President's Letter: Conservation and joy

Carter Roberts headshot

Carter Roberts
President & CEO, WWF-US

One of our newest Board members—someone who has successfully led climate equity funds, global audits, and human resources functions for one of the world’s largest banks—has the gift of eliciting the inner truths of others through thoughtful conversation.

In one of our first exchanges, she asked: “What part of your work brings you the most joy?” My answer came easily. For me the most gratifying moments come when working with a small group of people who face long odds and use their energy and wits to deliver spectacular things for the world. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in Airman’s Odyssey, “Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” I have found that looking outwardly in the same direction is a key component of successful—and, to me, joyful—conservation.

I went on to tell her about the past six years spent working on Herencia Colombia (or Heritage Colombia). This is an innovative initiative to secure the lasting conservation of 79 million acres of new or expanded areas in the heart of the Amazon, the San Lucas Mountains, the Central Andes, the Orinoco Transition, and the Caribbean Coast and to help establish further marine protected areas in the Caribbean and Pacific. The launch of new protections in Colombia, combined with existing initiatives in Brazil and Peru, secures the permanent protection of 12% of the entire Amazon rain forest.

Herencia Colombia was codeveloped by WWF, the government of Colombia, and a broad coalition of community, public sector, and private sector partners. The work has spanned three presidencies—from President Juan Manuel Santos and President Iván Duque Márquez to current President Gustavo Petro—setting a gold standard for other countries to emulate in delivering the protection of one-third of the planet’s land and waters as agreed to in the 2002 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

Of course, the devil is in the details when it comes to a project of this size and scope. Herencia Colombia was successful because of the hard work of a brilliant array of people, many operating behind the scenes, who toiled against all odds to bring this audacious vision to life. A key part of this collaboration was setting up a WhatsApp group chat with a core team of colleagues at our partner organizations to facilitate our daily back- and-forths. And in the last days of getting Herencia Colombia over the finish line—solidifying the conservation plans, the financing, the policy components, the government commitments, the institutional arrangements, and so much more—we communicated constantly.

Father’s Day fell during this intense period. I took a break from our negotiations to send my children a quick note that read, “On this Father’s Day, I want you all to know how proud I am of you. Lots of love, Dad.” Unfortunately, in haste, I sent it to the Herencia Colombia WhatsApp group—not to my kids. One of my colleagues responded to everyone, in Spanish, “Don’t worry, Papa Carter, we love you, too.”

Once all the final conditions were met, we signed the papers officially launching Herencia Colombia during a ceremony at the Colombian presidential palace. During the ceremony, President Duque and Minister Correa took time to thank the many people who had worked so hard to make the day possible—including “Papa Carter,” which elicited peals of laughter from the crowd.

Some 30 years ago, I worked to put together a conservation deal in Martha’s Vineyard. I had many conversations with Jerry Kohlberg—one of the founders of the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company. He turned to me at one point and asked, “How much goodwill is there between you and the people with whom you work? Because at some point, something will go wrong. But if you have that abiding goodwill, you will surely find your way through anything.”

I tell these stories to illustrate the fundamental truth that relationships matter. They are a necessary ingredient in our work—and in my mind, the greatest joy in all that we do.

Carter Roberts

President & CEO

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