WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO MAKE THE ENORMOUS DECISION TO QUIT YOUR JOB AND START A CHARITY?
I have always loved animals, particularly my very special rescue cat, Nobu, who was my constant companion for 19 years. It was my love for animals and nature that made me question my career. I had a growing awareness of the trouble nature was in – from climate change to the mass extinction of wildlife – and the enormity of the changes needed to create a more sustainable world. I began to feel a big disconnect internally between my heart and my work. I had a successful 10-year career working in currency sales at global investment banks - literally a job that is focused on money and making profit trading money – and I was thoroughly unfulfilled personally. I was outwardly successful but inwardly very sad beneath my smile and my business suit. I thought back to my most happy memories, and they all involved volunteering to help animals, or being outdoors exploring the wonders nature. Then came March 11th, 2011. I was on the 31st floor of my bank’s office tower when the Fukushima earthquake hit, and the nuclear meltdown and fall-out that followed. I was struck by my own complicity in this event as an energy-hungry consumer in a big city, and the poisoning of our earth for millions of years as a result. It literally shook me out of my depression and sadness, and from that moment on I was determined to help restore some of the damage we have done to our planet. I just wasn’t sure how to act.
After moving to NYC, I met and fell in love with my partner John Steward, also an animal lover, working in advertising. He’d had a recent lifechanging experience volunteering to help monitor endangered species in South Africa, where seen first-hand how under-resourced the rangers were. Rangers he’d met were protecting some of the last big-tusked elephants in Africa – and yet they lacked the most basic supplies. They are the boots-on-the ground, literally risking their lives daily to save elephants and rhinos from poachers, yet they didn’t even have good boots! We had found our opportunity to act. Together we decided to launch our charity, Wild Tomorrow, dedicated to saving wildlife and their disappearing wild spaces. It was a big, scary decision to leave my well-paid job in finance and start something completely new. But we both felt like we had to try – and it was easier together. It is a mission that is true to our hearts and our ethics, and we felt confident that our experiences in the corporate world would be a platform of strength from which to launch the charity and make it a success – fighting for a wild tomorrow.
Today while we still support rangers by purchasing supplies and equipment, our main focus is saving and restoring habitat. Our major project is creating a wildlife corridor to expand, restore, and reconnect wild spaces. This is essential in the fight against extinction for species so many of us love, yet are so threatened, including African elephants, lions, giraffe, leopards, cheetah and more!
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST THREE CHALLENGES YOU'RE FACING?
I think the biggest challenge is reaching new people and moving them to care. A very important part of Wild Tomorrow’s work is to build empathy for the wild world. We are successful when we foster an emotional connection to wildlife that carries hearts across continents, moving them to take urgent action both locally and in places far away. An inspiration of mine is Dr Carl Safina who writes about the emotional lives of animals. He says “Facts alone won’t save the world. Hearts Can. Hearts Must”. The facts about climate change, the mass extinction of wildlife, the gloom and doom, haven’t been effective in moving the world to act to protect our precious planet. We need to speak to people’s hearts and restore hope. I want individuals to see that their actions matter- that they can make a difference personally. Imagine a sweet giraffe calf born because you personally donated to help introduce its parent, and to save the land it now calls home – now that’s an amazing moment!
Another challenge is growth. Like all organizations, we’d love to expand our team and our impact. That’s connected to reaching new people. The more people we meet, talk to, and move to care –like ripples in a pond - they become part of a groundswell movement, creating larger circles of impact for threated wildlife.
Finally, a third challenge is time. There are never enough hours in the day!
WHAT ARE YOUR THREE MOST IMPORTANT GOALS?
My personal and professional goals have all collided! My biggest goal is growth for the charity, Wild Tomorrow. If we could increase our support, we could have more staff, which would translate to more time to explore new projects. It’s beyond urgent. Biodiversity globally is under so much pressure: 1 million species are facing extinction, many in the next ten years. The biggest driver of this devastating loss of wildlife is the loss and fragmentation of their habitats. Which brings me to the biggest goal for Wild Tomorrow this year and every year: we must protect, restore, and reconnect more wild spaces. Step by step, acre by acre. We have big goals this year to expand the size of our wildlife corridor (total acres of land under protection) and to ‘drop fences’ with our neighbors so that wildlife including elephants, rhinos, leopards, lions, cheetah, giraffe and more can cross the river into our reserve. This is vitally important so that these incredible species can maintain genetic diversity (yes, and have more babies!), and move in response to the changing climate. Without this connectivity, species cannot survive in the long-term. I can’t wait to welcome elephants in particular onto our reserve this year. It’s 30% wetland and as elephant-lovers know, they love water!
Another important personal goal this year is to spend more of my time meeting new people, going to conferences, getting out and about (instead of being stuck at my laptop!) so that I can be a voice for nature, to tell the important story of the need for wild space, turning hope into action.
WHAT IS A BOOK OR A FILM YOU WOULD RECOMMEND?
A Life on our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future by David Attenborough. It tells you everything you need to know about the state of the planet, the drastic acceleration of ecological impacts in the past 50 years, and also gives hope for the future. That hope aligns exactly with our work at Wild Tomorrow: as Sir Attenborough concludes, “We must rewild the world”.
WHAT PART OF WILD TOMORROW GIVES YOU THE MOST PLEASURE?
I love seeing new little lives being born at our wildlife corridor in South Africa. To see a new-born giraffe calf, zebra foal or a wobbly-legged impala, is symbolic of everything we are working to achieve at Wild Tomorrow. These animals are being born on land that was otherwise destined to be destroyed for the expansion of commercial agriculture. Thanks to our many supporters, we were able to save the land and rewild it: bringing back native species and restoring the complex interconnections of its ecosystems. It’s hopeful, restorative, and sweet! Moments like these truly fill my heart and give me the strength and motivation to keep pushing forward.
IF OUR READERS COULD DO ONE THING FOR POSITIVE CHANGE, WHAT WOULD THAT BE?
While our work saving and restoring wild places is in Southern Africa, you can act locally to protect wildlife and nature. An easy but powerful step is to shift your diet. That means eating more plant-based meals and buying local. Eating a plant-rich diet is one of the most powerful climate change solutions out there (check out Project Drawdown’s list of climate solutions) and one we all have the power to act on.
And one more thing I must add - if you can afford to donate to wildlife and the environment, please do so. Our planet is our life support system and yet of all charitable giving, it receives the smallest portion of support, only 3% of the total here in the US. As Jane Goodall says, how can we, the most intellectual of all species, continue to destroy our only home? Together we can rewild our hearts, and reconnect with each other and with nature, to save the planet that we love. To earn the name Homo Sapiens, which means the wise ape.