President's Letter: Keeping the faith

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"Connecting nature to people and connecting people to nature stands at the core of what we do. The link between the planet and humanity spans the world, and should minimize the differences that divide us."

Carter Roberts
President & CEO, WWF

Of all the far-flung places my job has taken me, nothing quite prepared me for a recent visit to the center of the world’s smallest country, with hardly a trace of wildlife in sight.

I had the privilege of joining WWF-Italy president Donatella Bianchi and WWF-International chair Yolanda Kakabadse in St. Peter’s Square for Ash Wednesday. There were five small folding chairs, three for us and two for a couple who introduced themselves as fans of WWF. I was humbled to learn that the man was Kailash Satyarthi, who, for his work to stop child labor and champion the rights of children, shared the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with Malala Yousafzai.

Pope Francis began his homily by reminding us of the connections between the poorest and the planet, and admonished those in attendance to dig deep to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

Listening to Pope Francis caused me to reflect on the power leaders have to leverage their institutions to help preserve our planet— for the good of humanity and more. At the conclusion, attendants gestured for us to walk to the front of the platform and face the Pope. He stood up and walked towards us, Bernini’s sculptures of saints peering down from atop the Vatican, on this day with deep blue skies.

We presented a letter that detailed WWF’s work on climate change. We described our efforts to mobilize religious and Latino voices in support of climate action through Climático! We shared the great challenges of keeping our planet intact.

And then I offered him a most unlikely gift, suggested by someone who knew his remarkable sense of humor well: a small plush panda sporting a hand-sewn Franciscan habit, complete with tiny rope belt. We were delighted when cameras flashed as the Pope burst into a great sustained laugh, reminding us of the importance of maintaining a sense of humor despite the difficult work we do.

Most people—whatever their beliefs, whether they’re religious or not—agree that Pope Francis defies conventions. Spirited, principled, and willing to challenge tradition to build bridges and remind us of what’s most fundamental in our world, he models the courage we’ll need to effect the scale of change we need, before it’s too late.

WWF director general Marco Lambertini joined us afterward at WWF-Italy, where we reflected on the experience of our meeting. We talked about the importance of all types of faith, and of balancing the economic arguments for nature with the fundamental moral grounds for our work in maintaining “our common home,” as the Pope wrote in his encyclical on the environment last year.

When the United Nations updated its global goals last year, with half of the new goals devoted specifically to the environment, it was long-overdue recognition that an intact planet is the key to our own survival. Which is why all of us need to stop and consider that this planet is not just the only home for tigers and elephants and rhinos—it is our only home as well.

In this issue’s extra-long version of our Conversation feature, I sit down with the CEO of CARE, Michelle Nunn. We reflect on the similarities between our organizations, the intersection between conservation and international development, and how growing up in the Deep South influenced our careers. Our long-standing partnership with CARE links smart natural resource management with the ability of local communities to conserve natural resources, restore fisheries, and lift themselves out of poverty.

Connecting nature to people and connecting people to nature stands at the core of what we do. The link between the planet and humanity spans the world, and should minimize the differences that divide us. From St. Peter’s Square to Kathmandu, from Lusaka to DC, and to every place in between, we should remember to keep the faith, challenge tradition, and build bridges with others for the salvation of our common home.

Carter Roberts

President and CEO

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