21 June 2007

Conservation Mission Success: My 15 Year Journey

It was 15 years ago today that I set up shop in The Nature Conservancy. I walked into the offices of what was then the Lower Hudson Chapter with a bag of tricks, a drive to change, and a desire to help the Conservancy achieve its mission of protecting the diversity of life on Earth.

The Conservancy took a chance on me: I had little experience, having spent my previous career years in various forms of publishing, from producing my own magazine to scouting for foreign publishers to the editorial staff at a tradition- and whiskey-soaked publishing house. They were looking for their first development and communications staffer; I was looking for meaningful work and a vehicle for making social change happen on an unprecedented scale.

I believed then, as I do now, that one of the most critical roles in conservation, indeed in any public benefit or civil sector corporation, is that of helping other people act on their values.

Along the way, I've had some tremendous mentors, including Kay Sprinkel Grace, Simone Joyaux, and Scott Schultz (three of the best fundraising management consultants in the business) who operate outside the organization, to Julie Rosenfeld and Mason Morfit from within; from Carter Bales from the Conservancy's board of governors to Harry Groome and Jan Portman from the organization's current board of directors. Phoebe Driscoll, Robin Potter, Ken Thompson, Al Parrish, Gene Sykes, Mary Clifford, Terry Pelster, Tom Dolan, Tom Rosenberg, Dick Eales, Chris Earl, Ted Robb, Boyce Budd, Hugh Moulton, all trustees from the various state programs with which I worked, taught me the value of perseverance and critical thinking in the face of great challenges.

My chapter directors, including Olivia Millard, Susan Ruddy, and Randy Gray, and initiative directors such as Lynne Hale, Jeff Hardesty, and Brian Richter, inspired me with confidence and a guiding hand. And David Whitehead, Stephanie Meeks, Mark Burget, Roberto Troya, Rili Djohani, Steve McCormick, the "Skeptics," Holley, Jill, and the late John Sawhill all helped keep me focused on the long-term view of our global mission. Together, we've wrestled with the growth and expansion of the Conservancy's vision and fulfillment of its mission. Some have moved on, but their spirit remains.

The list could go on. Indeed, so many people have contributed to my success at the Conservancy, from those on my very first team, through my two "best hires" and two "best inherited" employees, to my current team, which I'm convinced is the hardest working group in the Conservancy, tirelessly pushing the horizon of the organization's worldview and its face on the global stage.

And the donors. I won't name them here, but they know who they are and what we've accomplished together: from building the Neversink Bioreserve in New York to protecting Lower Talarik Creek in Alaska; from forming Pennsylvania's West Branch Wilderness to mapping protected areas and sacred sites in Mongolia; from helping local people secure Podocarpus Park in Ecuador to helping put Indonesia's Coral Triangle on the map.

All this and more we've accomplished together from the simple gift of acting on shared values and an ambition to be the best in the business at achieving ever-increasing scales in conservation.

It's been a great run. Fifteen years is longer than most people stay with one organization these days, certainly in the functional area within which I've operated, and it's longer than I ever anticipated on that day in 1992 when I walked into the Conservancy's little office in Katonah, New York.

Here's to fifteen years and the millions of acres we've protected together, the millions of lives upon which we've had a positive impact, and the multiple millions of dollars we have mobilized together in the service of conservation, of saving the last great places on Earth.

A friend of mine, and a long-time donor to the Conservancy, used to tell me I had the best job in the world. He was right.

And on this first day of summer 2007, while I stand on the edge of that 15-year precipice trying to see what's ahead for me, I thought it best to reflect on the work that my colleagues, donors, friends and partners have accomplished together. The change we have affected. So much has changed for me and for the organization over these past fifteen years, and much continues to change.

But isn't change the whole reason I got into this business in the first place? Isn't that the job of a change agent?

Here's to 15 years. Thank you.

1 comment:

Jonathon D. Colman said...

Nice post, Scott. Your work (and writing) is an inspiration to all of us working in the conservation field.