Friday, July 24, 2009

Tree-hugging, Dirt-eating Druids? Not so much...

syndicated from my blog at

Did I just hear those words? Having been distracted by the brilliant 28th floor view of the Bay Bridge, I was quickly thrust back into reality.

As I was sitting in on a conference call with the Director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Corporate Partnership Program, the title referenced phrase is how he described the expectations of his business “partner,” FedEx’s chief engineer. It wasn’t too far off from the sentiment I was expecting when I first arrived here five weeks ago, although I must admit I didn’t hold quite the negative bias about it. After all, I had searched out and taken a summer position with an explicitly environmentally oriented organisation for a reason.

In many ways such a position was what I wanted and felt I needed. My lofty ideals and bend towards public service have definitely pushed me more towards the John Muir Trail than to Wall Street. And so, my expectations weren’t too far astray from the thoughts permeating the mind of that engineer.

Much to my surprise, that was not at all what I got. Before the next days and weeks allow me to divulge all of my secrets, let me first start off by recognising that this is a serious organisation, hell-bent on finding “the ways that work,” by which the EDF means economically sound solutions to our most pressing environmental woes. And I quickly learned they have the right kind of people to get the job done.

During my first days in San Francisco, I found myself in EDF’s Ocean’s Program, surrounded by not only PhDs and other experts in marine biology and climate science, but by economic thought leaders and successful entrepreneurs with 20 plus years of business success behind them. Great! But I was in strange waters; I was the only MBA student in the office, among a dozen or so other interns, ranging from undergrads studying biology and economics to other Master’s candidates conducting research in marine ecosystems and even a second year law student working towards his J.D. After nearly a full year of business school surrounded by mostly future techies, management consultants and bankers, I was a fish out of water.

As I said before, this is a serious and broadly skilled group of experts. With my limited technical expertise and relatively short experience, how was I going to jump and make a difference in ten weeks? My unique position with the fledgling (and also quite unique) California Fisheries Fund would provide the perfect opportunity to do just such a thing. This has proved to be a fast-paced adventure through business and politics, with gorgeous views along the way.

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