Kathryn Fuller, president of WWF, answers questions
With what environmental organization are you affiliated?
World Wildlife Fund. I’m the president and CEO.
What does your organization do? What, in a perfect world, would constitute “mission accomplished”?
Our mission is the conservation of nature. We seek through our network of offices in about 100 countries around the world to save the most biologically rich and distinctive places on the lands and in the seas.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
I try to support a great staff, troubleshooting on issues and ensuring that clear decisions get made and communicated. I spend a lot of time with our board getting advice and ensuring that our governance remains first rate. And I spend a large amount of my time outside WWF, communicating the urgency of our mission and the importance of engaging to donors, decision makers, and the public.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
I’ve always loved nature and wanted to make a difference from my earliest childhood, reading books about field researchers and looking for critters in the woods and ponds near my home. After college I had a chance to join a field researcher in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater studying wildebeest behavior. That time in Africa confirmed my commitment to pursue a career in conservation. So I went to law school — my undergraduate degree was in English and American literature and I wasn’t prepared for graduate studies in science — with the goal of becoming an environmental lawyer.
I then found myself helping to start the Justice Department’s Wildlife and Marine Resources Section, which I later headed. In the meantime, I also managed to get admitted to a graduate program in marine ecology. I wanted to complement my legal background with more science grounding. As part of that program I did field work in the Caribbean on coral reef crustaceans.
That all happily led me to WWF, where I started as a consultant (following the birth of my third child) doing a book on Latin American wildlife laws. The consultancy turned into a job doing law and policy work and from there I got into management and took over as CEO when my predecessor, Bill Reilly, left to head the EPA.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
New York, N.Y. (but I’m a Red Sox fan). I grew up along the Hudson River. And now I live in Washington, D.C.
What’s on your desk right now?
We’re in the midst of a very exciting strategic assessment of WWF, taking a hard look at our priorities and practices. We want to take WWF to a whole new level of conservation effectiveness and produce enduring results at scale. So I’m going through the feedback from our staff, board, and others to know what they think.
Who is your environmental hero?
Russell Train, former EPA administrator, global conservation leader, and WWF’s former president and chair. He’s amazing!
How do you get around?
My Prius and on foot.
What are you reading these days?
I have several books about Islam and the Middle East. I want to understand more about cultures that are having a major influence in our world.
What’s your favorite meal?
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
Optimism. You have to be optimistic to stick with an environmental or conservation career.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
The Himalayas, especially Bhutan.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
Implement binding CO2 reductions.
What’s one thing the environmental movement is doing badly, and how could they do it better?
Reaching the hearts and minds of the broad public and inspiring action. We need to do even more to come together in our communications and to find ways for communities — real or virtual — to take ownership of environmental issues. We can’t do it by ourselves.
What important environmental issue is frequently overlooked?
The plight of our oceans.
What are you happy about right now?
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Get out into nature as a reminder of what it is that makes our lives beautiful — and makes our lives possible.