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Planning Forward after Planet Forward

Kenzie in front of Cherry Blossom Tree
Photo: Wes White

By Kenzie Schmitt

Have you ever been so engaged in a presentation that you were afraid to blink out of fear of missing something? Listening to the keynote speaker from the Planet Forward 2018 Summit in Washington, D.C. made me feel that for the first time. The speaker was a National Geographic photographer with a hundred stories to tell, each one with more to teach than the last. I walked away from this summit with my heart ablaze and my mind abuzz with ideas and inspiration!

The theme of the summit was storytelling, and Planet Forward’s interpretation of good storytelling is comprised of three things: 1) Compelling characters  2) Overcoming obstacles for  3) Worthy outcomes.

man on a stage
Photo: Kenzie Schmitt

Each speaker at the summit told stories following this outline as if it was second nature to them. So how do I get to that point? How am I going to use this moving forward in my career?

Until my senior year in college, I hadn’t considered a career in environmental communication to be a fulfilling job for me.  I majored in Natural Resource Management with the hope that I could work behind the scenes conserving land and natural resources. I have now worked as the communications intern for the Center for Collaborative Conservation (CCC) for four years, and I didn’t realize how much I have learned and grown in that position until now, just a few months before I graduate. A little embarrassing, maybe, but better late than never.

I started working at the CCC as a social media intern, managing the Facebook and Twitter pages. Over the years I started taking on writing the newsletters, maintaining the website and developing posters and branding materials. Before I knew it, I helped build the CCC a brand new website and develop social media plans. I now have a portfolio filled with professional websites, blogs, infographics, flyers, posters, videos, and more – all communication tools and knowledge that I can use in environmental communications. Now with all these tools, I must find a way to use them effectively.

Two women holding a flag in Washington DC
Photo: Glenn Sandiford

The first step, as outlined at the conference, is to find compelling characters. The CCC is connected to hundreds of fellows, researchers, and practitioners. These are people with lofty goals, rich lives, and unique work locations – a perfect assortment of characters. Second, what obstacles did these people overcome? Although funding and training are often significant obstacles, they are not the most interesting hurdles for a story. So what do they encounter? Past fellows have come into conflict with people or groups with conflicting interests, others had to work with difficult rules and guidelines, some found that working in a culture that was different from their own was a new opportunity for growth, and many found that they overcame a personal roadblock during their work. Lastly, the outcome of the stories must be worthy. The folks that we work with have dedicated their research and their careers to protecting, conserving, and restoring ecosystems and ensuring that the people that depend on those lands continue to thrive. At the CCC, we believe these are worthy of our time, effort, and funding. We wouldn’t be working with them if we didn’t believe in their contribution to land and people.

The CCC has impacted over 8000 individuals across 26 countries and tribal nations in our 10 years as a Center, and we want to tell those stories. That’s why the CCC will launch our new storytelling initiative later in 2018. This project will include a practitioner interview series, program videos, interactive fellowship maps, and partnerships with undergraduate courses at CSU!

Everyone has a story. Not everyone realizes it, and not everyone wants to tell theirs, but we all have one. The Planet Forward Summit ignited a passion in me to find these stories and to find the right way to tell them. Blogs can be the right way for some (it is for this little story), books for others. Maybe it’s making a video, or capturing their day in photos, or going in-depth in a podcast. I have my whole career ahead of me to tell the stories of people in conservation, and I cannot wait to get started.

Tree on the Potomac
Photo: Kenzie Schmitt
Cherry blossom flowers
Photo: Kenzie Schmitt
Cherry Blossom tree at sunset
Photo: Kenzie Schmitt