Last week at the World Office we celebrated both Carol Baudler’s retirement as Director of the Conservancy’s Conservation Campaigns Program and her 30 years of remarkable service to The Nature Conservancy and to the cause of conservation.
Because of the unique character of Carol’s contribution, this event was much more than a recounting of the past — it had important lessons for how we do conservation as an organization and as a society in the years to come.
During the celebration, Ingrid Nyborg, my colleague in the U.S. Government Relations Department, said that Carol’s career is a good example for the young people at the Conservancy who want to decide how to spend the next 20 years of their lives — Carol has shown how one person can make a difference, can do challenging, exciting things with lasting benefits for those who follow us.
Ingrid is right. Carol was a pioneering Director of the Conservancy’s Government Relations Department and subsequently went on to create the Conservation Campaigns Program with the objective of using the powers of public opinion research, strategic design of measures and messages, and targeted communication campaigns to support state conservation ballot initiatives.
The Conservation Campaigns program, collaborating with Nature Conservancy chapters and with partners, has leveraged the approval of an astonishing $47 billion in new conservation dollars at the state and local level to protect many of the most significant natural areas and natural systems in North America. It has also helped states to stand up against some very bad anti-environmental ballot measures. The program has achieved an almost 92 percent winning ratio of measures at the ballot box!
While working to protect the natural world, Carol took very seriously her role as a mentor and cultivator of talented staff. She not only hired good people, but she worked hard to build a team based on consensus and trust. And she has been a strong voice for strengthening the role of women in the Conservancy.
All of this is important in itself, but as those who spoke at the event last week suggested, Carol’s achievements and her approach to getting things done have lessons for both the Conservancy and for our country in carrying conservation forward in an often contentious, partisan and negative world:
- Our Conservation Campaigns Program has demonstrated that the American people still believe that the quality and character of this country’s land and water are very important. The overwhelming weight of public opinion revealed by the state conservation campaigns gives us and other conservation advocates a strong platform for convincing elected officials of the merits of conservation. When the convincing fails, Carol has shown that ballot measures can offer a direct route to positive change.
- The opponents of conservation have become skilled at using messaging and media at advancing their ideas. Carol has shown that the environmental community can use the same tools even more effectively than our opponents because we can build on the underlying sympathies and values of the American people.
- In what seems like an increasingly unprincipled political environment, Carol has demonstrated that it is possible to be ethical, graceful and dignified, and still win — that, in fact, a principled approach to the politics of conservation can be a powerful tool in moving campaign strategies from place to place.
- Carol realized that if The Nature Conservancy wanted to use the democratic process of state ballot campaigns to mobilize diverse constituencies to do the right thing for nature, then, to be consistent with that approach, she should build the Conservation Campaigns Program through similar respect for colleagues, teamwork, consensus building and equality of opportunity. The Conservancy should now model this way of doing things as we pursue our global strategies.
At the celebration this last week, the Conservancy’s senior leadership was visibly moved by the opportunity to thank Carol for her accomplishments. This is a good thing.
While we may pride ourselves in our scientific and planning skills, the conservation of nature is not a dry business. It is about working with people to shape a future world where nature is useful, but also beautiful and magical. That work is part of the unrepeatable journey of life on Earth. Carol Baudler has been a singular guide in that journey — mixing hard-eyed good judgment with a very human passion for our mutual success.
It is right that Carol’s qualities and her life’s accomplishments evoke tears of hope and gratitude and, thus, a commitment to follow the path she has so graciously set before us.
[Image: Carol Baudler, Director of the Conservancy’s Conservation Campaigns Program.]