Women for Nature using their Voices for Good
Featuring Women for Nature member Kathy Abusow, CEO and President Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. Written by Women for Nature member Dawn Carr, Executive Director, Canadian Parks Council.
On a cold wintery day I ventured to Ottawa to have a conversation over breakfast with a remarkably warm and visionary woman. This was not the first time I had met Kathy Abusow, but it was the first time I had the opportunity to learn about her deep passion for nature and what drives her connection to conservation initiatives. Throughout our conversation, I learned much about Kathy, and a tremendous more along the way that will inspire my own work and shared passion for nature.
Q. As the CEO and President of Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), I can’t help but ask, where did your love for trees begin?
A. As the youngest child of six children, in an immigrant family, Kathy grew up experiencing the powerful benefits of nature as a way of life. Getting outside was part of her everyday experience and so many of her young memories include daylong family trips to parks, sometimes starting before sunrise. As one can imagine, a family with six kids (and 3 boarders!) encouraged her garden-loving mom to let the gaggle of children explore the freedom of their neighbourhood on their own terms, often in trees, testing limits from limb to limb. Kathy is clear to note that her connection and love for nature which developed at an early age, did not create a linear career path to SFI, but it did – without a doubt – create a comfort for risk that has helped drive her ambition to contribute her time and energy in meaningful ways.
Q. Over the years, how have life decisions shaped your interest in Nature Canada’s Women for Nature initiative?
A. Kathy’s curiosity and openness to risk is a legacy from her family and childhood that encouraged her to ask questions and to have confidence when faced with uncommon opportunities. For instance, I learned through our conversation that two weeks into her Master’s program in linguistics at McGill University she engaged in a conversation with the CEO of a forest product company at a Board of Governor’s event, and through that connection an employment opportunity surfaced that enabled Kathy to blend her love of language with a job in the renewable resource industry. My friend, and fellow Women for Nature chum, I learned, has a very special knack for discovering shared interests! In the course of Kathy’s very accomplished career, which includes an impressive stop along the way at Harvard University, her stories are rife with collaborative examples that have inspired diverse people to work together for a common good. Women for Nature is a natural extension and fit for the interests Kathy shares with other professional women who ‘work’ for nature in different ways.
Q. What excites you about the Women for Nature network?
A. The women in Kathy’s life, including her mother, value sustainability and the importance of maintaining biodiversity. Women for Nature celebrates women with these values and it is a platform for collective action in ways that enhance conservation initiatives and an ethic to care about our forests, land and water. In a recent keynote delivered at a women in natural resource leadership conference, Kathy shared the message she conveyed, and her wisdom will forever be etched in my own work and contribution to the Women for Nature initiative: Use your words, own your voice, and share your voice for good. With great respect, I listened to Kathy impress upon me the need for us to collectively speak up for nature and to know what we stand for. Our voices are diverse and they can drive change for good, individually and through collaboration. The concept of being able to work with other women to share our voices for good is what excites Kathy, especially given our interests to conserve biodiversity and inspire young leaders for nature. How awesome is that!
After breakfast, Kathy and I walked a short distance to the SFI Ottawa office, renovated to reflect her commitment to renewable products and her down-to-earth preference for comfort and positive energy. On the walls, are incredible nature-inspired renderings of landscapes and images painted by her father who discovered his artistic gift at the age of eighty. In conclusion to our varied and highly enjoyable time together I asked the following question:
Q. Given your father’s discovery of art later in life, and your own kaleidoscope of talents, interests and endeavours that continue to grow by sharing your voice for good, what do you hope will be your best contribution?
A. True to form, and consistent with Kathy’s approach to her work and passion for nature, the best contribution Kathy would love to make is to deeply establish an understanding among children and adults alike, that all forests matter. They matter for biodiversity conservation, for quality of life, for youth engagement, childhood development, economic well-being, and for our peace of mind. The benefits forests provide, especially in Canada, are immeasurable in many ways and because they matter we are all better off. Women for Nature can help to tell that story and Kathy is rightly convinced, that no matter what perspective we each bring to the table, we can find common ground in the fact that all forests matter.
I’d like to thank Kathy for the opportunity we shared to get to know each other better and for her incredible contribution to the vision of the Women for Nature initiative. Next time, breakfast is on me!