Rob Soutter – My 30 year journey at WWF

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Full Name:   Rob Soutter

Location:  WWF International (Gland, Switzerland)

Current Title: Senior Advisor, Special Campaigns & Growth

Educational Background:  BA (History and English) University of Cape Town;  HDE PGS (senior school teaching diploma)

Rob Soutter has always had a passion for saving the planet. It started in the early days of his career as a journalist reporting on environmental issues. He soon realized he wanted to be closer to the action and joined WWF in South Africa. As Senior Advisor, Special Campaigns & Growth, Rob works with WWF offices around the world helping them to promote and communicate conservation successes. Read on to learn more about Rob’s amazing 30 year career at WWF.

What was your first job out of university and how did you land that position? What is the greatest lesson you took away from this experience?

My first job was an unexpected but very welcome surprise.  In applying for a vacation job at Cape Town’s Argus newspaper, while waiting for a teaching appointment following university, the deputy editor interviewing me encouraged me to apply to be a full time journalist. Taken by surprise, I said I didn’t feel qualified, but he pointed out that I had already acquired some of the skills required through working on school and university newspapers, teaching and English studies.   The lesson?  To be much more aware of the skills and experience you acquire through life, and to consciously make use of these whenever possible.   A second lesson was the discovery that I wanted to make a difference to the world, and as a journalist I began a lifelong process of regularly looking back to evaluate this and look forward to new challenges

You started your career as a journalist, when and why did you decide to work for an NGO?

After three years as a journalist, working on the environment, I was becoming very frustrated with reporting on environmental problems, I wanted to be more part of the solutions.  The breaking point came when a story on a big environmental threat broke and all my key contacts were unavailable, it was a weekend. Knowing they trusted me I wrote the story using older quotes on what needed to be done.  They were fine with the story and happy I took the initiative, but this was wrong, not good journalism. I had to get into working for the solutions.  At this watershed moment I was then lucky to be invited by the CEO of WWF-South Africa to join him and his very small team, and to be part of building this organisation and contributing to working on the solutions and the successes achieved.

Take us through a typical work day. What excites you and what drives you nuts?

My typical day has two parts:  firstly, what are the priority actions, and which of these are the most important and urgent (some of these will be determined by the calendar eg producing the 6-monthly Conservation Highlights, or preparing for a scheduled meeting of the Communications and Marketing Committee);  secondly, what new challenges and/or opportunities have come up overnight eg a proposal for a Gift to the Earth celebration of a conservation win, or a new challenge to take up.  The thing that gets me up in the morning is the chance to combine my (and others’) communications and marketing skills to achieve big conservation wins that deliver on WWF’s conservation priorities – making a difference.

Best moment of your career so far?

Difficult to choose one, so here’s three:

  1. Launching environmental education and legacy fundraising programmes at WWF-SA and the contacts and long-time friends made;
  2. Helping achieve and recognise many of WWF’s most powerful recent conservation successes through eg Gifts to the Earth, especially the privilege to participate in a few such events and witnessing first-hand the power of WWF and the respect political and business leaders have for this organisation;
  3. With input from throughout WWF, pulling together 50 stories on WWF’s challenges and achievements for the 50th anniversary and seeing the huge range of successes this organisation has achieved.

What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
The same advice that my 25 year old self received from his new boss at WWF-SA, “do whatever you feel will help achieve WWF-SA’s conservation objectives and I will back you;  but be able to explain to me why you’re doing it”. In other words, feel free to take big but responsible steps to achieve your dreams, backed by your team – and there is no better team than WWF to address the challenges facing the planet’s environment and its inhabitants.

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