of experience but very optimistic about the future challenges we face, instead of the rather bleak and jaundiced view I came with. Thank you for your compassion and thoughtfulness and the incredible resources that were on our seats on the first day. It was and will be an incredible learning experience.

Alana West, Quit Coal organiser

The fellowship has equipped me with a deeper understanding of what community organising is, and how it can best be applied. Through my learnings I have been challenged to move from tactics-based campaigning to more strategic, long-term campaigning. I understand better where my campaign and my community fit into the incredible tapestry that is the environment and climate movement in Australia.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T21:00:54+11:00
The fellowship has equipped me with a deeper understanding of what community organising is, and how it can best be applied. Through my learnings I have been challenged to move from tactics-based campaigning to more strategic, long-term campaigning. I understand better where my campaign and my community fit into the incredible tapestry that is the environment and climate movement in Australia.

Alycia Gawthorne, GetUp! organiser

The Fellowship has challenged the way I previously thought about campaigning and community organising, and made me rethink how I approach my work. It’s afforded me the space to take a step back and look at the entire movement. I feel like the skills I take away from the Fellowship will be invaluable, but far more important will be the deeper understanding I have about my role and how it fits within a larger movement.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T19:33:28+11:00
The Fellowship has challenged the way I previously thought about campaigning and community organising, and made me rethink how I approach my work. It’s afforded me the space to take a step back and look at the entire movement. I feel like the skills I take away from the Fellowship will be invaluable, but far more important will be the deeper understanding I have about my role and how it fits within a larger movement.
Sophie Peer

Sophie Peer, ChilOut campaign director

The Change Agency is like a best friend in the drawer. As the only paid employee in a very small not for profit, it is fabulous to know there are trusted, well tested resources a click away. Whether it's workshop planning, strategic re-think, tactics - tCA is the chamomile tea to my campaigner-stress.
The Change Agency
2014-05-16T14:31:59+10:00
Sophie Peer
The Change Agency is like a best friend in the drawer. As the only paid employee in a very small not for profit, it is fabulous to know there are trusted, well tested resources a click away. Whether it's workshop planning, strategic re-think, tactics - tCA is the chamomile tea to my campaigner-stress.
Meghan and Lilly

Meghan Halverson, Queensland Koala Crusaders

I am so very grateful for the Change Agency’s perspective in helping to coordinate and inspire our group.  The weekend at Wild Mountains to begin to create the foundation of our national koala alliance will certainly be a highlight of 2014. The combination of your amazing resources and the collaborative facilitation helped to provide a cohesive, motivating structure for the path forward and a fresh new approach.
The Change Agency
2014-05-06T00:41:31+10:00
Meghan and Lilly
I am so very grateful for the Change Agency’s perspective in helping to coordinate and inspire our group.  The weekend at Wild Mountains to begin to create the foundation of our national koala alliance will certainly be a highlight of 2014. The combination of your amazing resources and the collaborative facilitation helped to provide a cohesive, motivating structure for the path forward and a fresh new approach.

Manny Pasqualini, Community Power Agency

One highlight for me is the focus on relational organising; the importance of taking the time to really get to know the people you work with. The deeper the relationship, the better it stands up to testing times and the sweeter it feels when your movement achieves success.

 The diversity present within this year’s cohort is another major highlight for me. To be able to spend this time learning and practicing day in and day out with people from right across the country and right across the breadth of the climate action movement has been an honour. To share this time and space with two wonderfully inspiring indigenous Australians has filled a gap in my education until now and opened up a real sense of belonging to an Australia that I want to be a part of.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T21:10:26+11:00
One highlight for me is the focus on relational organising; the importance of taking the time to really get to know the people you work with. The deeper the relationship, the better it stands up to testing times and the sweeter it feels when your movement achieves success.  The diversity present within this year’s cohort is another major highlight for me. To be able to spend this time learning and practicing day in and day out with people from right across the country and right across the breadth of the climate action movement has been an honour. To share this time and space with two wonderfully inspiring indigenous Australians has filled a gap in my education until now and opened up a real sense of belonging to an Australia that I want to be a part of.

Anna Keenan, Students of Sustainability Collective 2006

Thank you for your involvement in SoS this year and for your continued commitment over the years to effecting sustainable environmental and social change. Your co-facilitated presentations on activist learning, campaign strategy and activist sustainability were all very well received, generating discussion, excitement, considered thought and motivation from the participants, including myself. Not only was the content inspirational, but to see the way that the two of you work together and so effectively co-facilitate was a lesson in itself. At your “Moving beyond Tactic-Led Campaigns”, you so successfully engaged all in the room and drew from their experiences that it was the most effective workshop I attended through the whole conference. Your involvement in SoS 2005 has had a significant impact on the future of Australian environmentalism by sharing the tools of individual, collective, and community organising, and inspiring us to advocate for and take action towards positive social change.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:52:56+11:00
Thank you for your involvement in SoS this year and for your continued commitment over the years to effecting sustainable environmental and social change. Your co-facilitated presentations on activist learning, campaign strategy and activist sustainability were all very well received, generating discussion, excitement, considered thought and motivation from the participants, including myself. Not only was the content inspirational, but to see the way that the two of you work together and so effectively co-facilitate was a lesson in itself. At your “Moving beyond Tactic-Led Campaigns”, you so successfully engaged all in the room and drew from their experiences that it was the most effective workshop I attended through the whole conference. Your involvement in SoS 2005 has had a significant impact on the future of Australian environmentalism by sharing the tools of individual, collective, and community organising, and inspiring us to advocate for and take action towards positive social change.

Isaac Astill, Divestment Campaigner, 350.org Australia

It would take years of fumbling along for me to learn what the Fellowship has taught me in a few short months. I feel more powerful for it, and I’ve walked away with the ongoing skills and relationships I need to build a more powerful movement.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T19:37:41+11:00
It would take years of fumbling along for me to learn what the Fellowship has taught me in a few short months. I feel more powerful for it, and I’ve walked away with the ongoing skills and relationships I need to build a more powerful movement.
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The Change Agency