My post this week comes from Kevin Peterson, a former member of corporate America and the current CEO and founder of The Eco Preservation Society International. I met Kevin via the internet world while looking for ways to get more involved with conservation work. He thought I would be a good fit for his turtle conservation program and while I did not get to go due to logistical reasons, I was able to assist him with some other ventures he was involved in. So, over the last year I have stayed in touch and the work he is doing in Costa Rica is amazing. The following are questions he answered about his own adventures in the conservation world.
First things first, what kind of work do you do and how long have you been involved with this type of work?
I don’t know where to start. If I listed everything that I do, no one would believe it. For those of us with an entrepreneurial background, you become accustomed to doing everything yourself. I don’t look at “to do” lists as often as I should because they look so ridiculous. As the leader of an organization, you are always looking for ways to delegate responsibilities. When you are just starting out, there is no one to delegate to. As you build up your team, roles become better defined. Even then, I find myself jumping in and filling in gaps and that changes all the time.
How did you become involved in conservation work?
I had been working in the corporate world for more than fifteen years. I enjoyed it and it afforded me with many opportunities and a lifestyle that I enjoyed very much. Like many people, I came to a crossroads in my life where I felt like I wanted to do something different with my life. I lived on Maui for many years and I was intrigued by the work being done there by the Pacific Whale Foundation and how they have integrated their conservation research with an eco-tourism whale watching experience. Coming from a tourism background, I was always fascinated by their model. After making several trips to Costa Rica as part of corporate incentive groups, I became interested in applying that same concept here in Costa Rica, with the thought of duplicating it elsewhere. So I spent nearly two years developing a business plan for EPS and now we have been here in Costa Rica for nearly fours years. So I am almost six years into this journey and we are really just now beginning to see our projects kick into full gear. I like to joke with people when I tell them that I am in year three of a one-year plan. Looking back on it, there might have been a few things we could have done to make the process move along faster, but all in all, I believe that our experience is not all that unusual. You have to be prepared to dedicate yourself to your vision over the long haul and be prepared to ride out the tough times if you want to be successful. I honestly think now is a great time to start something. Those that can ride out the tough times now will be well positioned when things get better.
Have you ever had to draw upon skills that say college grads may not consider relevant to conservation work (diplomacy/politics, writing, legal, socioeconomic considerations, etc) to facilitate your work? What advice would you give to those who are just getting started or are considering a career in conservation?
That is an interesting question, because those skills that some may consider “not relevant” are what I do. I come from a business background, not biology or conservation. These “other skills” are what I call “Life Skills” and they are what largely determine an individual’s success in a career. For anyone that has any thoughts of working within any organization, it is these “other skills” that will have far more influence in determining how far you will go in the organization than your expertise in a particular field.
Your expertise will get you in the door, but that is just a starting point. However I think it is generally true that the skills most important for the work of an organizational leader are entirely centered on organizational and communications skills. Having some field expertise is nice, but that alone is not going to get you very far unless you are in a purely research type of role. Those opportunities are out there, but they are few and even there you will need the “other skills” if you want to advance in your career.
What is the most fun you have ever had while working in conservation? Is there a particularly funny story you want to relate?
I wish I could spend all my time out in the field. I savor every moment. I spend 90% of my time behind a computer, I live/work in a wonderful little coffee growing village foothills of a volcano in Costa Rica. I am not complaining; But just being out and experiencing the wildlife and knowing that I am doing something to make a difference. I don’t know how more alive you can feel. For me personally, when you have purpose in your life, there is not much else you really need.
Have you ever had situations where you felt your project or even your life was ever “in jeopardy” because of the work you were doing? Explain.
That is another interesting question and not so easy to answer. I got into this because I was looking to live a more purpose driven life. My background is entrepreneurial and I was not looking for a job when I made the decision to go in this direction with my life, so I come at this from a different perspective.
While my work is only a part of my life, I can’t really separate it and compartmentalize it in the way the question implies. First of all, my work does not feel like work too me. There is not really a clear line between what I want to do and what I need to do to fulfill the mission. I am driven to bring this mission to life and I start working on it the first minute I wake up and I work until I don’t feel like working anymore, and then I go play (family, friends, etc.) I play until I am tired of playing, then I go back to work. I love what I do and consequently the work part of my life does not seem all that much different than the play part. I fill in the gaps with eating and sleeping, beyond that I don’t need much else. What else is there?
Lastly – why do you feel that you continue to do the work that you do? What impact/changes are you making? Is it worth it?
I have been blessed, I am done a lot of cool things in my life, been to a lot of cool places. Life in the corporate incentive travel business afforded me opportunities that are really unattainable in any other walk of life. Despite all of the great times and great experiences, it was not fulfilling for me, or at least over time, it eventually became that way. For me personally, there is nothing like living a purpose driven life. It is the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed (most days). I think that anyone that can find that sort of passion in their lives and an opportunity to pursue it is a very fortunate person indeed. From my life experience, there is nothing that compares to it.
Our main focus is on reforestation and habitat rehabilitation. As far as I am concerned, this is the front-line for the conservationist movement. We are well beyond the point where simply protecting what is left is an acceptable standard. The loss of biodiversity in my lifetime has been simply staggering, unbelievable really. As a child, I never dreamt that we could possibly find ourselves in the position we find ourselves today. It is stunning and we must do better. We need to show the way for the next generation so that they do not continue with the course that my generation has followed. That is a very big responsibility and it is one that I have taken upon myself.