Building Ecosystems: Policy Entrepreneurship Fellow Christopher Gillespie

04.12.24 | 3 min read | Text by Jonathan Wilson

Christopher Gillespie was deep into his PhD work in soil ecology and soil biogeochemistry when he heard about FAS’ Day One Project and decided to take a crack at writing policy.

Excited by the prospect of combining the rigor of his science training with his passion for dismantling systemic institutional discrimination, he applied for Day One’s Early Career Science Policy Accelerator and was accepted. He completed his policy memo on urban revitalization, “Putting Redlines in the Green: Economic Revitalization Through Innovative Neighborhood Markets”, in the summer of 2022. “Redlining” may be a term that evokes zoning policies of the mid-20th century, but its effects are still being felt today in communities of color, and its legacies are still costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Gillespie’s memo detailed a five-step action plan for addressing inequity and decreasing the burden on taxpayers.

“I was able to use all my lived experiences, and my understanding of the sciences, both economically and in terms of bioinformatics,” he says. “And that was really cool for me, because I was able to really take all these different areas and create an interdisciplinary approach to change.”

But one taste of policy entrepreneurship wasn’t enough. “Once I finished [the policy memo], I just wanted more,” he says.

Luckily for Gillespie – FAS was growing right along with him, and soon announced its Policy Entrepreneurship Fellowship (PEF). Again, Gillespie jumped at the opportunity. The fellowship’s aim was to empower and guide Day One memo authors to gain further traction for their policy ideas among practitioners and decision-makers, and pursue more opportunities for impact.

Gillespie was selected for the inaugural PEF cohort, and used his fellowship to craft a short film documenting the impact of redlining in several different cities. He says FAS gave him not only the tools but also the freedom to explore different ways to make an impact.

“That’s one reason I’ve had such a great time,” he says. “I’m going to come into a space and be myself completely, and FAS has supported me in taking that wherever it goes, whether it’d be a film or whether it be a white paper.”

While he’d love to see his policy proposal addressing redlining become law or end up in an Executive Order from the President, Gillespie says another way to make an impact is through relationships.

“I’m helping to build an ecosystem of actors who are doing this work – people in cities who are making these moves,” he says. “I was really able to see that it’s not that the work is not being done, – it’s that I didn’t see how much work was being done. Now it comes down to connecting those ecosystems and supporting those movements.”

Next, Gillespie will be honing his interdisciplinary approach to making a policy impact within government as a Food Supply Chain Impact Fellow at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The coolest part of my experience has been – how my creativity was supported, and how that led to doors opening to opportunities that could help the nation in a different way than I expected.”