HEROES Spotlight: Kate Williams

Dec. 18, 2017

Kate Williams stepped into the role of CEO at 1% for the Planet in May 2015 bringing a strong track record as a leader. Her former roles include Board Chair of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Executive Director of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, and founder and owner of a farm business enterprise. She has also served as an elected political leader in her community. Her achievements are only superseded by her vision and commitment to helping our environment through 1% For the Planet's mission.

Where are your originally born and raised?

I was born and raised outside of Boston, MA. My Mom was from Louisiana and my Dad from North Dakota, and they had both chosen Boston, so I had the benefit of living in a home and in a place that my parents had chosen and loved.

What is your absolutely favorite thing to do?

I absolutely love long distance running. A perfect day would include a long run (or hike) on a trail or dirt road, with a few unanticipated adventures thrown in. Add some friends to run with, and...perfection.

Is there a particular phrase or quote that you live your life by?

I have two - I don’t always embody them, but I always return to them for guidance. The first is “Do something every day that scares you” (Eleanor Roosevelt), and I return to this one as a reminder to keep learning, pushing myself, and generally not getting comfortable. And the second is “Nothing Without Joy,” (Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia educational approach), and this one is pretty self-explanatory and always good to remember.

Kate 1% logo

What are a few of your hobbies and hidden talents?

In the hobby department, I basically opt to be outside whenever I can and I tend toward the aerobic-junkie end of the spectrum - hiking, running, cross country skiing, paddling. I’m also an avid reader and Audible book listener. In the hidden talent department, I seem to be good at standing on my head for extended periods on a paddle board.

Do you believe in the idea that one person can impact the entire world?

Absolutely! I don’t think I could survive without that belief - it’s core to who I am and the work I do. I think it can look very different for different people at different times. Sometimes it’s the Butterfly effect (the hypothetical in which a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil causes a tornado in Texas…) - one person’s smile and kindness in the checkout line changes the course of the day for every person they see. Other times it’s the inspiration of a single act of courage, that inspires other acts of courage that create a groundswell of change. Yet other times, it’s a flash of genius or insight that, when shared, creates a new future. The list goes on. I wholeheartedly believe that each one of us has power and that each of us matters in the shape of our future.

That power of collective impact is what 1% for the Planet is all about. We believe that everyone - business, individual, consumer, nonprofit - has the ability to make commitments and take everyday actions that add up to positive global impact.

Why did you originally choose a career focused on aspects of the environment and the great outdoors?

At age 18 I spent a month in the Wind River Wilderness range with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), and I clearly remember being out there and having the realization that I had found my passion and that in some way, shape or form, it was my future. I then, like all of us, had to muck around a bit to figure out exactly what that meant, but all of my explorations were either in the form of outdoor education or working with environmental nonprofits to drive change. I’m actually amazed looking back now at how clear and stubborn I was to hold the thread from that moment of realization until today - and I’m sure I’ll continue that moving forward.

kate speaking

How did you ultimately get involved with 1% for the Planet?

I was working for a nonprofit in the 1% for the Planet network, which happened to be in an office across the street from the 1% for the Planet headquarters, which at the time was in a small town in Vermont. I think it’s remarkable that I was able to find my way from the amazing regional nonprofit, Northern Forest Canoe Trail, where I served as Executive Director for 10 years, to the global 1% for the Planet….by simply a walking across the street. What prompted that walk was the itch to grow and learn more (do something that scares you…), and conversations with friends and colleagues, the path to 1% for the Planet emerged.

What is your single greatest accomplishment with this project?

I’m really thrilled about our addition of individual membership in 2017. This is a really exciting expansion of our model, and creates a great way for us to connect with a new and different set of members, and ultimately to grow environmental giving. I’m glad we took the leap to create and launch this program.

If you could say something to the youth of the world today, what would you say?

Have courage and hope. Each of you can do something to change the world - you have to believe that’s possible and have the courage to do your part to bring about positive change. I also want to remind you that there is help and wisdom for you should you need it.

Is there a particular natural place that you resonate with?

There are so many! But when I close my eyes a couple of places jump to the top. The first is Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. I love the great wide open, colorful, austere character, and the landscape that is so full of life and history. The second is a (to me) nameless stream in the Wind River Range, with a big King-sized flat rock in the middle - I slept there one starry night and it was perfection. I could go on, but the last is Great Pond in Maine, where my family has a cabin. I’ve watched and felt every season, weather pattern, and time of day on that lake, and we even baptized our kids in the lake. It’s my home water.

kate williams patagonia store

It is no secret that we have an environmental crisis. So many different issues to focus on, which can be crippling to people. What advice do you have for people anxious for a better tomorrow, but overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem?

Annie Lamott wrote this great book about writing called Bird by Bird - as in you can only write a book about birds by tackling it one bird at a time. I’ve adopted that as kind of a life philosophy, and it certainly works as a way to find a path through what is overwhelming. Pick what you care about, find a way to do something for that place or about that thing you care about, ask for help if you can’t figure out what to do, keep trying, join with others when you can, step back and reorient when you need to. You can do something every day, even if it’s just making space to discern what excites or worries you the most. Bird by bird. I get overwhelmed when I let myself get dwarfed by a problem so I remind myself to break it down and believe in the value of taking incremental action that builds toward the whole in a powerful and ultimately huge way. That idea of building seemingly small actions toward a larger goal is important. Create time to stay in touch with the larger change you hope for. You may have to take small steps each day, but step by step you will get there. I worry that this sounds simplistic, but it’s a core concept for me. Each of us has a 1% every day that we can choose to create a positive impact.