I was born in New York City, the third child of German refugees. At the age of two we moved to the New Jersey suburbs. From my earliest years, I loved mud, climbing trees, fishing, and collecting salamanders. In the summer of 1962, when I was twelve years old, my grandmother gathered her dispersed grandchildren together on a ranch in Wyoming. I fell in love with mountains, rivers, forests and wildlife of the Rocky Mountains. In 1969, I studied grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park and promptly switched my major at from sociology to wildlife ecology. After graduate school, I took a job as the western Regional Land Steward for the Nature Conservancy (TNC). In 1987, a group of us left TNC and founded Conservation International. Our belief is that humanity needs nature to thrive. Our work focuses on the direct relationship between the well-being of communities and the productivity and security of ecological systems. Ecosystem science, economics, and livelihood are the foundation of our mission to insert conservation of nature into the fabric of development.
Growing up in my home country, Sierra Leone, I was influenced by farming and fishing. I particularly enjoyed upland the farming practices involved in growing rice, cassava, sweet potato, maize, and groundnut, which occurred during the rainy season when we were on holiday from school. But my fascination with nature and biodiversity emerged from fishing. As I sat down waiting for fish to take the bait, I often wondered about the overall ecosystem, how the components are linked, and the anthropological forces that influenced its functioning. I was fortunate to nurture these childhood fascinations through secondary school and went on to study Biological Sciences at Njala University. After graduation, I was recruited by the university to help establish the foundation for research and training in tropical ecology. I went on to pursue further studies in this area, obtaining MS and PhD degrees at the University of Miami, specializing in mycorrhizas—associations between fungi and plant roots that help improve uptake of nutrients from the soil. This allowed me to enter into a career that values the interactions between nature and people. I pursued this career in various capacities at Conservation International and World Agroforestry Center, and now in the Global Environment Facility.
Sandy Andelman is the Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President of Conservation International Peter Seligmann is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Conservation International Mohamed Bakarr is the Lead Environmental Specialist of the Global Environment Facility