Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

On the Accomplishments of our Environmental Leaders

By David Zilberman

Beahrs ELP Class of 2014!

This summer, the 14th cohort of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program graduated. The Beahrs ELP summer program brings mid-career professionals to Berkeley for professional training and I was fortunate enough to be the co-director of the program, alongside Dean Keith Gilless.

When Dick Beahrs gave us the means to start the Beahrs ELP, I thought we would introduce the participants to the frontiers of knowledge, most recent discoveries about climate change, ecological services and management of biodiversity, and the like. We needed to have a multidisciplinary approach and emphasize how science, including physical, biological and social sciences, can solve environmental problems.

Beahrs ELP Class of 2014!

After fourteen years, we still present new knowledge and cutting edge research. For example, this year we had our first session on the merits of using geo-engineering to address climate change.

But over the years, we realized that our participants knew a lot about environmental issues and demanded more emphasis on advanced tools to augment their leadership skills. Now a key feature of our program is a module on conflict resolution that enhances skills to work together with your boss, your colleagues and to a larger extent, form collaborative solutions to regional problems.

We developed sessions on how to present yourself better and improve your communication skills, and how to effectively utilize  media. We also incorporated a session on marketing as we realized that environmental experts have a lot of ideas and concepts to sell, and they need ‘buyers’.  The session where participants were asked to design a program to market their organization, has become very popular. It forces people to think about what their organization is truly all about, who are their potential benefactors and clients, and how to engage them.


In this process, I was forced to think about leadership. My perception of a leader was someone like Churchill, Spartacus, Marin Luther King or Jeanne D’Arc, a heroic figure with unique courage and charisma that blazed a new path that changed the world.

However, leaders are not limited to the political and grand events of history, They are people that set the direction of their organizations – and indeed many of our leaders are in charge of environmental programs in government, companies, or NGOS. Frequently, leadership positions are imposed on people as a part of the cycle of life. As you grow up you are put in charge and asked to lead; actually, parenthood is a position of leadership, and once you are there your challenge is to be an effective leader.

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The basics of leadership is simple. You identify a problem facing your organization, nation or family, find a reasonable solution and inspire others to work together. There is a difference between leadership and management that is more technical and is emphasized in university training. In the ELP, we aim to develop conflict resolution, marketing and communication modules as part of our leadership training as our emphasis on interactive learning encourages participants to work in teams, take and defend positions, make presentations and write blog posts.

But this is only a start. We are challenged to help our participants to become visionaries and be creative and maintain their integrity as they solve environmental, and other social problems. A big difference between the ELP and our regular university training is the high degree of interaction and dialogue between participants and faculty. Indeed, we learn from them as much as they learn from us. They have unique and useful experiences. And we are all inspired by the achievements our ELP alumni and friends.

Prigi Arisandi is an ecologist who attended the ELP in 2008. He was disturbed by the deteriorating water quality of the rivers in his country, Indonesia. Inspired by the work of Prof. Vince Resh he established a large mass movement of students and teachers to monitor and maintain water quality for 3000 km of riverbanks. For this achievement, he won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2011.

Another Goldman recipient and ELP alumnus is Rizwana Hasan, an environmental lawyer from Bangladesh who recognized the significant environmental and labor violations within the ship breaking industry in her country.  She initiated and led a long legal battle to introduce environmental and worker safety regulations facing strong commercial interest that led to the Supreme Court imposing tight regulation on the industry that maintains employment, protects workers and improves environmental quality.

Giselle Weybrecht attended the ELP in 2004 and as a student of business administration realized that there were no books on sustainable business practices. She used the ELP network as well as other sources to collect 100 examples of sustainable practices that she combined in a popular book and presented it as a TED talk.

Mpumelelo Ncwadi attended our first ELP. He was always interested in using technological and policy solutions to address the problems of the rural poor in South Africa. After honing his skills in major engineering firms, he became the co-founder and manager of Indwe Trust (http://indwetrust.org), a nonprofit focused on building the capacity of vulnerable remote rural communities in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. The trust empowers local people to restore local catchment areas to reduce soil erosion, improve agricultural productivity, and restore wildlife like the Blue Crane.

These are only a few examples. I can go on and on, our alumni already have many astonishing accomplishments. The contribution of the ELP is what economists call the agglomeration effect. By bringing talented leaders together, you help them to build a community, learn from one another and the university, and become better leaders. We hope that this model can continue to thrive and expand.