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Building Professional Networks in the Pandemic Era

It’s two weeks before our finance module launches, and I’m working my way through YouTube videos trying to remain calm while I catch up on all I’ve missed about Excel spreadsheets in the last twenty years of my professional career. I’ve lamented to my partner that I’ve used Excel as a donor management database and a way to keep track of who’s attending what webinar next month, but that when it comes to plugging in numbers and excel functions, I’m completely lost.

I’ve been working in renewable energy policy and managing projects for a little over a decade, navigating the complex and evolving world of innovative technologies and the government policies like renewable portfolio standards that support them. In recent years, as the four main energy sectors became increasingly intertwined, I began to notice that I lacked a deep understanding of the role wholesale energy markets play and the need for systematic change to support an equitable clean energy transition. I wanted to fully understand the current opportunities for project revenue and the relationships between debt and equity so that I could more effectively advocate for policy and regulatory changes that would sustain renewables in times of lean tax credits and poor state incentives. I wanted financial tools that would help me move renewable energy projects forward in my community without burdening energy-impoverished households.  

I entered the Yale FDCE certificate program eager to learn about different loan structures and bonds and project finance, naively failing to consider that tracking capital flows and modeling project finance occurs in excel, a platform I was exceedingly inept at using.

Luckily, the genius behind the FDCE certificate program lies in the cohort itself. The 21-22 cohort includes experienced and highly-skilled professionals from a diversity of backgrounds, yet all with one common interest—to accelerate the deployment of clean energy at scale. My global cohort includes real estate developers, bankers, venture capitalists, engineers, project developers, senior executives, and more all at various stages in their careers. And despite being a wholly online program, it’s been easy to make connections and build professional relationships with my peers due to the initial networking sessions set up in the FDCE orientation and through the online community platform hosted by Yale.

It is amazing how the FDCE program has built a cohort both tight-knit and diverse at a time of physical distancing and limited in-person social interactions.  From the beginning of the program, I’ve benefitted from the experiences and generosity of my peers.  We have built a strong and supportive network with each individual able to offer his or her strengths to peers struggling with a homework assignment or a professional endeavor. I’ve appreciated and profited from my peers’ curiosity and knowledge-sharing and have been able to build relationships that directly impact my work. I look forward to our weekly Sunday evening calls to discuss assignments, share our different views on emerging technologies, and learn about what drives each of us to do this important climate work.

And that is how, on one frigid Sunday morning in January, I found myself on a Zoom call with an FDCE peer who had generously volunteered to walk me through the basics of excel. By 9 a.m. that day, I had shed my fears over the “fx” function and was fearlessly locking cells and dragging across rows.  And I'm just getting started!