Dr. Paige Wilcoxson joined the New Harvest team in June 2020 as the COO. With her background in psychology and social justice, she’s brought a unique perspective to help progress New Harvest’s work and mission.
How did you end up wanting to be with New Harvest?
A former colleague of mine shared the COO job opening at New Harvest, and I’ve been a vegetarian since I was nine and felt very passionately about animal welfare and the environment. In the job opening, it seemed like they were really looking for someone with my skill set, although I wouldn’t say I’m a traditional COO – I’m a psychologist by training – but there was a really deep emphasis on fostering healthy team dynamics, managing remote teams, and improving processes, I was ecstatic to get the job; I really missed being part of an organization that was mission driven.
You’ve been vegetarian for such a long time, had you ever heard of cell ag?
I’d come across the concept when I was working at Singularity University, where I designed learning experiences focusing on using exponential technology to solve global challenges, and I thought it was a really powerful way to solve so many issues we’re facing today – not only the obvious ones that comes to mind, such as animal welfare (which I think is extremely important) and sustainability, but also decreasing our risk of future pandemics and issues of social justice and food security. It just seemed like a no-brainer in terms of a technology we should be pursuing and looking into. I’m so happy to be able to work for an organization working on developing the fundamental research to make this a reality.
What drew you to become a vegetarian so young in the first place?
When I was really young, an uncle of mine had given me a fur coat. I remember asking my parents what it was – I think it was rabbit, I don’t even remember if it was real, but that was really upsetting to me. When I was a bit older, around nine, I began to make more of my own choices in regards to food; I just thought “Yeah, I don’t want to eat animals, I like them too much!”
You’ve been at New Harvest for a little while now, how’s it been so far?
One of the things I was most cognisant of in joining an organization was that there was a healthy and positive team culture. I definitely asked about that when I interviewed with the whole team and I got that sense, but I was extremely pleasantly surprised at how collaborative and non-hierarchical the team is. That really left a strong impression on me when I first joined, and I’m very happy that that’s continued as everyone’s moved to being fully remote.
Were you ever at an organization like New Harvest before?
Prior to joining New Harvest I spent about a decade working in higher ed in the US and UK as a professor, administrator, and learning experience designer. Most of my experiences in nonprofits were earlier in my career, in social services. I’m a psychologist by training and had worked at different social service organizations mostly providing assessment and therapy to at-risk individuals. I also did a lot of forensic work, so usually individuals involved with the court and legal system, and children and families involved with foster care. I had a lot of experience with how research is conducted at universities and some experience with non-profits, but I had never worked for a unique organization like New Harvest.
Has your previous background mostly been justice based? Going from what you were doing before to New Harvest seems like a big jump!
I think social justice and animal welfare have always been extremely important to me. I spent a fair amount of time doing clinical work, but most of my career was in teaching, both as a professor and as an academic administrator. Career-wise, social justice and education have been my focus.
Looking forward, what are your goals for New Harvest in the next few years?
I think we’re sort of at this precipice where we have a lot of opportunities that are coming our way and we are beginning to scale, and so really my primary goal in stepping into this role is to really help preserve the healthy and productive team culture that currently exists. I know that can be challenging as you scale up, but I think my background in psychology is really going to help with that.
How do you think the organization needs to evolve to prepare for that growth?
I’d like to push New Harvest in the direction of evolving into a learning organization, and by that I mean an organization that is really good at creating and transferring knowledge, and then using the knowledge to inform decisions and be more data driven. Then also focus on the team as individuals: where are areas we all want to grow and progress, both personally and in our careers?
What would New Harvest being a learning organization look like?
It’s really a way to amplify the knowledge you’re creating within the organization so everyone can learn from it. Everyone learns from successes and failures, and trying something and failing is totally fine as long as you’re learning from it. So really looking at how we are measuring success, how we are capturing the data we have – both institutional knowledge and data we’re creating – and how we are collecting and sharing baseline metrics and using those to inform our decisions.
Once cell ag becomes more mainstream, do you think you’ll go back to eating meat?
I’ve thought about this a lot, and right now at this point in my life I just don’t have any desire to eat meat; it’s been so long and it’s not something I really remember much or miss. Ethically, I would totally be cool with it and that’s part of the reason I’m working in the field, but I just personally don’t have a desire to eat meat anymore!