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Embracing the Outcomes We Seek

Feb 7 2017
By Marie Donahue

Next month, as people travel from all over the globe to attend the Natural Capital Symposium, we hope each participant takes a moment to reflect on what will make this experience personally meaningful and to ask themselves, “What do I look forward to? What do I plan to share? With whom would I like to connect? And, what do I hope to learn?” It is, after all, our goal to provide each participant the space to share, connect, and learn in significant ways. To achieve this, Symposium organizers have ensured there will be something for everyone each day.

Gretchen Daily and Mary Jane Wilder at Registration Table, 2016 Natural Capital Symposium. Photo credit: Stacey Solie / Natural Capital Project

Keynote addresses and plenary sessions will feature leaders of the ecosystem services community and NatCap partnership. These speakers will explore frontiers in natural capital and synthesize common threads of science and impact across our work.  

On Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund, and Mark Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, will share insights about how to bring both scientists and policymakers to the table, in order to, as Tercek argues, “transform the way the world approaches today’s biggest challenges.”

The symposium will also feature leaders from NatCap’s academic founding partners—including project co-founders Gretchen Daily from Stanford University and Steve Polasky from University of Minnesota, as well as Chris Field, Director of Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, Jessica Hellmann, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.  Together with many others, they will explore how scientific research on ecosystem services can extend well beyond the walls of academic institutions.

Plenary sessions during the day will launch discussions on a wide range of overarching themes identified by this community as key outcomes of our work, including sustainable development planning, securing freshwater, resilient coastal communities, sustainable cities, and private sector standards.

NatCappers Adrian Vogl, Dave Fisher, and Katie Arkema are excited to attend a plenary session at last year’s Symposium. Photo credit: Stacey Solie / Natural Capital Project

For those interested in sustainable cities, NatCap Hydrologist Perrine Hamel recommends the conference’s first plenary “What role for Nature in the transition towards Livable Cities?” (Monday, 9:30am – 10:30am), which will explore the relationship between people and nature in a rapidly urbanizing world and feature thought leaders in the space of urban resilience.

“I’m excited to hear from both Kiran Jain, the Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Oakland on her plans to enhance resilience at the local level in the Bay Area, and Tony Wong, the Chief Executive of the internationally recognized Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities on his work linking research to implementation,” says Hamel. She emphasizes how these featured speakers will help bridge the practitioner and academic communities, so that urban ecosystem services and resilient urban planning research remains relevant to local governments.

For those interested in sustainable development, NatCap Senior Scientist Lisa Mandle recommends Monday’s Plenary on Sustainable Development (Monday, 11am – 12:30pm), featuring diverse geographical perspectives from The Bahamas, Bhutan, China, and Nepal.

“I am especially excited,” Mandle says, “about the diversity of countries and contexts that will be represented. We’ll explore common threads in how these countries are using regional models to inform sustainable, national development policies and plans for infrastructure, agriculture, and energy, that seek to achieve better outcomes for people and nature.”

In addition to keynotes and plenaries, participants are encouraged to move across the various offerings of the Symposium’s three concurrent tracks to delve deeper into themes and topics of interest. This year’s three tracks are Pathways to Impact, Learning Exchange, and Approaches & Applications. Sessions in these tracks will comprise of a wide variety of engaging formats–from discussion panels and lightning talks to hands-on, interactive workshops.

For example, a panel in the Pathways to Impact session “Securing freshwater through innovative public and private partnerships” (Tuesday, 9am – 10:30am) will be a must-see for those interested in water and the intersection between the public and private sectors.

“The kinds of partnerships that people can build around water are really exciting–we hope to showcase this important and innovative work,” explains Adrian Vogl, NatCap Senior Scientist and moderator of this session. Invited panelists include Andrea Erickson, Managing Director of the Water Funds and Water Markets program at The Nature Conservancy, Suzanne Ozment, from the World Resources Institute’s Global Water Program, and Shuchi Vora, a social scientist and conservationist from WWF-India.

“Water is something that everyone agrees is critical,” Vogl emphasizes. “We have found that people are often willing to come to the negotiating table for water, when other issues are more contentious. I am excited to show how we can use water–this universal good and basic human right–as an entry point to engage more people in the conversation around sustainable management of resources.”

For those looking to pick up new skills or to participate in a more hands-on session, lead symposium organizer and training guru Henry Borrebach, also manager of NatCap’s Outreach & Training Program, recommends checking out this year’s new Approaches & Applications track.

NatCapper Spencer Wood leads colleagues from the WWF Arctic Programme in a round of NatCap’s Tradeoff! Game during a recent, hands-on training event. Photo credit: Clive Tesar via Twitter / WWF Arctic Programme Communications (@wwfarcticcomms)

Borrebach clarifies that this track, known as the Training Track in past years, has been revamped, making it easier for attendees to pick and choose trainings without having to participate exclusively in this track for the duration of the conference. The content of each session is also more focused than it was previously, so it aligns better to other Symposium offerings.

“We want to help attendees get the most they can out of their experience,” Borrebach explains.

This preview is only a small taste of the offerings available at next month’s Symposium. We encourage you to explore the 2017 Natural Capital Symposium page for more details and check back often, as sessions and speakers are finalized in the coming weeks.

We look forward to reconvening such a diverse, thoughtful, and committed community, and we hope you find plenty of ways to share, connect, and learn with us.


Marie Donahue is a Project Coordinator and Researcher with The Natural Capital Project based at the University of Minnesota