• Helm

People First, Always - Part 2

Part two of our interview with Digital Climate Coalition’s Managing Director, Dom Leon-Davis, on building a new coalition within the climate movement, the importance of understanding your base, and the lesson he’s learnt along the way.

Q: Who or which organization do you look up to the most in your issue area and why? What are they doing really well?

Dom: I’m biased because I’ve done a lot of organizing in GA. My north star for how this work should be approached came from seeing what a lot of groups are doing in Georgia: New Georgia Project, Fair Fight, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Mijente, Georgia League of Conservation Voters, Sustainable Georgia Futures… There is a whole network of progressive organizations that are really focused on building power and getting folks civically engaged. Their work has shifted the electorate in Georgia where folks are easily mobilized and easily fired up about any issues that’s on the table because they’ve built a culture of organizing. They have figured out the messaging and the messengers and the tools and the tactics -- down to almost a science.

Q: We also have been following Georgia closely since the 2020 elections. Obviously a lot of the foundation and infrastructure were built before that. But every state has coalitions, movement support groups, and donor tables… What makes the ecosystem in Georgia so successful?

Dom: The Georgia ecosystem benefits from a clarity of directions and understanding that by working together, they make the movement and their individual focus stronger. Long story short, the 3 main things are:

  • Understanding the power of collective efforts

  • Willingness to share resources (data and tools), information and lessons

  • Focus on the end goal

My hope for DCC and our partners is that we take the lessons from Georgia and apply that into our movement. Fortunately, we’re a very well resourced movement with big infrastructure. We each understand our role and we’re learning to get really good at the couple of areas where we can make the deepest impact. We can’t do everything.

Q: What are some skills you learned during the campaign days that translated well over to your current position?

Dom: A lot of organic content strategies and how to build on different platforms, learning how ad targeting works and how to do creative and messaging tests. Also I learned how to analyze data and extrapolate insights from various sources in real time, while applying the historical context and my own lived experience

Q: What kind of resources and communities have been the most helpful for you in this work?

Dom: I have a community of mentors who taught me the ropes and took chances on me. They are my support system.

My network is also great for seeking practical advice, like for when facebook made changes to their ad targeting.

Q: Are your network on specific platforms, or do you mostly come to your group chats?

Dom: a lot of my network is on twitter. I’m also a part of BlueDigitalExchange, which are digital folks working in the progressive movement and there is a slack channel. I’m also on a couple of group chats.

Q: This is a big question - what do you predict your organization will look like in 2030?

Dom: In 2030, DCC will be the go-to hub for understanding different audiences and what resonates with them in the movement. We also want to be a model for the movement in terms of building a culture that is equitable and people-centered. This is secondary to our mission, but for me, this is the core of the work. We want to be the place that people love to work at, and that’s just as important as what we can offer the movement.

My philosophy is that the best asset really is people, and when you truly invest in people, they will do good work, regardless of how well-resourced (or not) the organization is. People have tremendous capacity to inspire and surprise and do work that is so much larger than themselves when they feel taken care of, respected, appreciated and their work is seen.

Q: That’s really beautiful. What have been some of the key challenges you have faced (or are still facing) in reaching those 2 objectives?

Dom: Biggest challenge is that we are a coalition with a hub at the center of it, so in a coalition dynamic, you have to spend a lot of time rallying the troops and bringing folks along with you. If it’s just up to me and the staff at the hub, we would be off to the races. But since we're in a coalition, we don't want to move faster than the members of the coalition, so there’s a lot of time spent laying out the vision and helping them see the potential and possibilities in the vision. It’s a lot of time, capacity, and frankly, money, to get people on board. Fortunately, we’ve got a good amount of seed money but a big part of my job is not only selling the vision to the coalition, but also to other people who might invest in the work as well.

When it comes to building a new future of work, the challenge is similar to the other objective. It’s a lot of time laying out the vision, and to convince folks away from the status quo. The “Great Resignation” is happening because the traditional way of work hasn’t benefited people. We have to constantly remind folks that we need to be willing to step outside of the comfort zone and we might fail at times, but we can learn from that.

Q: Any last pieces of advice for your industry colleagues?

Dom: Put people-first and everything else will follow

You can read part one of our interview here, where Dom talks about how he started in politics, the key objectives of Digital Climate Coalition and what he believes electoral campaigns and advocacy organization need the most.

About Dom Leon-Davis

Dom Leon-Davis, Managing Director, Digital Climate Coalition

Dom Leon-Davis is an organizer whose work focuses on mobilizing and empowering those closest to the center of our most pressing issues, especially black, brown, and immigrant communities. Prior to joining the coalition, he served as senior staff for several national, state, and local campaigns, including Cory Booker’s presidential campaign, Reverend Warnock’s Senate race, and Stacey Abrams gubernatorial. He has also worked at several advocacy organizations including MoveOn where he ran a national voter mobilization campaign for the 2020 general election and Working Families Party where he ran communications for New York and served as part of the New York Renews coalition. Dom believes that social change starts internally, both personally and within movement spaces, dismantling exploitative practices and focusing on long term impacts. He lives in Miami, FL with his husband Daniel and their two Mini Schnauzers, Raj and Rowan.