Relationship Building & Engagement

Paving the Path

After years of ongoing efforts, the National Wildlife Federation has a dedicated team of professionals leading us toward truly becoming an anti-racist organization, institutionalizing principles of equity and justice throughout our organization and among our staff. The Federation’s environmental justice initiatives build upon more than a decade of relationship building and community engagement.

The National Wildlife Federation has been on a journey of discovery and transformation for more than five years with the ultimate goal of embedding diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) principles within our performance and work portfolios.

rebeca Villegas, Senior Director Environmental Justice, Climate & Environmental Change

Not only is the Federation leading the charge and paving a path for other Big Greens to combat white supremacy culture, but we’ve also made important strides to operationalize the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice and the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing through our Environmental Justice, Climate, and Community Revitalization Program. The Federation’s environmental justice initiatives build upon over a decade of relationship building and community engagement. Our program is rooted in race and social justice by design. 

The program is underpinned by a philosophy of listening before talking, giving before asking, sharing resources, and building community capacity. We intentionally prioritize, amplify, and include policy solutions, views, and voices of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, and people of color and lower wealth communities. We invest the time and cultural respect required to build authentic relationships and connect our policy and advocacy efforts to those communities severely impacted by climate change. DEIJ serves as the foundation in our ability to work alongside frontline and fence-line communities.

12+environmental leaders convene to discuss
Safe Spaces
Four men smile for a picture standing on a dock overlooking a river
Several people talk in front of a construction zone
National Town Hall on Creating Safe Spaces

The National Wildlife Federation hosted the National Town Hall on Creating Safe Spaces, convening more than a dozen Black conservationists and environmental leaders to discuss the policy, practices, and programs needed to strengthen access, representation, and safety for Black families and communities in the outdoors. Launched in December 2020, the Creating Safe Spaces initiative sheds light on the challenges that Black people face in safely accessing and enjoying the outdoors in partnership with Outdoor Afro, Black AF in STEM, Patagonia, and The Links, Incorporated. Our long-term goals include hosting annual roundtables, focused on increasing access to the outdoors for different identity groups and implementing on-the-ground activities that provide concrete results to ensure everyone is able to safely access and enjoy green spaces. 

Family of four on a hike in the woods
Partnerships to Advance Justice for Tribal and Indigenous Communities

In 2021, National Wildlife Federation engaged Tribal and Indigenous leaders from across the nation to inform a Tribal and Indigenous Partnerships Expansion Strategy that will serve as a blueprint for the Federation to help Tribes build power and advance conservation priorities. This strategy includes guidelines for National Wildlife Federation to authentically engage with and support Tribes in conservation partnerships, leveraging the Federation’s privilege to elevate the role of the original stewards of America’s lands, water, and wildlife.

Group of five men banging on a drum and chanting outside
Lessons Learned on Equity and Justice

By shifting power, committing to transforming into an anti-racist organization, and stepping into our role as guides, the National Wildlife Federation made important progress throughout 2021. The organization has started to shift power and decision-making internally, through the newly established Racial Equity Transformation Team and restructuring its internal leadership team. The Federation also has focused on addressing lower retention rates for staff of color who, when they leave, have spent an average of three years at the organization as compared to white staff with an average tenure of eight years. The organization still needs to grow in a series of important areas: 

  • Practice a community of care, including a greater work/life balance, setting boundaries, and resting. 
  • Support an organizational culture of learning, including through an examination of our organizational narrative and rewarding staff growth over time. 
  • Build capacity and accountability around staff equity and justice competencies, including through trainings, goal setting, and code of conduct changes. 
  • Create accountable and transparent internal systems, including through changing how decisions are made and who is at the table for those decisions.
Group of four on a hike examining a plant
Equity and Justice Leadership and Centering Black Staff

Over this past year, members of the Equity and Justice Team have come to understand their role more clearly as guides. Equity and Justice work is counter-cultural and counter-structural, and it is necessary to guide our colleagues and the organization into new cultures and new structures. To increase success at cultural transformation, the responsibility for making equitable change must be co-owned across all staff. The Equity and Justice Team worked to explore new pathways to increase retention of staff of color, better understand how power flows in the organization, and center Black staff throughout the process. From what we are seeing in the world and learning from our Black Employee Resource Group, we know that Black staff need specific support to make up for the ways the Federation’s current culture and systems often undermine us and our work. Supportive changes have included:

  • Investing in greater access to mental healthcare for all employees.
  • A new digital Ombuds service to help all employees navigate challenging workplace issues.
  • Offering unlimited wellness days off for all employees for greater work/life balance.
Man hiking in the woods with a lot of hiking gear