Terri Willard Profile

Terri Willard (Illinois & Wolfson 1994) is a sessional professor of Foundations of Sustainable Development Practice at the University of Winnipeg Global College and a student in the University of Manitoba Faculty of Education. Previously, Terri has worked as a Project Manager at the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Winnipeg and a Board Director for TakingITGlobal. She is an expert in communications and knowledge networks for sustainable development. She is a Henry Luce Scholar, a Hearst Senate Youth Program Scholar, and a Georgetown School of Foreign Service Scholar. She holds a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a M.Sc. in Forestry and its Relation to Land Use from Oxford University.

Rhodes Project: What is the last book you couldn’t put down?

Terri Willard: I have to put things down regularly because of the kids but right now I’m reading Mindset by Carol Dweck, which is all about how our mindsets help determine how we act and the degree to which people live happy and successful lives.

Rhodes Project: How did you become involved in sustainable development work?

Terri Willard: A lot of it I trace back to a year I spent in Costa Rica during my third year of undergrad. I was studying at the University of Costa Rica and I started taking classes in biotechnology, agro-ecology and natural resource management. I was there in 1992 during the Earth Summit and Costa Rica played a huge role in that conference; it was in the newspapers, everyone was talking about it at the university, and I was absolutely hooked. I give all credit to the students and professors there for helping me understand how environment and development issues fit together, helping me to approach the topic very differently from what I had experienced at university in the US.

Rhodes Project: Different in what way?

Terri Willard: Focusing much more on people. In the States, it was all about the trees and the birds and the clean air. In Costa Rica, I learned that in the end sustainable development is all about the people.

Rhodes Project: Your past work has focused on technology and how the information age is changing the way we approach sustainable development. What are some of the most exciting opportunities opened up by these changes?

Terri Willard: For me, it about the ability of people to connect and to learn from one another - to build trust on local, national and international scales. Some of the most powerful technologies are the ones that help us come up with new ideas and to adapt other people’s ideas to local contexts. So while green energy solutions, biotechnology and medical advances are important, what fundamentally underlies all of those things is the ability of information technology networks to facilitate people working together.

Rhodes Project: If you could change one thing about how the media reports on sustainable development, what would it be and why?

Terri Willard: Everyone can see that the media fights to produce what they consider “balance” in climate change communications, showing both sides of the argument, but it isn’t balanced at all. If you give equal weight and equal time to those who don’t believe that climate change is occurring, you actually misrepresent the science and the scientific consensus about what we know and understand about climate change today.

Rhodes Project: What is the hardest thing about your current job?

Terri Willard: To put it in context, I was working for the International Institute for Sustainable Development full time up until my first son was born in 2005. I then switched to more of a consulting role for a few years, but I got burned out by juggling two kids, consulting and no sleep, so I basically stopped working to be at home with the boys. Then two years ago, fifteen years after doing my master’s in forestry, I went back to school to get my Bachelors in Education. So I’m currently a full-time parent and a full-time student. The hard thing now is trying to work out what I want to do with the ideas, networks and connections that I have to change education in Manitoba. I also work odds and ends of contracts at the University of Winnipeg, teaching in the Master of Development Practice Program, but really that is just for fun. I spend a lot of my free time developing ideas and dreaming about what comes next.

Rhodes Project: What does that developing and dreaming look like right now?

Terri Willard: One of the things that I’ve learned from my first career in sustainable development networks and partnerships is that you have to walk the talk and I think that’s why I went back to school to get my teaching degree. If I want to change education, it is important for me to really understand the challenges that teachers face every day. I need to be able to adapt and develop programs around sustainable development that they can work with, that don’t crush them with requirements to learn new things.

My main goal these days is to create the Manitoba Sustainability Academy - a two-year grades 7 and 8 program that schools in Manitoba could offer, much in the same way that many schools offer alternative multi-grade programs or the International Baccalaureate program. It would provide opportunities for really innovative teaching and learning and give students the possibility to make a difference now.  Teachers who are interested in sustainable development would be able to connect with students who are passionate about changing the world and develop frameworks through which they can work together.

Rhodes Project: How has your second Bachelors experience been different or surprising?

Terri Willard: The fun thing about becoming a student again in my 40s is that I really had to let go of ego and acknowledge that I have a lot more to learn. I may have valuable expertise in other areas that I can bring with me to this process, but I have an awful lot to learn about kids and the challenges that they face today.

Rhodes Project: Broadly speaking, what is it that most inspires you?

Terri Willard: The kids I work with, their hopefulness and resilience. Having worked in sustainable development for nearly two decades, I can see how people are getting pessimistic because the things that we said we needed to change are still the same. It’s just business as usual. The results of that are going to be awful. However, young people’s willingness to come up with new ideas – that innate hopefulness that the young have – keeps me going and gives me faith that no matter how difficult the years ahead get, there are people who will continue to come up with solutions.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give a young woman going into sustainable development?

Terri Willard: Always try to find balance. It is a grueling field and you will be hit daily with bad news stories. So you have to have the personal, emotional and spiritual resources from family, friends and colleagues that will keep you going. You need to step back from the bad news and spend time with people who are good news.

Rhodes Project: What is the most beautiful place you have ever been?

Terri Willard: I have been to a lot of beautiful places, so that question is hard. I would go back to Monteverde in Costa Rica in 1992; it has changed a lot since then. I remember standing on the dirt road heading towards the front gates of the Cloud Forest Reserve, near where the Quaker school was, looking down from the mountains across the forest towards the Pacific Ocean, and thinking at that time that if I ever forgot how absolutely beautiful that was or took it for granted, that it was time to get out of the kind of work I was doing.

Rhodes Project: What is something that you are looking forward to?

Terri Willard: In the short term, heading out to a family camp at the start of August with my partner and my two kids. We will go swimming and biking and hiking and all the cooking will be taken care of.  Bliss.

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