WWF board member Amanda Paulson on the importance of storytelling

Paulson standing in front of mountains

Everyone loves a good story. When we’re young, stories entertain and teach us. As we get older, they may take on a different form—a magazine article instead of a picture book, for example—but the ultimate purpose is the same. By sharing stories, we make sense of the human experience and can understand complex situations or concepts more clearly.

For Amanda Paulson, a veteran journalist who now heads up special projects at her family’s Bobolink Foundation, being curious and telling stories is the most important part of any job. “I think of journalists as professional question-askers,” she says. “I love to write and travel and talk to people and hear their stories, so journalism seemed like the perfect career for me.”

During more than two decades with the Christian Science Monitor, Paulson covered education, politics, and immigration, and was the paper’s chief environment, climate, and science writer. She believes that journalism plays a critical role in society, “perhaps more now than ever, when many people just gravitate to the news sources that tell them what they want to hear.” She also believes that good journalism should tell a story: “People learn through stories. It’s how they start to care about issues.”

Paulson herself was drawn to conservation through stories. Not only those her mother told as The Nature Lady—a program she led for more than a decade to help foster a love of nature in elementary school students in suburban Chicago—but also the stories she heard during time spent studying in Kenya during college. It was an experience she calls “foundational” in piquing her interest in the role communities play in conservation.

Today, when she thinks about what successful conservation looks like, community support is the first thing that comes to mind. “Protection of ecosystems and landscapes is important, of course, but protection is only durable if it is rooted in local communities. They have to both help design and benefit from conservation efforts. Otherwise, you can end up with things that look good on paper but don’t have any staying power.”

“We need conservation done at the right scale for the people and communities involved.”

Amanda Paulson
Bobolink Foundation

Paulson also thinks a lot about the scale of conservation, and how bigger doesn’t always mean better. “I think we need conservation done at the right scale for the people and communities involved,” she says, “with sustainable financing and good stewardship.” Paulson cites Bobolink’s work along the Georgia coast as an example. “Determining what the scale of successful conservation is when it comes to a particular species or river system is just as meaningful as the large-scale conservation projects my family supports through WWF, like Heritage Colombia and the Amazon Region Protected Areas program.”

She is proud of those efforts and inspired by people who have chosen to work in the field of conservation. Paulson counts her parents and local community leaders who often work in difficult circumstances among her conservation heroes. She’s also inspired by the legacy of the late Tom Lovejoy, the renowned scientist and passionate advocate for the Amazon who coined the term “biodiversity.”

Paulson traveled to Brazil with Lovejoy and was captivated not only by the lush rain forest teeming with life but by Lovejoy’s legendary storytelling. “He brought everyone from politicians to celebrities to the Amazon to educate and motivate them to care about it,” she says. “Spending an evening around a campfire, listening to Tom’s stories, you couldn’t help but come away with a renewed sense of what was possible.”

“And that’s just one more reason stories are important,” Paulson adds. “They can give us hope.”

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