Bridging Public and Private Interests

Using market forces to achieve a public goal.

Sarah Charlop-Powers

2009 Fellow

New York 10029-4418 United States of America

In 2009, I had been working for more than five years as a parks manager for Scenic Hudson. I was looking to gain some supplemental business skills and to learn more about mechanisms for quantifying environmental benefits. At the time, there was little literature on frameworks to apply payments for ecosystem services in an urban context, and so I hoped to find expertise and support from cohort members who had experience in urban conservation.

One thing that attracted me to Kinship Fellows was its focus on leadership, which gave me a chance to explore my career choices and different styles of entrepreneurial leadership. And I found the emphasis on articulating a vision and mission, presenting and packaging a message, and public speaking very valuable lessons. The idea of taking all the available information and doing the best you could with it in a short amount of time is something I have drawn on frequently.

After completing the program, I spent a year and a half working on consulting contracts on energy efficiency for a state agency. Then the New York City Parks Department put out a call for proposals to develop a private-public partnership that would manage green spaces in the city. I submitted a business plan to develop the Natural Areas Conservancy (NAC). Within 18 months, the NAC was launched and I became Vice President. In this position I helped to build the program, and then I became the Executive Director in 2014.

The Natural Areas Conservancy bridges public agencies and private interest to develop solutions to some of the conservation challenges facing the New York City Parks Department. The Conservancy focuses on restoration, management and outreach associated with the city’s 5,300 acres of forest and 3,100 acres of wetlands and rivers. It provides a vehicle for generating nontraditional funding, creating scientific information, promoting a regional or ecosystem-scale perspective, and enabling creative arrangements that leverage the unique strengths and capacities of both public and private sectors. The lack of continuity for public funding could be one of the greatest detriments to the ongoing management of urban natural areas. We are bringing private dollars to bear on conservation. It’s about using a market force to achieve a public goal.

My experiences at Kinship encouraged me to take the calculated risks necessary to launch a new non-profit organization. Before Kinship, I had spent most of my professional life in a rural area with few environmental employment opportunities and little entrepreneurial spirit. The Fellows program allowed me to interact with a lot of people who were functioning in really creative and innovative spaces. As somebody who is not an inherent risk-taker, that went a long way towards assuaging some of my fears about getting involved with something that has a lot of uncertainty attached to it.

“My experiences at Kinship encouraged me to take the calculated risks necessary to launch a new non-profit organization.”