Conservation International Meets Urban Habitat Chicago
June 24, 2007
Example of a living centerpiece at Conservation International fundraising dinner in Chicago
Working for Conservation International is a constant education. I have colleagues who have discovered species unknown to science - walking sharks in Indonesia, a neon purple toad in Suriname. CI’s leadership convinced the government of Madagascar to triple its protected areas and helped broker a $24 million debt-for-nature swap with Guatemala. CI works with communities from the Kayapo in Brazil to tribes in Papua New Guinea to develop innovative, culturally sensitive means of protecting Earth’s wild places. Some of CI’s employees work in combat zones or avoid landmines in their day to day activities.
What I do isn’t quite so dramatic. I help produce events to raise awareness and money for CI’s work. This took me to Chicago last week for a fundraising dinner. Our audience included leaders from the Chicago community, corporate titans, and Hollywood VIPS - people we need to commit their resources and influence if our mission is going to be successful. We fed them organic free range beef. We took their breath away with stunning nature photography and thought-provoking videos. Walter Isaacson gave a warm, passionate speech emphasizing the need for modern-day Benjamin Franklins and Albert Einsteins to foster creative solution to today’s environmental challenges.
And to set the mood for the evening, to create the atmosphere that would give our message maximum emotional and intellectual impact, we had plants at each table. Not cut florals - living plants. Our creative director Andrew Snyder helped connect us with Urban Habitat Chicago, who kindly agreed to replant the displays on green roofs and urban gardens in Chicago.
Knowing Urban Habitat Chicago was helping us reduce the waste from the event was great. Even better was meeting Anna, Dave and Mike from the Urban Habitat Chicago team and discovering an imaginative, resourceful group rethinking how nature works in Chicago. Our conversation last week has lingered in my mind and allowed me to reconnect with my motivation for joining CI in the first place.
Superficially, Urban Habitat looks like it occupies the opposite end of the environmental spectrum from CI. UHC focuses on a single urban environment and CI’s work is in remote areas spread across forty-odd countries.
But there is a kernel at the heart of both organizations, though, that I think is identical. Neither organization is trying to preserve nature’s past - both are trying to create a future where humanity lives in harmony with nature. What I find wonderful is that this shared vision of society nurturing the environment while drawing on nature’s benefits has inspired each organization to do creative, vital work of radically different kinds in completely different places.
A healthy ecosystem supports myriad diverse forms of life. That a shared vision can inspire projects as different as Conservation International’s and Urban Habitat Chicago’s is a testament to how robust that vision is.
Guest blogger Andrew Kolb was jarred out of his environmental complacency when he accepted a job teaching English at a small college in south China and didn’t see the sky through the smog for a solid month. He wakes up every morning grateful and astounded that he’s able to feed his family as a Researcher/Writer for Conservation International.