Environmental Resilience Institute Externship Grant Reflection: The Nature Conservancy

Anne Lupsha 

Externship Location: The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is a bipartisan NGO whose goal is to protect and conserve land and water by engaging with government, corporate and international actors. TNC is the largest conservation organization in the world. It works across borders, identities and affiliations to advance the goal of conservation.

During my week at The Nature Conservancy, I shadowed people and sat in on meetings in an effort to learn about the structure, goals, and culture of TNC. I learned how all of the different departments worked together to advance the goal of One Conservancy, how the organization supports its people, and the logistics of policy implementation.

On Monday, we spent a lot of time learning about the structure and organization of TNC. As we sat under the Global Conservation Campaigns team and the U.S. Government Relations team, we learned a lot about how domestic policy implementation works. TNC has to have a pulse on the political climate at all times in order to know what measures they could pass or not. Because TNC is bipartisan, they cannot legally use their funding or research to promote or harm any candidate. Instead, they do their best to work with the elected representatives and the public to pass ballot measures and bills that help everyone help the planet.

On Tuesday, we gained insight into the culture of The Nature Conservancy. We talked to Heather, a UVA alum, and she told us that TNC is very conducive and supportive of family life and work-life balance. The Chief People Officer held office hours, so we were able to hear what concerns people had about the organization. There was large leadership turnover about a year ago, so many people have felt the instability. However, we learned that transparency is a very important tenant of TNC and that many people appreciated the honesty and support that the organization offered them.

Wednesday gave me great insight into how policy works in the corporate and government spheres. Corporate engagement works a lot faster and often has global implications. Engaging in policy in the federal, state and local government sphere is very laborious and requires knowledge of the political climate, coalitions, and very specific wording and legal functions. However, this laborious process creates policies that affect all people and corporations, so while slow, it is very important and rewarding.

Thursday was very focused on messaging, both internally and externally. The interim CEO came into headquarters and discussed how TNC has to communicate better internally. In order to really advance conservation efforts, TNC’s diverse departments must leverage their overlap to make great changes and wins. They also must present a consistent face and message to the public. We learned from Jenny that language within policy is also essential to its effectiveness and ability to pass. Language around climate is still frustratingly censored, so the importance of language in order to convince people about the urgency of climate cannot be understated.

On the final day, we were able to see how all of these departments and lessons come together. I talked to Lisa who works on the international policy team, Jim who has worked in corporate engagement for a decade, and Julia who travels the world and the U.S. for the Global Campaigns team. Lisa works with international sustainability law, such as the Paris Agreement, Jim works with Corporations on internal practices that will affect their offices around the world, and Julia works with people on the ground in states or countries to help them pass climate legislation. Their jobs are all different but so interconnected at the same time. My week here at TNC has really shown me that there are a million different areas that need to change in order to address the threat of climate change. Ultimately, I learned that although the options for what arena to fight climate change in are vast and overwhelming, they really do all connect to form One Conservancy with one mission to protect the planet, and they a lot of very dedicated and smart people working to achieve this mission.