Guest Post: At Young Leaders Assembly, ‘Doers’ Look to the Future of Conservation

Crystal Webb joined the NWF Southeast Regional Center in 2011 as Oil Spill Response Manager.  Prior to coming to NWF she was in management consulting focusing her practice in organizational change management and strategic communications. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering with children, reading and cheering on the Phoenix Suns. She can be found on Twitter at @NatureGirlCrys

Crystal Webb

95 percent of people sit back and watch five percent of people do the work.

And with that, NWF Board Member John Grant kicked off the first-ever NWF Young Leaders Assembly (YLA).

Within the first 10 minutes, it was clear that our 67 charter delegates to the Young Leaders Assembly were that five percent of doers. If you didn’t know they were coming  as thought leaders on the topics of conservation, global warming and connecting people to nature, you’d think it was just a Wednesday on any college campus. They didn’t come in suits and ties, but they came with their sleeves rolled up and ready to work. The energy was palpable from the onset. I knew we had a special group on our hands when one of the first questions asked was, “Will we be able to get a charter in place and signed in the next two days?” Because really, who wants to write a charter? That’s about as hardcore as it gets.

John Hammond, NWF’s Southeast Regional Center Executive Director, encouraged the YLA delegates to challenge our assumptions about what the future of the conservation movement will look like and deconstruct our current thinking on the appropriate ways to connect with emerging conservation leaders. This charge was well-received and the delegates voiced excitement over this idea of ownership, blazing a trail and being at the forefront of this movement for NWF. The next series of questions were all, “What next?  How fast? How far can we go? Who will implement?”  They were ready to go full throttle… and we hadn’t even fed them yet!

As we made our way to the reception, the group was eager to get to the sliders and spring rolls (remember how excited you got about free food in college?), but I was eager to get to know this bunch. Just by looking you could tell we had a diverse group, but that was just skimming the surface. In my many conversations, I found a third generation farmer, a pilot, a Harvard graduate student studying Biology and an environmental blogger. Indeed they represented the spectrum.  While making my way to the sliders (which I unfortunately never got to), I ran into four delegates chatting like old friends. I learned that in fact, they were old friends. They had all attended the same high school in Detroit and were Earth Tomorrow alum. Now several years later, their passion for conservation and environmental justice brought them back together as adults. For me, that was a major “aha” moment; ignite the passion early and it will burn for many years to come.

The question asked so often was, “What happens once we leave here?” The truth is this is unchartered territory for NWF; and the outcome is not yet known. The organization is looking to the delegates to determine what happens next. But what is clear after the first full day is that we’ve got a group of young leaders who understand that they are instruments of change.

Breakout session at the Young Leaders Assembly (Crystal Webb)

Andrew Clark, a 23-year-old student from Kansas City, MO, took time while in DC to speak with his congress representative, Emanuel Cleaver II. He voiced his concerns with Cleaver about what he felt was a lack of support from

government and irresponsible spending saying, “I can’t count on the government to fix this. I can do a lot with a little money. I just need human capacity and support.” That’s the goal of YLA, to build capacity and support by providing Young Leaders with access to frank and open conversations with NWF’s top leaders, a platform to have their voice heard and connecting them to a network of passionate peers.

With this inaugural group’s get-it-done attitude, diverse knowledge and energy, positive change feels inevitable.