The Natural Capital Symposium at Stanford last month was the largest we’ve ever hosted, and by many accounts, the most inspiring.
The talks ranged from explorations of science frontiers to the deeply personal.
Managing Director Mary Ruckelshaus started the week off by first asking participants to one by one, stand up and introduce themselves. As nearly 300 people from 31 countries took their turn, it gave everyone a chance to appreciate how far people had traveled to be together and just how diverse the perches and perspectives of the assembled community were.
Ruckelshaus also encouraged the audience to consider three things over the course of the week: “Think about the biggest game-changing successes and inspirational stories we want to tell one another; the biggest impediments and challenges we’re facing; and consider how we want to work with each other to do the next big things.”
In his keynote, Mark Tercek shared the story of how he transitioned from investment banking at Goldman Sachs to becoming CEO of The Nature Conservancy, by heading up the environmental program at Goldman Sachs, though he at first knew little about the environment.
“Don’t worry about that,” then-CEO Hank Paulson told him. “There are a lot of people in the environment and conservation world who know everything there is to know about that. What’s missing is people who know about finance, how to get capital flowing.” Tercek then traveled west to Stanford to consult with Gretchen Daily, one of two people he found who knew about investing in nature.
His talk centered on the idea that producing “actionable information” for decision-makers is the single most important thing we can do.
“If we want to scale up investments in nature,” Tercek said, “we need together to provide decision-makers with the actionable information they need to move this forward.”
World Wildlife Fund’s Kate Newman also gave an inspiring talk, sharing stories of how decision-makers the world over have been bowled over by learning how natural capital benefits their constituents’ livelihoods and well-being. She quoted one official from Mozambique who, when discussing road-building said, “We want our road, but not without our trees.” Below, Newman highlights what she took home from a week immersed in natural capital stories:
Kate Newman’s Dispatch from the Natural Capital Symposium
I work a lot with our Myanmar, Mozambique, and other national teams on integrating green economy principles into economic policy development, so the Natural Capital Symposium has always been a wonderful opportunity for me to gain a greater understanding of the relevant science and technology being developed around the world.
This year, however, what inspired me the most were moments when fellow participants spoke up to describe in a personal way what it will mean to them and to their families when we all get this right someday.
“Today, I am bringing my story from the coastal district where my family lived to fish,” said Mr. Alberto Antonia Macia from the Mozambique Ministry of Land, Environment and Rural Development during a “Coffeehouse Chat” with the Mozambique delegation Wednesday morning. But these days the production is declining because part of the ecosystem was destroyed,” he said. He went on to paint a picture of hope.
“With our new Natural Capital Program,” he said, “I believe I will work to help protect these ecosystems and I hope to see my family take the opportunity to benefit from fishing products again.”
This was one of my favorite moments of the symposium. Hearing Mr. Macia take it back down to what it means on the ground was quite moving. His remarks represented what I loved about the symposium this year–hearing from professionals, who at some point in their lives relied directly on the resource-base, trading ideas and perspectives with global scholars and NGO actors working on these issues at so many different scales.
Another of my favorite moments happened earlier in the week, when Mr. Win Ko Ko Win, representing Myanmar’s brand new government–a country celebrating its first days of civilian government leadership in 54 years–spoke about some of their new administration’s concerns. He described the lack of drinking water, lakes drying up, and hydropower dams that cut off fisheries. We discussed how these issues of social justice can be addressed through thoughtful management of ecosystem services. Though he was hearing about much of this for the first time, he shared with us his budding ideas on how to take it forward in educating his new peers in the government and the township he supports.
We took the opportunity to map out, together, the next phases of collaboration in Mozambique and Myanmar. We also planned how to support each delegation as they work to develop natural capital assessments and reach these inspiring visions of their future.
Wrapping up the symposium, Gretchen Daily echoed an earlier talk by UCLA’s Peter Kareiva, underscoring how the scope of our ambition is tremendous. “We want to change everything.”
“We want to shine a light on the way we’re connected to nature, whether we’re talking about schools or cities, or whole nations or corporations that span the planet and yet penetrate our lives–at every meal, in what we wear and do all day. We want to change everything with the way people see those values of nature, and bring them in a routine way into our planning and all of our action, leading to a much better place.”
“We want to go all out in our time together. The thing I want to emphasize here is, we’ve got to do it together.”
NatCap recently committed to convening this gathering each year. It presents a fabulous opportunity to gather our growing community to swap stories, share ideas, puzzle out solutions, and find new ways to work together and shine that light on the way we’re connected to nature. Please come join us at Stanford next March!
Stacey Solie is the Communications Lead at The Natural Capital Project.
Kate Newman is WWF’s vice president for forests and freshwater public sector initiatives, focusing on the development of national green economy strategies and sustainable conservation finance mechanisms. Previously, Ms. Newman was managing director and priority leader for the coral triangle program, responsible for developing and supporting conservation programs in the coral triangle area of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. From 2002 to 2006, Ms. Newman was director of marine ecoregions, responsible for developing and supporting conservation programs in six flagship ecoregions around the world—the Bering Sea, Eastern Africa, Galapagos, Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef, Gulf of California, and Sulu-Sulawesi Seas. From her start at WWF in 1990 until becoming director of marine ecoregions, Ms. Newman managed conservation programs in Africa, directing first the Africa and Madagascar division of the Biodiversity Support Program (BSP) until 1996, then the East and Southern African ecoregions program until 2002. Prior to her career at WWF, Ms. Newman worked in international development, primarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She started there as a Peace Corps volunteer and then remained for a further three years as a program officer for the United States Agency for International Development managing a capacity building program for rural nonprofits. Ms. Newman received a BA in anthropology from the University of Virginia and MS in environmental management from the University of London, U.K.