Lessons in Leadership: Cedrik Chavez, Board Fellow, Net Impact
“Lessons in Leadership” is a blog series that highlights the inspiring work of Net Impact’s network of social impact and sustainability leaders. From NI Board Members to Chapter Leaders, you’ll read about how our community is tackling global issues and challenging their industries to create change. If you are interested in being interviewed for the series or to nominate someone you are inspired by, please send an email to email@example.com, with Lessons in Leadership in the subject line.
Name: Cedrik Chavez
- Net Impact Community | How were you first introduced to Net Impact and what motivated you to join the Board of Directors?
In my freshman year of college I attended a business law class where the professor also happened to be the faculty advisor for the school’s Net Impact Chapter. She encouraged me to come to one of the Net Impact Chapter meetings. At the time I was looking around for different organizations to be a part of and I hadn’t found the right spot yet, so when I went to a Net Impact meeting I felt like I had found the right situation. While some organizations and clubs can feel just like another class, the Net Impact meetings felt more like a conversation about relevant topics that are really important
For Net Impact, it never feels like there is a problem too big or too small that you can’t tackle. In a Chapter you can really work at the local level and tackle issues that are directly affecting your community. And then through Net Impact Central’s initiatives like the Future of Energy Challenge and Up to Us, those programs allow people to work on really big global problems as well.
- Sea Change | Was there a singular moment in your life or career that made you want to pursue social impact work?
I don’t know if there was a single moment. The first major social impact program that I participated in was the Future of Energy Challenge. I got really in-depth on many of the problems facing our infrastructure and transportation systems. A lot of research was involved, and so understanding the different data points and the different challenges that we, as a global community, are going to face in the future made me really interested in technology in the social impact space. After winning that competition, I actually changed my major in college and focused more on social impact.
Another instance that was crucial for me was when I got my first sustainability job right after I joined Net Impact. Our Chapter advisor sent out an email saying that Texas Disposal Systems was looking for a Green Team Specialist for Austin City Limits. So my very first job was with Texas Disposal Systems, literally, separating compost and recycling at Austin City Limits in the Texas heat. That experience really helped me begin to establish a career in sustainability. I went from doing that job to working at the Austin Race Track under the director of sustainability. There, I got to meet lots of interesting people and was introduced to an electric vehicle company that I ended up interning for. For me, I feel like I started from the bottom and now I’m working for these really cool companies. It all started with just doing that simple thing of separating compost and recycling.
- Making a Difference | What excites you most about the work you want to do and how it will drive change?
I was on the team that won the Net Impact Microsoft Community Pitch-off, and our idea was to help our local food bank build a web application that reduced the administrative burden for employees by six hours a week. It made me realize that simple solutions can have such a profound impact. Getting six hours a week back on administrative work can allow employees to spend that extra time fighting food insecurity. I think there can be a lot more work done overall to help charities streamline their work, because often these organizations don’t have the funds to invest in that kind of technological infrastructure.
Innovative tech is something that I am really passionate about, especially around transportation. I interned for Ayro Motors, which is a low-speed electric vehicle company. They produce a lot of electric vehicles for hospital use or on-campus use. During COVID, they created a lot of mobile food stations for students. I think the future of electrifying transportation is really exciting and it’s only going to get bigger from here.
- Getting Involved | What is a piece of advice you have for those looking to get involved or break into social impact or sustainability work?
One of the best things about technology right now is that the barrier to entry is so low. You can reach out to anyone, either through LinkedIn or email. I would encourage young people to find professionals who work in the field that you are interested in and just reach out to see if they have 15 minutes where you could just ask them questions. Some people may not respond, but if you don’t reach out and try, then you’ll never know.
Joining a Net Impact Chapter is also a great way to get started. It doesn’t matter what your major is, your role, or where you are in life. All that really matters is that you want to make the world a more just and sustainable place. And there are ways that you can do that through your own lens – I have friends who are interested in sustainability in the cosmetics industry; I know other people who are specifically interested in solar energy. There are lots of different avenues to apply your interests to make a difference and create change.
- Inspiring Emerging Leaders | As a board member, how do you hope to engage and inspire emerging leaders? How will you challenge emerging leaders from the Net Impact community?
We often fall into this trap that we have to have a particular background or college major, but people are more than just one thing – you can be creative, you can be artistic, you can be analytical. Net Impact allows you to be all of those things. I just hope that my work can help inspire anyone to take a look at a problem in their community and just dive in and get started on it. You don’t have to be an expert, you don’t have to know exactly what you're doing, but you have to start somewhere. You have a voice that can make a difference, so just start with that.
I also would challenge the Net Impact community to look around at problems facing your community, then talk about, ask questions. For example, when we started working with the food bank, we went directly to them and asked if we could look at their systems to see if we could help make them more efficient. Sometimes it is all about just getting started, even if you don’t know the exact answers right away.
- Looking Ahead | What gives you hope for the future?
There is a lot of great work that is being done across the globe to make a positive impact and Net Impact works to empower that. People who are working on problems that they see that are important in their community inspire me. I also think it is important to learn what people in other countries are doing as well to drive innovation and make a difference. I often use different social media platforms to stay up to date and connected on what emerging leaders are doing in the sustainability world, and platforms like Clubhouse, for example, allow me to engage with people from Europe, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere, so it is interesting and inspiring to see how people are tackling problems around the world.