What drew you to the Marxe School?
Partly pure serendipity…I was on a crowded Metro North train and [a Marxe undergraduate advisor] was sitting next to me, she saw that I had a Rainforest Alliance sticker on my laptop and started chatting since she is a committed environmentalist. She followed up and asked if I would consider joining Marxe. I checked out Baruch and Marxe on the website and was so impressed by the mission and success and the kinds of students that enter the school. This is partly because I grew up in a poor single parent family in the UK and was able to develop a great career thanks to wonderful public education opportunities. I also want to help inspire in some small way students to consider nonprofit careers or work on environmental or sustainability challenges. So it’s perfect!
What are you teaching and why should students sign up?
I’ll be teaching nonprofit administration and management. The course will be really practical, illustrated by the real life challenges I have faced and continue to confront as a leader in a medium-sized non-profit. The course will have a global perspective as well, with examples from places like Guatemala, Indonesia, and West Africa as well as the U.S. and Europe. We’ll do a lot of interactive discussion and I’ll bring in some of my fun colleagues to help with the teaching, including our Chief Financial Officer, Alik, who is from Guyana and has also worked all over the world and studied at Baruch. Fundamentally, I’ll be teaching students how they can be more effective in changing the world while also having a fulfilling and rewarding professional career.
What do you do as Chief Program Officer at Rainforest Alliance? What are some of the most difficult challenges RA faces? What about the Alliance’s most notable accomplishment?
Check out our website. We work to improve the lives of millions of poor farmers, farm workers and forest communities around the world, and with those people to help protect and conserve the beautiful landscapes that they live in. This takes us into places like Ghana and Ivory Coast with cocoa farmers; Kenya with tea growers; Uganda and Rwanda with coffee farmers; Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador on worker’s rights in the banana industry; Indonesia on oil palm, and Brazil on beef and soy. = We use some quite unusual approaches to do this including running one of the world’s largest sustainability certification programs, helping communities develop sustainable enterprises using natural forest products, and even lobbing governments around the world on climate change.
I’m proud that every year we improve the lives of millions of poor farmers, help protect huge areas of tropical forests, and help all of you buy more sustainable products. You’ll see our logo on sustainable bananas, grapes, pineapples, coffee, tea, chocolate, cut flowers, and more in Sam’s Club, Walmart, Stop and Shop, Kroger’s, and more. Our biggest challenges are dealing with governments and companies that just don’t support efforts to address climate change and poverty…but we never give up!
You have traveled extensively in the name of environmentalism and sustainability. Can you tell us one of the most meaningful experiences you’ve had while on these “missions”?
As I write this now, I am flying home from a week in Guatemala at the same time as the U.S. media is FULL of stories about immigrant rights and the horrific acts of child separation at the U.S. southern border. Many of these families come from Guatemala. We are working there on wonderful programs that have created thousands of dignified jobs for Guatemalans in sustainable farming and also forest management and protection – and it’s mainly supported by the U.S. government through USAID! I was with these communities all week learning about their success in building small companies and strong communities that are resilient and proud. One of the women leaders told me how through their work with Rainforest Alliance she has been able to send her kids to high school, and then one of her daughters got a scholarship to the U.S., and has returned to Guatemala to help her community manage their cooperative. And this work has also helped protect the largest area of tropical forest in Central America, the amazing Maya Biosphere Reserve. That’s why I do this work and want to encourage others to do the same.