Devotion to nature came early to Marissa Hatch. When she was 10, her dad died unexpectedly, leaving her alone with her mom in a house in the woods of Hinsdale, Massachusetts.
The grief was bewildering, but she found some solace among the trees and wild grasses and animals around her home.
“The environment was a very healing space for me,” says Hatch, who is the senior manager of strategic partnerships at Global Citizen. “Our connection to the environment and our disregard for it, that was something that first helped me feel connected to being an environmental activist.”
This bond encouraged Hatch to learn more about how she could become a better steward of the planet and all of its inhabitants. She soon started talking to her friends about protesting the local circus, put environmental stickers on her locker and notebooks, and stopped eating meat.
“When I had that personal moment of transition with my dad, I started doing my own research,” she says. “When it comes to the impact of the meat industry, that was my first delve into environmental activism.”
Since then, environmental activism has been a throughline in Hatch’s life — researching issues, attending protests, organizing communities, striving for more than the status quo.
When she went to Parsons School of Design to study fashion, she became disenchanted with the fashion industry after a year.
“What they were focusing on — what color would sell best in this season, and what type of clasp to put on this clutch — wasn’t what I wanted to focus on,” she says.
“I was more worried about the working conditions of the workers making that clutch, and what they were getting paid, and what the metals in that finish were,” she adds. “And were they [the metals] toxic? And did it lead to environmental pollution? I was much more interested in the environmental and human, social impact.”
She shifted her focus to sustainability in fashion, but realized that many of the measures being discussed — zero waste, less intensive materials — “were just scratching the surface.”
“The root cause of the problem was the fashion industry’s production cycles and the scale of consumption,” she says.
So Hatch took a step back from fashion and decided to change her major to interdisciplinary design with a focus on sustainability. This would let her reimagine larger systems and incorporate sustainability from the ground level.
One of the earliest projects she worked on involved a youth center that functioned as an alternative to incarceration. The center wanted to put the second floor of its building to better use, so Hatch and her peers interviewed the young people at the center and realized that they lacked food sovereignty.
A lot of the food served at the center was unappetizing and it was often expired, the students told her.
Hatch’s team proposed using the second floor as a culinary learning hub and developing a community garden outside. Young people could learn how to cultivate fresh ingredients, prepare and serve meals, and get a better understanding of the food system overall.
Around this time, Hatch began attending climate protests more frequently. She traveled to Washington and throughout New York’s boroughs to protest environmental destruction and call for climate action.
“When I first started protesting, I’d often go alone but I felt far from alone,” she says. “There is an electric energy to protests and it was amazing to see people from all walks of life coming together in the streets with one common goal.”
After graduation, she went to work for DoSomething.org and Change.org where she learned more about grassroots organizing and building campaigns.
In June 2017, she found her way to Global Citizen, where her first project involved overseeing volunteers and engaging fans to join the Global Citizen movement on a Coldplay tour.
She soon began working on US-based campaigns, helping to develop Global Citizen’s advocacy against child marriage and advanced Global Citizen’s environmental campaigns focused on plastic pollution.
Hatch now oversees and plays a role in diverse efforts. She has previously run the Curtis Scholarship program, helps to organize the Waislitz Awards and Cisco Youth Leadership Award, and is project managing the Just Vote campaign in the run-up to the US elections.
“I delved into campaigns, into programs, but I think the throughline is grassroots work,” she said. “I really love that it’s focused on having a direct impact.”
In her free time, Hatch has spent the past two years honing her campaigning skills with 350.org Brooklyn, the grassroots environmental nonprofit, where she gained a deeper appreciation of the gritty work that goes into getting legislation passed and how everyday people can rise up to save the environment.
“I think it’s hard for people to realize that they actually can have an impact,” she said. “It takes a lot of work and can be overwhelming and requires you to be persistent, but it’s something that can be incredibly rewarding when people realize they can make sure their community needs are addressed.”
Hatch answered a few questions about some of the major projects and campaigns she's worked on over the past year.
GC: What have you learned from the Cisco Youth Leadership Award finalists and Waislitz Award winners you've worked with?
MH: During our time in London for the Global Citizen Prize ceremony in 2019, I got a chance to get to know the 2019 Cisco Youth Leadership finalists better and I was so inspired by what they had all accomplished at a young age and it made me realize, we're all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. They are all living proof that one person can truly have a huge impact.
Many of them had to overcome their own struggles to be of service to others. One example is our 2019 Cisco Youth Leadership Award winner Priya Prakash, founder and CEO of HealthSetGo. She herself struggled with her mental and physical health throughout her childhood and now it is her mission today through HealthSetGo to ensure that every child in India grows up healthy.
GC: How hard is it to narrow down finalists for the Waislitz and Cisco Youth Leadership awards?
MH: It is hard! Though it has gotten easier over the years after running the award programs multiple times. We have to be efficient to get through hundreds and hundreds of applications, but also pay thorough attention to each application to give them a fair chance so it is a balance.
It is such an amazing feeling to get to the end of the process after having vetted hundreds of applications to be able to tell an applicant that they are a finalist or a winner. It is the most rewarding part of the process for me.
GC: Can you tell us about the new US voting campaign you're working on?
MH: Just Vote is a non-partisan, get-out-the-vote campaign by Global Citizen and HeadCount, mobilizing support from artists, influencers, media, and corporations to give young Americans the tools to use their voice in the 2020 US elections.
The aim of the campaign is to engage 1 million young voters and get 50,000 young people registered so they can vote in the 2020 elections.
You can find out more about the 2020 Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award here. Applications are open until Sept. 20, 2020.