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Reflections from our outgoing Deputy Chief Executive

A blog post by Catherine Gee

As our Deputy Chief Executive bids farewell to #TeamKSB and heads to pastures new she has taken time out to reflect on her journey and connection with our natural world.  Identifying opportunities for collaboration, consolidation and the importance of growing connections between people, nature and our environment and nature, Catherine leaves our charity having achieved so much, but is ready to take on new important challenges.

We wish her lots of luck.

I’ve had an interest and passion for the natural world and our environment since childhood, perhaps partly influenced by the fact that I spent my most formative years in a rural, countryside location (and possibly the prevalence of David Attenborough documentaries and books!).  I remember well whilst at primary school, walking around in the fields and woods nearby creating and charting a ‘nature trail’ that then became a well-used local footpath.  I was also lucky enough to have a month-long trip to South Africa over one summer and kept a diary of each day’s events including all the wildlife and fauna that we saw whilst trekking, camping and driving around the magnificent country.  Unfortunately, I have lost the diary, but the memories still hold strong in my mind.

Having spent a bit of time after finishing school in job roles working in administration and then office management in the private sector, I went to University in my mid-twenties and did a business degree, part of which involved a placement which I managed to secure in a large commercial company.  During my studies and general reading, I was becoming increasingly aware of the debate around sustainability, carbon emissions and the finite amount of resources that earth can provide for us and all of nature.  Whilst on my placement and influenced by what I saw and learnt, I made a conscious decision to take my skills, acumen and passion into the environmental third sector and I have been there ever since, which now adds up to 20 years! 

Thirteen of these years have been spent with this fantastic charity and my reflections over the last few months as I have started to step back and hand things over include pride in collective achievements but also frustration over how much things haven’t changed.  Yes, a lot of organisations and businesses have moved on in terms of their thinking and prioritisation of managing their environmental and social impact and the environmental third sector has played a huge part in that shift in thinking. 

Catherine with her no dig plot
Catherine with her no dig plot

However, the uncertainty, inefficiency and exhaustion that is created by short-term (year on year) budgeting, particularly from central government hasn’t really changed at all.  There are positive signs though with a whole host of funders and partners seeing the need for multi-year funding and partnership commitments – simply put this helps with organisational and financial sustainability, project and staff continuity but also in terms of better impact of outcomes for all concerned.

 

There is also the slightly unsatisfactory aspect, which I particularly hear from those new to the environmental sector, of high levels of competition, duplication and protecting one’s own patch.  Whilst a healthy amount of this is ok and makes commercial sense, there could be more collaboration and there could definitely be more consolidation within and amongst environmental organisations, including in the public sector. 

Overwhelming though, from my experiences here in Scotland and at Keep Scotland Beautiful, it is the people that make the difference.  That is probably going to be the thing that I will miss the most – being at the heart of a passionate, ethical and pragmatic organisation – and being able to lead with integrity and determination to help improve and increase the positive environmental and social impact that the charity has across the country and more widely.

In terms of my next move - companies also need help and some have come a long way in terms of thinking around what was Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), environmental management and what is increasingly being referred to as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and the importance of being a ‘responsible business’.  And with my experience, passion, insight and knowledge, I am excited to be moving on to help a commercial company implement its sustainability and ESG strategies.   I will never forget where things started and will always champion the role of the third sector and the untapped opportunity for the private sector to embrace partnerships to help them achieve better environmental and social sustainability and impact.

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