Next Steps for the Emerging Leaders Program

The Emerging Leaders Program (“ELP”) was the stand-out component of the 2016 SHIFT Festival. The program brought thirty-four men and women between the ages of 19 and 31 to the Jackson campus of the Teton Science Schools for three days of preparatory work in advance of SHIFT, and then integrated them into the proceedings of the Festival in substantive and meaningful ways. Emerging Leaders (“ELPers”) represented a cross-section of America in all its diversity, which contributed to the program’s overall strength and impact.

Post-SHIFT, Allison Bergh of Leadership at Play conducted 18 interviews with key opinion-leaders who attended this year’s event. 100% of interviewees commented on the importance and strength of the program, noting that it “changed the conversation in very important ways.”

Comments by interviewees included:

  • “Phenomenal job cultivating this group of ELP”
  • “There is momentum here; create more opportunities for this group; ensure they stay connected/reconvene throughout the year”
  • “Easy to find financial support for the ELP. Make that happen. This group requires funding to move forward”

The impact flowed both ways. Comments from the Emerging Leaders (“ELPers”) included variations on the following:

  • “I came from a very bubbled idea of what Conservation… looked like. The ELP program blew my ideas of [that] wide open.”
  • “None of us realized how incredible or big, or even transformative, this would be.”
  • “This program absolutely changed my life.”

ELP integration at SHIFT in panel discussions, as speakers, facilitators, and as volunteers for logistics was successful (“The way we were asked to participate this year was great”). Teton Science Schools proved an excellent partner, developing a program that was well-received (“THANK YOU, thank you, thank you for creating a culture of trust and building the group to the point where so many people had the courage and support to share. Absolutely incredible and a true reflection of the deliberate and thoughtful facilitation and leadership from Colby & the TSS staff!”).

Given the success of ELP 2016, we have:

  • Begun work with Terry Tempest Williams and the Teton Science Schools to bring the 2016 cohort back to Jackson for a four-day retreat in mid-winter
  • Begun work with Teton Science Schools on ELP 2017
  • Begun work with the Emerging Leaders to showcase their work around outdoor rec and cultural relevancy on Th., Jan. 12, at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market
  • Ascertained interest on the parts of the National Conservation Training Center, The Wilderness Society and TSS on collaborative funding for ELP
  • Begun talks with the Outdoor Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the Outdoor Industry Association, to connect ELP with the Future Leadership Academy (“FLA”)

There was strong consensus for continued and increased engagement of 2016 ELP participants in ELP 2017 in particular and in SHIFT in general. (There was also consensus that the cohort size for 2016 was correct [max size: 35] and that 2016’s recruitment strategy be continued for the next class.)

Specific next steps regarding ELP 2017 include the following:

  • Create an “ELP leadership/advisory council” that allows the 2016 ELP cohort to communicate more effectively among themselves, with SHIFT and with the public
  • Work with ELPers to create a “manifesto” that defines priorities from their perspective as well as strategies with which to achieve them
  • Identify an “ecosystem problem” with ELPers, then let them “work” the problem throughout the year
  • Develop second year of the program for 2016 ELPers

In the upcoming months, we will also:

  • Refine our acceptance process to include better communication with engagement partners such as SCA and 21csc, create earlier nomination dates, and more clearly communicate scholarship opportunities to nominees
  • Increase representation from outdoor rec and sportsmens’ groups within the ELP cohort
  • Make ELPers official “spokespeople” for SHIFT: create leverage points they can use to advance their work using SHIFT as the vehicle, and empower them to spread the word about SHIFT and ELP
  • Provide exposure for ELPers by cultivating presentation opportunities at other conferences and events
  • Partner ELP with industry orgs and conservation groups: get them involved in issues that continue to develop their experience and cultivate their leadership potential
  • Explore the creation of job/internship opportunities for ELPers at next SHIFT
  • Work with 2016 ELPers to recruit, nominate and/or review 2017 ELP applicants


Post-event interviews conducted by Allison Bergh were nearly unanimous in the belief that exporting SHIFT’s work in some fashion is important, regardless of where the annual event is held. Export of SHIFT via SHIFTx events led by Emerging Leaders in their communities was discussed with the Emerging Leaders at this year’s event.

The SHIFTx concept currently lacks clarity and specificity. Objectives need to be defined and details of the program solidified before export can occur. The main points of concern that emerged among ELPers were

  • The Model: how is it defined and how does it leverage the SHIFT brand effectively?
  • Funding: How would SHIFT support ELPers in the organization of these events?

Other concerns:

  • Relies on reputation of SHIFT
  • Marketing plan for SHIFTx needs to be created

Opportunities were also identified:

  • Target other mountain communities
  • Leverage social media
  • Beta test at other conferences
  • Use digital media (podcasting, etc.) to increase message, exposure, reach

To address these issues and advance the SHIFTx concept, we will reconvene ELPers in mid-winter, with two objectives:

  • Develop organizational structure for ELP that empowers ELPers to guide its evolution
  • Develop SHIFTx concept, addressing concerns identified by ELPers, into collaborative grant proposal with partner orgs

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