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HOOSIER ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL’S LONGTIME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TO BEGIN A NEW CHAPTER
INDIANAPOLIS – After nearly 14 years leading the largest environmental policy organization in the state, Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC), has decided to conclude his tenure at HEC. Kharbanda will take on a new initiative related to the global biodiversity crisis and to society’s addiction to factory farming; he will remain at the helm of HEC until his successor is in place.
“It has been my pleasure to support Jesse’s leadership, during which time HEC has solidified its reputation as the leading voice for environmental issues throughout the state,” said HEC Board President Tom Barrett. “In working with Jesse over the last ten years, I’ve come to know him as an unrelenting advocate for the environment—knowledgeable, articulate, and credible. Jesse leads from his heart and has received widespread acclaim for his ability to build coalitions and build bridges during one of the most divisive times in our history.”
“I’m humbled to have led HEC for nearly a decade and a half,” said Kharbanda. “Our staff, our partnerships, and our capabilities have only grown stronger during this time. Against serious odds, we’ve won legislative, legal, and organizing victories for our health and environment. I hope that our successes—in very tough political terrain—give heart to Hoosiers as we grapple with not only ongoing environmental challenges but the increasing imprints of the climate crisis.”
Kharbanda started his leadership role in a state that has historically ranked among the most polluted in the U.S., but at the same time always sought the opportunity for positive change—his relentless optimism being supported by a 2020 Morrison Institute for Public Policy poll showing that 78% of Hoosiers across political parties ranked “protecting the environment” even higher than “economic growth.”
Under Kharbanda’s leadership, HEC prioritized reducing coal ash and factory farm pollution, protecting and expanding forests and wetlands, enhancing environmental health and justice, and fostering carbon-free energy and transportation solutions. Every legislative session, he and his staff developed multi-faceted campaigns to weaken and stop damaging legislation while simultaneously working with lawmakers to draft legislation aimed at solving problems affecting our air, land, water, and wildlife.
Known for his “big tent” approach, Kharbanda consistently positioned himself as a bridge builder. “Jesse was unwavering in his belief that we can achieve major bipartisan progress for sustainability initiatives in the legislature,” said State Senator Ron Alting (R-Lafayette). “I have greatly enjoyed working with Jesse and his staff on solar energy, wetlands protection, redistricting reform, and many other issues. I will miss Jesse’s indefatigable, hopeful spirit and the knowledge and ideas that he was happy to share.” State Representative Sue Errington (D-Muncie) added: “Jesse always brought a positive, can-do spirit to advancing forward-thinking legislation, ever willing to pull together policy research, and ever undaunted to do the crucial, challenging work of building bipartisan and coalition support for that legislation.”
One of the most important programmatic developments during Kharbanda’s tenure was the establishment of a standing Environmental Justice Initiative at HEC, which has been led by staff member Paula Brooks and which involves collaboration with a number of organizations.
“What I’ve so appreciated about Jesse is that he consistently sought to engage our branch of the NAACP in policy initiatives aimed at bettering our community’s environment and expanding our response to climate change,” said Chrystal Ratcliffe, president of the Indianapolis Branch of the NAACP. “He always took the time to reach out to me and to make sure that the NAACP’s voice was included.”
Kharbanda’s reputation also reflects his coalition-building skills. Over time, he created, among many others, a coalition of business leaders and mayors to advance state legislation in support of commercial PACE financing, an important renewable energy and climate solution.
“Jesse truly understood the power of coalitions,” said Debbie Asberry, co-founder of All IN for Democracy and former state advocate for redistricting reform with the League of Women Voters of Indiana. “He built a meaningful partnership with the statewide LWV and he took the time to inform and inspire several local LWV chapters through the years. Emblematic of working in coalition, Jesse provided invaluable help to the redistricting reform cause—a central priority of the LWVs—by leveraging the power of social media to bring the issue before more Hoosiers, recruiting influential civic and faith voices to speak at our rallies, and sharing his strategic thinking & compelling writing skills. Jesse understood the interdependence of the array of issues that public interest groups work on. I really loved working with Jesse and so appreciated his generosity and support.”
Kharbanda prioritized diversifying the environmental movement, aiming to bring rural and urban, conservative and liberal, seniors and the young all in one room. He led the growth of HEC’s annual conference, Greening the Statehouse, to help make it the largest annual gathering of grassroots advocates for the environment in Indiana, attracting thousands of registrants over the last 13 years.
For Kharbanda, the big tent has included people of faith, who constitute the majority of Hoosiers. The Rev. T. Wyatt Watkins, past chair of Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light (HIPL), has noted “Jesse’s intentional partnership with religious leaders in campaigns ranging from climate mitigation to renewable energy to redistricting reform to public health.”
“There is no single Indiana environmental leader who has better understood and championed the critical role of the Hoosier faith community in the cause of earth ecology than Jesse Kharbanda,” said the Rev. Watkins.
Kharbanda also made his mark by guiding the expansion of HEC’s reach to over 17,000 social media followers; moderating a number of online forums on key policy issues; writing editorials in all of Indiana’s major metro newspapers, arguing for better policies in the areas of agriculture, climate, energy, public health, transportation, and wetlands; giving radio and TV interviews; and speaking at workshops, conferences, and campuses statewide.
“I constantly marveled at how Jesse used his communication skills—speaking, presenting, and writing—to champion the cause of sustainability before a large spectrum of audiences,” said Jim Poyser, executive director of Earth Charter Indiana. “I believe his accomplishments inspired new advocates for the environment and for climate solutions.”
Kharbanda also leaves HEC in a strong position as an organization. “Over his nearly 14-year tenure, Jesse has steadily and sustainably increased our funding—and grown our staff by two and a half times—so that we are able to serve significantly more people in the causes of tackling environmental injustice and preventing ecological damage,” said Board President Barrett.
HEC, furthermore, currently employs a higher number of people of color than any statewide environmental advocacy organization in Indiana, and the staff is majority female.
Kharbanda oversaw the diversification of HEC’s income, built up a strong rainy day fund, and was critical in deepening support from its most generous donors. Kharbanda additionally facilitated mergers between HEC and two organizations: Legal Environmental Aid Foundation (in 2011) and Improving Kids Environment (in 2019).
“Jesse’s leadership of HEC has been nothing less than spectacular, juggling numerous policy initiatives and other responsibilities while remaining upbeat in the face of fierce challenges,” said Poyser of Earth Charter Indiana. “His commitment to environmental progress has been a great inspiration to me, both as an executive director myself as well as an everyday Hoosier yearning to see Indiana elected leaders embrace stewardship.”
Kharbanda will now be shifting his career to writing. “I would like to be an author, for children and their parents alike, who instills a deeper love for all of God’s creation. In particular, I would like to heighten the emotional connection between my readers and both wild and farmed animals, so as to sensitize my readers to the beauty of the animal world and to the great suffering brought about by, respectively, our plummeting biodiversity and our society’s addiction to factory farms. I will also be focusing more time on family health matters.”
“Because of Jesse Kharbanda and his staff, Hoosiers everywhere have benefited,” said HEC Board Chair Barrett. “Jesse can never be replaced.”
Kharbanda began his environmental policy career at the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. Prior to that, he earned master’s degrees in economics for development and in political history at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and had doubled majored in environmental studies and in economics at the University of Chicago.
The HEC Board is now assessing executive search firms. Kharbanda will stay in his role until a successor is hired in early 2022.
ABOUT HOOSIER ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL
Founded 38 years ago, the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) is the largest statewide environmental policy organization in Indiana. HEC aims to advance environmental health & justice, protect our land & water, and accelerate climate solutions. More at hecweb.org, @hec_ed or facebook.com/hecweb.
- Download a photo of Jesse speaking at Greening the Statehouse 2019; photo credit: Courtney Brooks
- Jesse Kharbanda can speak to the changes he’s observed in the environmental movement and in Indiana environmental policy during his nearly 14 years as the leader of Indiana’s largest environmental policy organization. (317) 979-3236 | email@example.com
- All sources quoted above can speak further about their perceptions of Jesse’s work. Contact Anne Laker to request contact info for the sources noted. (317) 600-9136 | firstname.lastname@example.org
- Read a message from Jesse Kharbanda
- Read a message from the HEC Board of Directors