Bri Jones; Executive Director; Equality State Policy Center

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The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. We’re calling this group of change-makers and rising stars “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”

Interviewee: Bri Jones
Executive Director; Equality State Policy Center
NWF Board Member

Interviewer: David Corsar, NWF

Bri is the Executive Director at Equality State Policy Center, an advocacy and civic engagement coalition organization in Wyoming. She is also a board member here at the National Wildlife Federation and traces her involvement with NWF back to our Wyoming affiliate, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

David Corsar: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how did participation as an NWF Wyoming Affiliate and Emerging Leaders Advisory Council help shape your career?
Bri Jones:
It’s been extremely helpful; NWF opened a lot of doors for me. Participating on the Emerging Leaders Advisory Council, and even before that, being able to meet with affiliates really gave me the opportunity to understand a lot about different governance structures, about how nonprofits function, the role of a board versus the role of staff, budgeting, etc. We have really diverse structures within our affiliates, and it was very helpful to see the ins and outs of nonprofits and how they can be structured and some of the strengths and weaknesses of various nonprofit structures I also greatly benefited from various trainings. I went to a number of annual meetings in the capacity of either a youth leader or through one of the affiliates. That was extremely helpful because I am now the executive of a nonprofit organization, and I had a pretty solid background going in. And then of course it also gave me the opportunity to join the national board of NWF where I am learning so many things all the time.

DC: You are now the Executive Director of the Equality State Policy Center; can you tell me a little bit about the mission of the organization?
We are a nonprofit coalition advocacy organization, and we bring a diverse group of traditionally progressive interests all to the same table to work together and make better policies in the state of Wyoming. We have conservation interests, labor, social justice and economic justice groups all working together. ESPC serves as a convener, and we like to think of ourselves as a people-first organization. We work on initiatives that benefit our groups as a whole, so that includes transparency, accessibility to the civic process, and a lot of civic engagement work.

DC: How did you end up there; what was your career path like?
A little bit nontraditional. I grew up in Wyoming, and my father was a union leader and was very involved with ESPC – at that time as a board member. I’ve always known about ESPC; when I was in high school, I went to their citizen’s lobbyist training, which teaches participants how to be advocates. So I had engaged with the organization a lot in my youth. When I graduated from college, I went into politics and worked on various political campaigns across the country. Then one day, I got a call and was asked to come in because the longtime Executive Director was retiring. So that’s how I ended up here; I think it helps that a lot of these people were people that I’d worked with for a really long time, and that positioned me well to be able to work within and help lead the coalition.

DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
BJ: My personal mission is for conservation to become more mainstream. I also feel very strongly about the intersection between hunters and anglers and those who are more preservationists – and also the interests of folks that use natural resources for other reasons - hikers and recreationists and gardeners.
I guess my interest is making the conservation tent as big as possible and bringing us all together, and that’s why I’ve always been engaged with National Wildlife Federation and our affiliates because we are the middle-of-the-road “big tent” convener.

DC: What motivated you to begin this path?
I grew up in Wyoming going into the back country, learning the names of all the wildflowers, gardening with my mom, and have always very much cared about natural resources. I would say that my family is certainly an environmentally-minded family to start, but the reason I got involved specifically with the affiliates at the National Wildlife Federation is that I was working in politics immediately out of college and felt like I wasn’t able to express the full range of my interests and hadn’t been engaged in the conservation conversations as I wanted to be, and so I reached out to the affiliate and said I want to be involved, what can I do?

DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
I’ll say two people. One is Roderick Nash; he wrote Wilderness in the American Mind, and that book has been very influential in my thinking about how we engage with wilderness and the discourse around conservation and conservation spaces, so that was an extremely influential book for me.

The other person who I find very influential – also an author – is Terry Tempest Williams. She lives in Wyoming and has spent some time as the artist in Residence when I was at university. She has a similar background to me in a couple ways – she grew up in the West, she grew up LDS as I did – and so I really identify with her. She finds a lot of spiritual connections to the West and to the landscapes out here. And I love her writing and find her to be a really inspiring person.

DC: Have you had mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
BJ: I’ve had many mentors, and I would certainly encourage anyone to be on the lookout for who could be their next role model or mentor. That’s where I’ve learned the most, and that’s where you get some really excellent advice on how to not only manage your career but also to manage your personal life and how those intersect.
That’s always been really helpful to me, and I should say that someone that’s always been extremely influential for me in the conservation movement is a Regional Representative at National Wildlife Federation – his name is Lew Carpenter. He’s out of the Denver office, and Lew and I over the years have become very close. He has helped me in so many ways and continues to help me; I’m very grateful for him.

DC: Do you currently serve as a mentor or plan to seek out opportunities to become a mentor yourself?
I don’t currently serve as a mentor in a formalized way, but whenever possible, I like to pay it forward. Something that I do want to say about that is that it is very helpful for women in professional careers to find other women to be their mentors. I’ve been extremely lucky to have had strong female mentors. So I hope that I can serve in that position for other women as well.

DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability?
I would first say that getting involved is the best first step. Sometimes that might look like creating your own organization if there’s not something that currently exists, but the model that I used was engaging with an already longstanding venerable organization. I think that there are a lot of different ways to go about affecting sustainability and effecting change in your community and you just have to find what works for you. And now that’s on my mind, also finding a mentor is really valuable and helpful as you’re trying to navigate what can be a very complicated world.

Habitat and Wildlife

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Date Added: May 15, 2017
Date Last Modified: May 15, 2017