Last month, ten outstanding leaders from CEF member companies — chosen from a highly competitive field of applicants — attended the CEF Sustainability Leadership Development Program, “Meeting Sustainability Challenges with Transformational Leadership,” led by Rob Bernard, former Chief Environmental Strategist at Microsoft, along with Julia Novy-Hildesley, Professor of the Practice and Executive Director of Stanford’s Change Leadership for Sustainability Program and renowned National Geographic experts, connected to the program’s base for the week, Mashpi Lodge.
Here are the reflections from the winners:
Holly Beale, Program Manager, Environmental Sustainability, Microsoft
What do an organic cacao farm and a major, multi-national organization have in common? Well, more than you might think. Growth for both comes with the biodiversity that interacts with their systems. This quote, by an organic cacao farmer in the Mashpi village, explains how the diverse mix of plant and animal species at the farm contribute instrumentally to one another, creating an interdependent web of symbiotic relationships. In this biodiversity hotspot 3 hours Norwest of Quito, Ecuador, each piece of the mix is valued for its part in the growth and abundance of the yield; paralleling how diverse thought and experiences contributing critically to our human and business systems.
The cacao farm trek was just one of many excursions during our week-long Sustainability Leadership Program through CEF. To call our week in CEF’s Sustainability Leadership Development Program transformational would be a glaring understatement of the value it brings to its participants and the world. The exemplary experiences of our leaders, varied coaching styles, and thought leadership in their approaches to system change was the ideal combination for pushing us to think bigger, faster, and more at scale. We contemplated tough questions such as, “How bold do we want to be?” “Does your path lead to transformation at scale?” “What do we do to change the rules?” and “If we have access to scale, what do we do with it?”
The natural beauty and feelings of awe from the biodiversity and remote nature of the Mashpi Lodge cannot be overstated. Our activities were tailored to maximize our time appreciating the ecosystem, contemplating our place in it, and considering what we as emerging sustainability leaders can accomplish in our lives toward a more sustainable future.
After returning to Quito with a jarring reintroduction to human life, we are taking our learnings and not wasting any time putting them into action. Our lives are unequivocally changed by the experience, and we’re excited and ready to go beyond incremental to enact large-scale system change.
Amy Bourne, Senior Manager of Sustainability & Supplier Diversity, Marriott International
From the moment I stepped into the Mashpi Lodge, I was in pure awe. Sure, the native lemon grass tea and warm towels given to us at the door were lovely – not to mention the stunning décor and immediate forest views but once you arrive after a long (and bumpy) journey – you immediately get a feeling that you’re somewhere special. But special doesn’t begin to describe the lodge and my experience there – the cloud forest is truly a unique haven for learning, reflection and transformation. Roque Sevilla’s vision for the hotel, conservation of the remaining forest and support for the local community is overwhelmingly impressive. Anyone who learns the story of the project can’t help but aspire to exert the same level of vision and change in their own work.
Beyond the intriguing location, I originally applied for CEF’s Sustainability Leadership Development program as a purely professional development endeavor. However, after the first meeting with our leaders, I quickly realized the trip would not only be professionally enriching but also personally fulfilling. Our leaders, Amy, Rob and Julia put together an agenda for the week that sparked our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energies and strived to help us grow and balance each. They forced us to look inward and ask ourselves the tough questions about how we view our lives and work and how that vision translates into our actions.
Each day we embarked on a variety of activities including guided ecology hikes through the forest, treks to lagoons and waterfalls, a tour of a local sustainable cocoa farm, open-air cable rides, and yoga. During these adventures we got to know each other as well as our guides and members of the surrounding community. Most of the guides and other Mashpi staff are originally from the Mashpi community. During our conversations we learned that some had farmed the land before the hotel was built, contributing to the historic deforestation of Mashpi. Working for the lodge has taught them to become stewards of the forest and contribute to Roque’s sustainable mission. I was brought to tears more than once upon realizing the impact the lodge has had on their livelihoods and how their understanding of the importance of the forest has evolved.
When we weren’t out exploring, we gathered to share our work challenges and ambitions. Amy, Rob and Julia brought the perfect mix of diverse leadership styles to the table to guide the discussions. I’m grateful to my fellow group members for allowing themselves to become vulnerable and share intimate details about their work and personal lives. In this trusting space we dug deep into topics such as complex systems change, resilience/adaptation, strategic relationships and leadership challenges. We consistently looked to the forest’s complex systems and symbiotic relationships surrounding us at every level from the roots to the highest canopy to inspire us.
It’s always refreshing to visit new places, but it is rare to have an opportunity to do so through such a focused lens and with a group of professionals that are equally passionate about sustainability. I am so fortunate to have been a part of this adventure and will always treasure my time in Mashpi. I look forward to fostering the amazing relationships we built and sharing future successes and challenges with my new friends.
Ursula English, VP, Environment, Health & Safety, The Boeing Company
This was a truly transformational experience! It was an honor to be accepted into this year’s 2018 Corporate Eco Forum Sustainability Leadership Development Challenge. The overall Program organization and execution was excellent. As an example, the pre-reading material and virtual meeting of attendees before our departure enabled more comfortable and robust conversations to occur at the very onset of the weeklong immersive experience.
The consideration of self as the starting point for broader connection and influence was very effective in setting the stage for innovative idea generation and/or problem solving. As a result of this approach, I have personally made several adjustments that are definitely contributing to greater happiness, joy, and energy as I pursue the advancement of environmental objectives.
Learning ‘why stories matter’ and developing the practice of building narratives along a disciplined arc was very timely and powerful. Within my first week home, I was able to effectively construct a proposal following the framework (story of self, story of us, and story of now) to elicit support and commitment from leadership.
Attending the Program with several passionate, very capable, early career professionals led to a shift in my thinking. I realized that, as a senior leader, the most impactful action I might take would be to create a pathway for which others can traverse. This is different than accomplishing something specific for the environment and instead involves creating a means for others to advance their ideas. It was evident that there is still a ‘system of no’ in many corporate companies. Now, I clearly recognize the opportunity I can personally seize is to create a ‘system of yes’ that rewards business ideas that yield value and savings.
All throughout the week, the various outings and ongoing presence in the surrounding landscape were truly abundant. The vision of Mashpi, the expertise of the local guides, the incredible biodiversity, and the very positive cultural attitudes left me replenished and reinvigorated toward the practical work that lies ahead to do all we can to reverse climate change and better the world!
Matt Inbusch, Sustainability Project Leader, International Paper
What an incredible place, and what an amazing group to explore with! By which I mean both exploring the surrounding cloud forest dripping with life and resilience, as well as asking ourselves the big (and small) questions, listening and learning from and challenging each other, and examining how each of us can use our sphere of influence to make the most impact. The setting and the daily topics of investigation complimented each other perfectly; how can you not be inspired and reinvigorated as a changemaker when you spend a week on secluded trails and in the canopy among the hundreds of species of hummingbirds, butterflies, frogs, and so much more? Most of all, I’m excited to continue to grow and deepen relationships with the cohort as we each return to our respective contexts. It’s a network that I know will serve us all immensely in the months and years to come. Thanks CEF for a truly transformative experience!
Kellie Jensen, Sustainable Materials Management Program Manager, Apple
Participating in the CEF Sustainability leadership program at the Mashpi Lodge was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, one that will continue to impact my personal and professional decisions for the foreseeable future.
When I arrived to Ecuador, I joined a team of 12 sustainability professionals focused on growth, renewal and change. I was tired and overwhelmed, but I couldn’t hold onto those feelings for long. My new friends quickly pushed me into the cloud forest and with it came a sense of rejuvenation and a need for urgent action.
As we hiked mile after mile, struggling with each mud filled step, we found hidden treasures in the nature that surrounded us and in the friendships we were building. I listened to stories that inspired strength, courage and determination. I closed each day eager for the next and I was not disappointed.
Our experiences demonstrated a need for collaboration and partnership and an opportunity to achieve greater impact. We represent some of the most powerful companies in the world, and we are tackling some of the greatest challenges present in today’s society. It’s time for us to leave our comfort zones, to aggressively pursue solutions that positively impact the communities in which we live and work.
Having returned to my community, I struggled to find the right words to describe my CEF experience. Turns out it’s harder than I imagined to reflect on my time at Mashpi now that I’m back in the grind. Unfortunately the smoke that surrounds me is a stark reminder of our new reality. I sit here with fires raging around me. California is burning, and we’re not alone. Climate change doesn’t discriminate.
The challenge is not to forget that places like Mashpi exist and it’s our responsibility to not only protect it but to find opportunities to establish and grow others like it. We have agency. I’m going to utilize mine to build partnerships with new friends in support of the larger environmental movement.
I emerged from the forest with renewed strength and power. It was a privilege to have spent time in such a magical place and with a group of wonderfully innovative, kind and supportive environmental leaders. Thank you for this opportunity. Thank you to my new friends for telling your stories with such vulnerability and courage. Together we’ll affect greater change.
Anastasia Ostapchuk, Manager, Corporate Environmental Affairs, TD Bank Group
I was ecstatic to have been chosen as one of the ten emerging sustainability leaders to take part in this year’s CEF’s Leadership Development Program.
The location could not have been more fitting for this year’s theme: “Meeting sustainability challenges with transformational leadership.” The Mashpi lodge, located in the ecologically rich Cloud Forest of Ecuador, is itself an incredible example of a sustainable business and transformational leadership. It’s owner, Roque Sevilla, saved this 3,000-acre plot of Cloud Forest from the destruction of the logging industry, and transformed it into a breathtaking wildlife sanctuary, hotel, and research center, where sustainability is at the very heart of the business model. This was the perfect setting to convene ten emerging sustainability leaders to grapple with challenges and share best practices.
Throughout the week we simultaneously enjoyed the incredible natural experience that Masphi has to offer, and collectively grappled with the leadership challenges we are all facing in our careers and personal lives. Our incredible coaches, Amy, Rob, and Julia, encouraged us to ‘think big’ and guided us along the way by asking tough, yet insightful questions and sharing their own successes and failures throughout their careers.
For me, the most valuable part of the experience was the opportunity to connect with the incredible participants and coaches in an authentic way. The week-long program allowed us to get to know each other in a much more intimate way than any conference or other program.
I have come back from this trip armed with a renewed sense of purpose and a new peer support network. I am so grateful to have been part of this program and I can’t wait to where the future takes us all!
Lauren Riggs, REWS Sustainability Team Lead, Google
Forest bathing, shinrin-yoku in Japanese, is a practice that reconnects and establishes our connection with nature. Our innate connection nature is what keep us vibrant, grounded and connected to place – place of where you are in the moment, where you have been or where you might go. My experience of the Mashpi Reserve in Ecuador invigorated my connection with and admiration of nature. My experience of the Mashpi Reserve combined with the CEF Leadership Program grounded me in my personal sense of place, purpose and I found a strength in a new community of peers who aim to achieve similarly transformative goals in this world.
I found vulnerability in the forest. Hiking and walking with spurts and lulls in conversation gave me the personal space I needed to open myself up to whatever I might receive from my peers and hosts. Our group reflection on the resilience of the forest (…while a waterfall sounded behind us and rain tapped on our heads!) was equally centering and energizing – the transformative moment of the trip that I needed to live into my personal commitment to approach my future with bold intent.
The Mashpi Cloud Forest is considered a biodiversity hot-spot and spending time there was an incredible and humbling experience. There are over 400 bird species in the forest, trees that shed and regenerate bark to shake predators, and tiny rain frogs that chirp with misdirection. Just as special was the connection that the CEF group made with the guides and hosts of the lodge and the forest. They shared their seemingly endless knowledge with us and I can honestly say that I learned more in our one week there than I have in many weeks of my recent past. Thank you, CEF and Mashpi.
Tim Taylor, Energy and Sustainability Program Manager, CBRE
CEF’s Sustainability Leadership Development program was a once in a lifetime experience and I was truly honored to be able to represent CBRE. The Ecuadorian cloud forest had many stories to tell but the themes of resiliency and connection between all ecosystems resonated throughout the week. The local guides provided extensive knowledge to everything imaginable within such a biodiverse system but also highlighted the inclusion between the Mashpi lodge and local villages. The success of the Mashpi lodge is completely dependent upon the health of the forest and the locals within its universe.
Each participant from the Leadership Development Program came from a different vantage point in the sustainability sector, but everyone was extraordinary and played an integral part of the overall experience. Very rarely do you get to spend a considerable amount of time with a group fully engaged in making a difference and helping others achieve their goals. Ending each night at the same table to coach through individual hurtles and receive feedback from others invested in the overall success of sustainability was enormously impactful. To solve our planet’s most challenging issues, we all need to find inspiration and collaborate with our networks to maximize the impact.
The opportunity to meet the mind behind the Mashpi Lodge, Roque Sevilla, sparked my imagination and left me wondering about my own legacy I plan to create. The experience at Mashpi continues to leave me inspired, helped me rethink the boundaries of what can be done and reinvigorated my passion for the tremendous work the CEF leaders are doing in sustainability.
Devan Tracy, Energy Engineer, Lockheed Martin
I imagine a world where the word sustainability doesn’t exist. Not because it’s not an important concept, but the exact opposite – because it’s so important, it becomes redundant. How do we get there? One method is to leverage each other, and that’s just what this year’s CEF cohort committed to doing. We realize, as successful sustainability leaders representing successful corporations, regardless of industry, we represent an ecosystem with the power of scale at our fingertips – and with that, we can do something meaningful for our fragile world.
Our group quickly grew close and accelerated past the conventional artificial networking boundary to share common challenges, visions, purpose, vulnerabilities, and a sense of urgency. Our temporary residence within the cloud forests of Mashpi, Ecuador was a constant reminder of how a complex ecosystem of diverse forces can work together synchronously, a metaphor for our respective corporate sustainability journeys. We reminded ourselves that our ideas are not crazy – in fact, the status quo is. We focused on bold, transformational change vs incremental change. And we learned that sometimes, if you want to make a statement, start with the questions, i.e.: ‘If I were CEO for one day, what would I do? If I woke up tomorrow and all of our challenges had been solved, how would I know?’
I am forever grateful for this opportunity to step back, reflect, share success stories and battle wounds, and re-ignite the fire within. Together, let’s go change the world – because we can’t wait on the world to change, and we can’t do it alone.
Cherie Wilson, Director, Federal Affairs, General Motors
I was beyond honored to learn of my acceptance into the competitive CEF Sustainability Leadership Development program. I viewed the program as an opportunity to rekindle my passion for sustainability and to help draw a deeper connection with my day to day work at General Motors, which has a strong presence in Ecuador. However, I could not have imagined just how magical and rare this opportunity would be until I experienced the true gem that is the Mashpi cloud forest in the Choco biogeographic region of Ecuador with our inspirational group of leaders.
Our cohort consisted of some of the most passionate and dedicated environmental leaders I’ve met throughout my career. I enjoyed learning about different industries’ challenges from them as well as connecting with their desire to inspire corporate transformation through their individual roles and responsibilities. Each person’s unique perspective and energy helped inform group discussions in a way that elicited robust and honest dialogue. I now have a new network of motivators and collaborators – not just friends or colleagues.
We were guided by three awe inspiring changemakers: CEF’s own Amy O’Meara, Stanford’s Julia Novy-Hildesley, and CEF Leadership Council Member Rob Bernard. These changemakers forced us to see beyond what is and imagine what could be. They encouraged us to look beyond our roles within our respective companies and to connect with our roles as citizens of a global connected community. They encouraged us to think about system wide change and to use the Mashpi ecosystem as an example of just how connected and interrelated we all are to one another – from the smallest leaf cutter ant to the largest tree in the forest. They also challenged us to embrace concepts that advance transformative change as opposed to incrementalism. Most importantly, they provided us with the space and the time to reflect on our core values and drivers in a manner that encouraged us to assess how we are balancing various energy inputs and outputs that are central to productivity and positivity.
These important connections were made in one of the world’s most biologically and culturally diverse places. Each day that I spent exploring the Mashpi forest and connecting with the local people, who brought so much richness and insight to our time there, I grew increasingly inspired to leverage my sphere of influence to advance positive change. Additionally, the lodge itself exemplified the core tenets of people, planet and profit – demonstrating how businesses can wield power to solve environmental and humanitarian problems. I simply cannot wait to implement the various learnings I have gathered and continue engaging with the wonderful people I now consider my CEF and Mashpi family.