Partnership with alumnus-led non-profit brings diverse voices with climate crisis solutions

By Sajida Malik

FIU’s Institute of Environment has partnered with an FIU alum’s non-profit because solving for the world’s ongoing climate crisis takes a lot of people with different skill sets.

The institute’s partnership with Sachamama, a non-profit founded by marine biology alumnus Carlos Zegarra, led to a virtual campaign dedicated to bringing attention to Florida’s Everglades, freshwater springs and marine ecosystems.

Experts from the institute showed the journey water takes as it flows through Florida, so people who attended the experience could see how marine and freshwater ecosystems are connected to their everyday lives.

“The ecological challenges we are facing call upon us to be more holistic in our approaches,” Zegarra said. “The work that we do to advocate for our environment needs to reflect the understanding that we are all part of an interconnected system. To do this work right we need everyone’s perspective at the table.”

Born in Peru, Zegarra was inspired by his cultural background and passion for environmental advocacy launch Sachamama, or “mother jungle” in Quechua, a language spoken by Indigenous communities in the Amazon and Andes of South America. To Zegarra, it represents the idea that Indigenous wisdom on the environment holds the key to tackling the climate crisis.

Developed in 2014, Sachamama has inspired countless people, especially of Latinx origin, to become environmental leaders through a range of initiatives such as the Latinos Por La Tierra and The Ocean: The Great Provider campaigns. These campaigns included partnerships with media outlets, influencers and a film series to inspire people to develop respect for nature and become leaders towards a more sustainable future.

“It is important for the Institute to demonstrate our commitment to educating the community about these vital ecosystems. They provide beauty and important ecosystem services across all of Florida, and it is important we highlight the environment’s role in our daily lives,” said virtual campaign participant Heather Bracken Grissom, assistant director of the Coastlines and Oceans Division of FIU’s Institute of Environment.

In addition to the virtual campaign, Sachamama has also partnered with FIU on its Climate Innovation Lab, a 7-week course that uses participatory learning processes, peer networking and leadership tools to train students to develop community-led climate solutions. The Climate Innovation Lab will be offered through the FIU Microcredential Program in Spring 2022, as part of a hybrid, virtual and in-person course called “Fundamentals of Climate Leadership.”

For more information on the Institute’s partnership with Sachamama and to learn more about the Fundamentals of Climate Leadership microcredential, reach out to Shahin Vassigh, College of Architecture + The Arts Associate Dean of Faculty Development at

​​In part because of the research conducted by the Institute of Environment, FIU was ranked the No. 3 public university in the U.S. and No. 11 in the world for SDG 14, Life Below Water, which measures universities’ research on life below water and their education on and support for aquatic ecosystems.