CI at 25: Looking Back … And Forward

Children outside village in the Kanuku Mmountains, Guyana. (© CI/photo by Haroldo Castro)

It is hard for me to believe that 25 years have passed since the snowy, late January evening when Conservation International (CI) was founded in Room 21 of the historic Tabard Inn in Washington, D.C.

On that night, my longtime friend and colleague Spencer Beebe and I were gathered with a few brave souls who agreed with our views on the roles of science, economics and local communities in international conservation efforts. Together, we were willing to take the leap of faith to create the organization that has been changing the face of conservation for a quarter-century.

In the beginning, we had nothing. Forty staff members worked out of three different houses and a tiny borrowed office in downtown Washington, D.C., fueled by our commitment to the cause and our unwavering belief that we were fighting the good fight. We borrowed money and we said that, no matter what, we would find a way to make this thing work.

And, little by little, we did. Some loyal supporters stepped in with gifts that allowed us to really get started. And when the MacArthur Foundation stood by us and confirmed our cause with their support, there was no looking back.

In our first year, we broke new ground by signing the first-ever debt for nature swap agreement with the government of Bolivia — just the first of many solutions we would pioneer in the years to come. Since then, we’ve continued to innovate and scale up our efforts at a rapid pace. And through it all, we have stayed true to the ideals we’ve held since the beginning — our foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration remains as strong as ever.

In many ways, that January evening feels like only yesterday. But to reflect on the many, many people, places and partners that have had a hand in authoring the story of CI, I realize what a rich history we have been writing together. To look back now at the many conservation milestones and victories we have realized, it’s both gratifying to see just how far CI has come — and humbling to consider just how far we have yet to go.

Peter Seligmann

But on the strength of the successes we will continue to forge together, I know that our vision of a healthy blue planet supported by a green development path has never been more within our reach. And with your continued support, I look forward to writing the next chapter of this amazing story together.

Peter Seligmann is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Conservation International. Learn more about CI’s first 25 years on our anniversary page.

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