by Jeff Berckes
Dropped off in the middle of an unfamiliar city, armed with only a pocketful of gummy bears and the time and space to discover, Angel Gibson finds her bliss.
If that sentence strikes you as an unlikely way to introduce Kinship Foundation’s new Executive Vice President, stick with me. Angel brings an explorer’s mindset to the helm of the foundation, full of ideas and the background to confidently navigate the terrain. It makes all the more sense when you listen to the longtime strategist sketch out one idea after another, like a cartographer mapping the contours of the landscape.
After a career full of traversing big, unwieldy, multi-stakeholder initiatives for a wide variety of clients, Angel stands ready in the face of a new challenge. But the world of conservation represents a return to her roots rather than a trip to a foreign land.
“I grew up in Nebraska, the only daughter of a high school football coach, in a small farming community,” Angel explained. “My grandfather owned the hatchery, and it wasn’t until years later that I realized just how progressive he was in his thinking.”
Angel’s grandparents installed solar panels on their land well before the technology was commonplace on the landscape. Her grandfather served as the mayor of his small Nebraska town, running on progressive ideals including land and water conservation.
“My grandparents would talk a lot about how important it was to not take out too much,” she continued. “He would talk about the importance of the ‘circle of life.’ Through action and deed, he had a true environmental ethos.”
Upon graduating from high school, Angel followed the path of many high achievers from the Midwest—she got out. Smith College in Massachusetts provided the “space and place” to understand how her roots shaped her sensibilities and how the lessons learned from her grandparents could serve as an asset to her work.
Kinship Foundation came into the picture as part of the 2018 Kinship Conservation Fellows Focus Year. Angel worked with the foundation as a consultant to help identify ways to engage both the family and the alumni network of Fellows. Intrigued by the organization and the portfolio of projects in the Fellows network, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to join the team last year.
“One thing I got so excited about was the spirit of the foundation as a whole—everything the foundation does builds learning and capacity, meant to share with others those spaces and places. I love the collaborative nature that is baked into everything—from innovative initiatives in food-system-focused conservation, postsecondary education, biomedical research, and supporting early career scientists. I love the idea of joining in and figuring out what I can contribute to the party.”
If the Kinship Conversation Fellows were throwing a party, Angel is bringing more than just a bag of chips. When asked to describe her media diet, she revealed a pantry bursting full of a diversity of ingredients.
“Eat Like a Fish!” she exclaimed when asked for a specific recommendation. “Have you heard of this? I’m obsessed with it; I’ve bought multiple copies for people to read.”
The James Beard winning book by Bren Smith explores the idea of ocean farming as a way to fight the climate crisis. Smith’s swashbuckling tale maps a greener future to food production in an engaging, truth-telling form. In other words, a perfect Kinship book.
While she tends to stack non-fiction on the shelf to try and quench an insatiable thirst for knowledge, she always has a novel or book of poetry open to caffeinate the creative side of her brain. She’s currently enjoying Octavia E. Butler’s Parable series. Podcasts focusing on how things work and suggesting solutions to important issues intrigue her most. She recommended Throughline from NPR as a good example of historical explanations to modern day events.
Early on in her tenure, Angel finds herself “intrigued by the mountains of possibilities” to cross-pollinate the work of the Fellows’ network. “How can we apply the principles of adaptive learning and adaptive leadership and connect with the people most interested in the work? How can we add the rocket fuel to great ideas and help ignite it? How can we reinforce the social and emotional aspect of the work?”
When asked to describe her favorite travel experience, it should have come as no surprise that she most enjoys exploring an unknown city with a chance to reveal what makes the place great. She likes to learn the local phrases and figure out what makes the place tick. Even her favorite food, gummy bears, fits this explorer’s approach to adventure—easy to carry shots of energy to extend discovery time.
The Kinship Conservation Fellows network finds itself at an inflection point. With a critical mass of deep thinkers and problem solvers located around the globe, the network can influence real change as the world enters a critical stage of identifying and scaling conservation and climate resiliency. It will indeed take a village to emerge from this crisis.
As we start on a new era, help me welcome Angel Gibson to Kinship City, population 282 and growing.
We promise to keep the gummy bears fully stocked.