2020 (bio)Diversity Interview Series: Crista Valentino

Dec 11, 20202020 (bio)Diversity Series, Featured, Talking WILD

by Crista Valentino

Director of CoalitionWILD

We asked WILD’s program directors to share with us their biggest hopes for our future and the obstacles they face to help us get there. Each week until the end of the year, our team will publish their answers to these, and other questions, in our year-end, (bio)Diversity interview series.

This week, we feature Crista Valentino and the role she is playing in helping to lead the CoalitionWILD program.


What specific urgent challenge does your project take on? 

It’s no longer enough to believe in our ability to create change…we need to ACT on that belief. This is especially true for young people who will be inheriting the Earth that is created by the decisions we make today. CoalitionWILD is ensuring that those young people are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to design a future they want to be a part of. Throughout my conservation career, I’ve watched young people being told what to care about, how to contribute, and that they must wait their place in line to lead. Yet, I think that youth leadership and perspective is an untapped potential that can lead us to the most innovative and effective solutions to threats facing our land, waters, cultures, and communities every single day. That’s why CoalitionWILD is working to shatter the antiquated idea that one must wait to lead, and rather, is investing in youth on the edge of making a difference and is propelling them to their full potentials as change agents for the planet today. 

In your current work, what has been your biggest failure to date? How have you adapted to address it?

CoalitionWILD has a long trail of ‘failures’ leading to where we are today, but I see them as experiments that have allowed us to become focused, effective, and confident in how we operate. That being said, one of my biggest failures has been the inability to affect necessary structural changes within the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) that would allow for the support, empowerment, and valuation of youth within the Union. I’ve recognized, however, that I cannot continue to work in the same way and expect different results. Instead, I’ve shifted our tactic to affect the structures we can have an influence on, have doubled down on developing the leadership skills of youth, and am redirecting our energy towards highlighting the impact that young leaders can have on a global scale. My vision is that this will exemplify the importance of integrating youth into all systems and structures, especially if they desire to stay relevant.

Many people don’t understand how this type of work is conservation or how it is more necessary and more effective than other types of traditional conservation programming. What is the typical criticism that you receive and why is it not accurate?

A typical criticism is that people want to know exactly the impact we are going to have, through what means, by what date, and with what specific actions. CoalitionWILD is effective because we don’t have one singular way of working. We don’t tell our young participants what action they need to undertake, what passion they must adhere to, or the methods they must work with. This allows for projects to be more innovative, encourages creativity and for youth to be opportunistic, creates ownership of one’s personal project, and produces more impactful and longer-living projects. Our planet needs solutions that are varied, diverse, and that include nuances unique to the place it is being implemented. It’s nearly impossible to predict what those projects will be ahead of time, but it’s in that space of the unknown where we find the untapped ideas that turn into the most effective solutions. 

What keeps you motivated to continue this work?

Every day I get to see a young person step into their worth. I watch them recognize their own potential, and see a shift in their belief in themselves. I watch confidence grow, and with it, they develop an agency that says “I deserve to be a part of this conversation.” These young people allow me to join them in their journey, and be a witness to their evolution. It’s the most beautiful and inspiring process, and motivates me every day to continue to create a space that invites more of it. 

What are you excited for in 2021 and the next decade?

Opportunity arises from destruction. I am most excited to be a part of the rebuilding process of our global society, of our standards of living, of our belief in humanity, and of commitment to nature. We’ve seen how quickly our world can shift our actions, and the effect it has on all systems: economic, ecological, governmental, and otherwise. We also have seen how quickly nature can restore herself if we give her a moment to breathe. I am looking forward to redefining and realigning our values so people and nature can thrive. 

What are you most grateful for? How can others help?

I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from others every single day. CoalitionWILD allows me to tap into thousands of perspectives scattered around the globe, in every circumstance imaginable, at any moment. I am grateful to be given a birds eye view of the diversity and adversity faced everywhere and by everyone, affording me the realization that we all actually just want and need the same things: to be heard, to be seen, and to be loved. I am most grateful that I receive, and can offer, all three.

Read Next

Mentors Making a Difference: Phoebe and David’s Journey with CoalitionWILD

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At CoalitionWILD, we believe in the power of mentorship and the transformative impact it can have on the lives of young conservationists. Here, we shine a spotlight on two exceptional repeat mentors, Phoebe Barnard and David Manski, who have been actively involved in our Global Mentorship Program. Their dedication, wisdom, and passion for conservation have inspired and guided numerous young professionals on their journey to become future leaders in the field.


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