One hour with: Raine Manley

Meet Raine: current anti-plastic utensils activist, plant lover, and AGO Engagement Director; future potential second, third, or fourth—but not first!—woman on Mars.

AGO is a small team working to amplify big, important causes. Behind the scenes, this work requires remarkable leadership, empathy, and a whole lot of thinking on our feet. There are many moving parts to keep track of, relationships to nurture, and sticky problems without easy solutions. Luckily for all of us, we have Raine Manley.

Raine is AGO’s Engagement Director. She nurtures the close client relationships at the heart of the work we do, makes sure projects are progressing to schedule, and has contingency plans for when they aren’t. She also makes sure that everyone within our little organization is taken care of. It is Raine who dispatches treats on birthdays, emcees weekly all-hands, welcomes new hires, and keeps us all organized. Her attention to detail is unrivaled; her communication style is clear and empathetic. Nobody working with Raine ever feels left out or overlooked. It is this unusual pairing of soft and hard skills that makes her a force in the world and a vital element of our organization.

Following are some things you might like to know about Raine, including what she was doing before AGO, what gets her up each morning, and her epic crusade to rid New York City of unwanted plastic takeout utensils.

Q: What led you to AGO? What were you doing before?

A: I spent the last—I can't remember how many years—in the fast paced world of fashion photography. It was all about organizing shoots around the world and running a retouching studio. The common thread in all my work has been helping people think about how a dream becomes more than just a dream—how it can become a thing that people can do or touch or see.

In early 2019, I was at a crossroads. I had to make a decision about where to go next. Then Andrew connected with me about this fledgling organization that was turning ideas into actions on behalf of organizations working on human rights. I was incredibly intrigued. Once I started, I was hooked!

Q: Are you naturally organized, or is it something you learned?

A: I am naturally very organized, and I'm a natural born list-maker. I have always been very into putting some order on the world around me.

But it may also be nurture, because my mom is a film and television producer, so I also grew up with somebody who was running crazy multi-component things all the time.

Q: Tell us about where you grew up. How does your upbringing inform the person you are today and the work you do?

A: I am from Jamaica—a small island in the Caribbean with an outsized influence in the world.

At home we say “wi likkle but wi tallawah”—we’re small, but we’re strong. It is a sentiment I've taken to heart in my life and work. You don’t have to be the loudest or biggest to make a difference.

In a similar vein, I grew up in a family that was very open, progressive and welcoming. My mother wanted her children to feel they could be honest with her, so she always listened without judgement. As a kid it meant that I knew regardless of what was going on, my mother was in my corner. I have tried to carry this thread into my adult life. I make space for others to be themselves and hopefully, by doing that, build a foundation of trust and mutual support.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about working at AGO?

A: My favorite thing is our partners.

I spent so many years in the for-profit world thinking about things like how we sell more clothes or sell more shoes or sell the hottest thing. AGO is my first taste of working with people who have committed themselves to creating change in the world. Our clients keep me coming back every day, because they're so inspiring.

In terms of skill set, the for-profit project management stuff was very similar. But it's been really nice to put those skills to use for people who are just out there on the front lines doing awesome work.

Q: Do you feel like working with these AGO clients has broadened your interests or world view?

A: Yes, especially because we've been so focused in Southeast Asia. I would've passed a headline on the BBC or in the New York Times before and thought, “what a terrible thing happening in Myanmar,” but it would’ve felt half a world away. Now I’m deeply invested in the fate of Myanmar and Thailand.

Q: Has working at AGO influenced your activism?

A: It's funny. I've always been a progressive person who cares about the world, but I wasn't really doing anything beyond attending an occasional protest. And the #SkipTheStuff activism is something that has happened since I started working at AGO. Exposure to the groups we work with—who are out there trying to activate a base of people to pay more attention, know their rights, and realize that they can speak up—sparked something in me, and helped me realize that perhaps I, too, could try to make a difference in the world.

Q: Tell us about the #SkipTheStuff campaign that you’ve been working on.

A: In 2019 I started to realize that plastic forks and knives were piling up in my kitchen drawer. I would order food and say, “no utensils, please!” But they just kept on coming. I decided to collect all my useless utensils for a year to see how much a single household could accumulate and realized that meal delivery services were creating an environmental nightmare, one house at a time.

So I did lots of research, created a proposal, and connected with the Reusable NYC coalition to get the campaign off the ground. Since then, I’ve been organizing alongside the coalition and fellow activists to get support for the #SkipTheStuff bill. You can find our latest calls to action here.

Q: What are your interests outside of work?

A:I am an avid urban jungle enthusiast! I am a girl from the tropics, so green space is in my blood. But it’s hard to come by in the city. My home is filled with plants, and I’ve recently started learning about the local flora with the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees.

I'm also a big lover of space, space travel, and space exploration in general. I had a blog that was devoted to space. If I were better at math, I could be an astronaut or an astrophysicist. My youngest brother is in college becoming an astrophysicist, so I'll just live vicariously through him.

Q: If you were gifted a ticket on the first trip to Mars, would you go?

I don't want to be the first to do it. Someone else can be the first, and they can deal with the kinks. I will hang back here. I will happily go to the International Space Station or to the moon. Those are places we've gone to a whole bunch of times—super easy, super short flight.

I'm very happy that we’re exploring Mars. I think it's cool, and I watch many rocket launches. But I'm not trying to be on the first ship out.

Q: Have you read any good books lately?

Right now I'm reading Can I Recycle This? A guide to better recycling and how to reduce single-use plastics. 10 out of 10 would recommend. Spoiler alert: you can't really recycle anything. Most of the things people put in their bins are not being recycled. It's terrible. I have discovered that many of the things that I'm putting in there aren’t being recycled, and I care so much about this stuff.

That's why I'm really happy that we've been working on environmental justice stuff, because plastics are super important and a big contributor to climate change.

What are your hopes for AGO?

A: It would be amazing to continue expanding into new markets. We started in Southeast Asia, and it's been really wonderful to go deep there. But there are also many wonderful NGOs here in the US working on human rights and environmental justice.

In my ideal world, I think we continue to do what we're doing, but really hone our approach so we can scale it to different collections of organizations and different types of problems.

But even just being this size and being able to work with this handful of amazing organizations every year—sign me up; sounds great. You know?
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