Innovation Essentials: The Nature Conservancy

October 29, 2019

In this episode, we wanted to find out, “What can corporate innovators learn from the world of non-profits?” To get best practices, InnoLead traveled to New York to speak with Jennifer Chin, Director of Conservation Innovation at The Nature Conservancy. 



Molli DeRosa: Hey, you’re listening to Innovation Answered: Essentials, a special podcast segment for innovators on the go, brought to you by Innovation Answered. In each episode, we’ll break down one of our articles with the writer and read it aloud for you. I’m Molli DeRosa for InnoLead. Our focus this week is innovation at The Nature Conservancy: growing impact, not profits.

Before we read the article, let’s chat with Kelsey Alpaio, InnoLead’s Managing Editor, who visited The Nature Conservancy’s New York office. During her trip, she talked to Jennifer Chin, Director of Conservation Innovation at the organization. 


Molli DeRosa: So, Kelsey, what are some of the main takeaways from your interview with The Nature Conservancy?

Kelsey Alpaio: Sure, so I can highlight a few different takeaways. First, Jennifer and I, we talked a lot about kind of the different challenges that you’re trying to solve for inside of your organization and how to get support for those challenges, and so for The Nature Conservancy that support comes not only from internal senior leaders but also from external funders that see innovation as a priority at The Nature Conservancy. And so we really dive into kind of that extra layer of connecting with external funders and making sure that they’re in support of innovation as well.

And secondly, we talked a lot about culture and kind of how to get your employees on board with innovation. So within The Nature Conservancy, they focus a lot on training and, you know, how do you roll out training to your entire innovation team or to your entire organization, as well, all employees and how do you utilize that to get to impact faster, and that kind of brings me to my third takeaway, which is how to use impact as a measurement.

So because The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit, they’re not really as focused on that profit element of things, obviously. So they’re focused on overall impact and time to impact for their various goals. So I would say the are kind of the three major takeaways.

Molli DeRosa: Great. And could you talk a little bit about The Nature Conservancy innovation focuses?

Kelsey Alpaio: So The Nature Conservancy is one of the largest environmental nonprofit organizations in the world. And so generally its main priorities are climate change, protecting land and water, providing food sustainability and building healthy cities. And so when it comes to innovation, Jennifer and I, we talk a lot about disruption. And so, with kind of those four goals in mind, Jennifer talked a lot about the biggest disruptor for The Nature Conservancy being climate change. And so they’re really approaching innovation from the angle of how do we get to impact faster to kind of keep up with with the ever changing and incredibly fast changing world and so they do that in a couple of ways.

So one of those ways is via training and making sure the entire organization is on board and understands different innovation methodologies like human-centered design and design thinking. And they also do a lot to see kind of what’s happening in the outside world. So looking for a new technology that will help them get to that impact faster. And one of the ways they do that is through their Sustainability Accelerator, which welcomed its first class of startups in 2018. And it’s kind of driven by equity funders who are interested in sustainable technology. So that’s kind of another way they approach innovation.

Molli DeRosa: What can for-profit organizations learn from The Nature Conservancy?

Kelsey Alpaio: Sure. So we highlight kind of several learnings in the article that I think are applicable for both for profit and nonprofit organizations. One of the ones I find really interesting is kind of the way that employees interact inside non-profits. So Jennifer kind of highlights the fact that inside nonprofit organizations, you frequently have employees who are really passionate regarding the mission of the organization and how that is really able to help her in spreading innovation methodology. Because if you say, hey, I have a way for you to get to that faster or to improve something faster, they’re going to be more open to accepting that. So it’s kind of a way of how do you get your employees more engaged and more aligned on the mission so that innovation mindsets can kind of integrate into their day to day.


Molli DeRosa: So what are some of the main takeaways from Kelsey’s chat? Challenges in an organization and how to take them on, how to get your employees on board with innovation, and how to use impact to measure goals. Let’s jump right into the article.

[Kelsey Alpaio read the full article on innovation at The Nature Conservancy.]


Molli DeRosa: Thanks so much for the information, Kelsey.

You’ve been listening to Innovation Answered: Essentials, a special segment from our podcast for corporate innovators. This episode was written and produced by me, Molli DeRosa. Editorial guidance was provided by Kaitlin Milliken, and special thanks to Kelsey for her insights. We’ll have more of these special episodes coming soon where we’ll be discussing and reading more articles from InnoLead — so you’ll never have to skim.

If you’d like to read more, go on our website and visit the topics tab. For more episodes of our podcast, visit You can also read this article in our magazine. Our magazine is only available to InnoLead members. If you have a question about membership, visit our join page. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.