Environmental Leaders of the Future
With more than one million members, the Nature Conservancy is one of the largest environmental groups in the world. It operates in all 50 states and in 35 countries around the world.
New York Executive Director Bill Ulfelder sat down with MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman to discuss the ways in which the Conservancy is adapting to a changing world.
“We’re going to 9 billion people, in terms of global population, and 7 billion of the 9 billion people are going to be in cities,” said Ulfelder.
He noted that the Nature Conservancy’s focus has historically been on rural and wilderness areas, but “there’s a major shift going in terms of appreciating that the success of environmental protection is really going to hinge on cities in the future, so we’re starting to think about how can the Nature Conservancy deeply engage city populations in conservation success.”
One of the ways the Conservancy aims to do this is through the Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future, or LEAF, program. The program accepts students from urban high schools with an environmental focus, and immerses them in month-long paid internships in natural areas around the country. The goal of the program is for the students to learn about environmental conservation as well as gain leadership skills.
“[I]f we’re going to be relevant in the 21st century, we have to think about reaching new populations…” said Ulfelder. “[I]f we’re going to succeed, everybody has to be involved in the environmental movement and there’s no doubt that to date people of color, age diversity, are insufficiently represented … so yes, the Conservancy is saying ‘How can we be relevant and what are the ways we can engage these folks on their terms in the places where they live?'”
Source: Key Findings from National Voter Survey on Conservation Among Voters of Color by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates and Public Opinion Strategies
The LEAF program currently operates in about 25 mostly public schools nationwide, 13 of which are in the New York tri-state area. The majority of the participants are children of color, many of whom have spent their entire lives in cities and haven’t had access to the greater outdoors.
“The expectation is that the leadership of the environmental movement in the 21st century is going to be different. It’s going to look different, it’s going to care about different things like urban areas,” said Ulfelder.
“These are the kids that are going to grow to be the leaders … So these kids whether they’re in finance, whether they’re in urban planning or whether they’re in the conservation organization directly, they’re going to set the conservation agenda, I believe, for the 21st century.”