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Catherine Game is the director of communications and engagement for Chicago Wilderness, a 200-plus-member alliance of conservation groups, government agencies, businesses and faith groups. Founded in 1996, this unique regional coalition is able to tackle conservation issues unrestrained by the borders that often limit government and local efforts.

Chicago Wilderness’ model of collaboration has inspired other communities to form similar metropolitan alliances, such as Houston Wilderness and the Heartland Conservation Alliance in Kansas City.

“The nature piece and the people piece”: Catherine Game of @ChiWilderness builds partnerships for conservation impact

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Yet even with a wide mandate to work for the benefit of our region, Game acknowledges that she has not always considered her work to be philanthropic. She says that her experience at an On the Table event “definitely changed [her] perspective on what philanthropy means.”

Game grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where “involvement and volunteering was embedded in our community.” Both of her parents volunteered regularly, forming her early perspective on community involvement—a perspective that expanded dramatically when she started learning about global warming, and its effects on the global population.

“The justice component of climate change surprised me—that these issues, typically labeled ‘environmental,’ have tremendous impacts on people,” Game said.

“More than just temperature increase, climate change threatens the daily lives of people, from developing countries with subsistence economies to flooding here in Chicago.”

But how does one bring such a massive issue home to individuals? Game believes that “if everyone contributes, it results in change on a large scale.” To effectively drive impact, she acknowledges that “big, necessary changes must be approached with great care” through building networks, strategy and consensus.

Game’s work for Chicago Wilderness is based on that collaborative model. With their current Oak Ecosystems project that focuses on restoring the keystone species in our region’s ecosystems, it is particularly important that “players come together in the right way.”

Because seventy percent of remaining oak ecosystems are on private land, it’s essential “to work with owners to find areas where we can save existing populations, and develop new ones. A foundation of a strong base of partners makes the project possible, and that partnership makes regional strategies possible.” Game points out the advantage of the oak tree being such a “charismatic megaflora that people can easily connect with.”

“In restoring lands and demonstrating the importance of these natural treasures… there is the nature piece, but there is the people piece, too. And everyone can make a difference in the place you live.”