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  • Growing global capacity for conservation: Catherine Leonard

    Posted on March 5, 2018

    Catherine Leonard, Secretary-General, International National Trusts Organisation

    “By bringing together the INTO family, we can begin to create the sort of world where protecting our heritage is seen as integral to our global society’s future”

    When did you start working for the National Trust?  What is your job?

    I got my first job with the National Trust in 1999 as the European and Overseas Co-ordinator. I joined a team of five working on international relations and my role was to run the European Network of National Heritage Organisations (ENNHO) and the European Exchange Programme.

    I remember being so thrilled to have landed a role that brought together my love of languages (I even had a bilingual business card!) with my passions for learning, art history and environmental conservation.

    Since 2008, I have been managing the Secretariat of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO).

    What inspires you most about what you do?

    We might call ourselves ‘National’ Trusts but in fact, conservation can’t be neatly parcelled up into national packages.  Keeping alive our wonderful built, cultural and natural heritage for present and future generations depends on global co-operation.

    And it’s incredible to see people and organisations coming together under the INTO banner to support one another, to share ideas, experiences and resources, and to show solidarity.

    I believe that with international support, local empowerment and joined up working, we can really make a difference.    This is what inspires me most.

    Why do you think your work is so important?

    We live in a complex, multi-dimensional and inter-dependent world.  Things have changed a lot since INTO was established ten years ago.  Funding has reduced while development pressures have increased; the impacts of climate change become more real every year; and there are new challenges posed by migration and other societal trends.

    Across the world, our local National Trusts see every day and at first hand the effects of these challenges.  And yet many of them are tiny organisations.  Dedicated and passionate, big on ambition and hope, they are often struggling with limited resources, insufficient political support and a lack of public awareness.

    The role of INTO is to help them achieve their objectives.

    Also, by bringing together our worldwide family of supporters, donors, members and volunteers – who all love heritage whatever country it’s in – I believe we can begin to create the sort of world where protecting our heritage is integral to our global society’s future.

    What’s it like working as a woman in your organisation?

    INTO and the National Trust are both very egalitarian, non-hierarchical organisations.  There is a good gender balance in senior roles in most countries and seven out INTO’s twelve trustees are women, including our Chair and Vice-Chair.

    Nonetheless, I still believe that within the Trust movement, as everywhere, men and women tend to operate differently.   Talented women do still seem to be less visible, held back more – often by their own self-limiting beliefs.   My advice?  Plan your career.  Make good networks. Go easy on yourself, be brave, be confident!

    Do you think the industry you work in has changed over the last 100 years for women?

    When I’m giving talks about INTO (like this one in Port of Spain), I always mention Octavia Hill, the social reformer who was one of the three Victorian founders of the National Trust. She is such an inspiration!  I also often (mis!) quote James Lees-Milne, who ran the Trust’s Country Houses Scheme in the 1940s.

    I do it to give courage and inspiration to our younger Trusts who are often dazzled by the current success and size of their alma mater.   It goes something like this: “After 47 years of operation, the Trust employed four male staff, of whom two where unqualified, and two female staff, a typist and a ‘junior’, and had a membership of 6,000”!

    But it also reminds us that in the early 1940s women had very different roles in the Trust.  Today, this tiny acorn has grown into a global movement and I’m happy to say that across the world, National Trusts are being led and managed by some amazing women.   In 2011, we featured some of our them on our website, including Stephanie Meeks (America); Hsiu-ju Sun (Taiwan) and Michaela Kubikova (Slovakia), all of whom are still part of the INTO family.

    This year we are celebrating the amazing work undertaken by female rangers, conservation officers, architects across the world from Anguilla to Zimbabwe in our Inspirational Women feature.

    Many Trusts were also started or heavily influenced by women: Annie Wyatt, the Australian Red Cross worker who set up the Australian National Trust in 1945; Virginia Courtauld, the half Italian, half Hungarian wife of Sir Stephen (with a snake tattoo on her ankle and an pet ring-tailed lemur) who gave their Rhodesian home to the National Trust of Zimbabwe in the 1950s; Mary Prince, the West Indian Slave who endured brutal cruelty at the School Lands Cottages, now a property of the Bermuda National Trust; Guilia Maria Crespi the driving force of behind FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano; Peggy Carey, May Bonamy Collins and Diana de Jersey who set up the National Trust for Guernsey, and so on!

    What question would you like to ask another inspirational woman from one of our international organisations?

    As individuals we might sometimes think that we’re so small and insignificant, how can we change the world?  But when I look at the incredible organisations that make up INTO, I see how passion and determination can make a real difference.   My question is for our wonderful emerging female leaders: “How do you manage the transition from ‘doing’ to ‘leading’?”

    (Incidentally, Lees-Milne also famously said “I think if I searched the whole world, there is no job I would rather have.”  I think I agree with him!)

    What is INTO?

    The International National Trusts Organisation, or INTO, is the umbrella body for the worldwide family of National Trusts which come together to share experience, ideas and resources; to grow the capacity of existing trusts and establish new trusts in countries where they don’t currently exist; and to be a global voice for matters of common concern.

    The National Trusts of the world care about special places, protecting them for ever and for everyone.   Together as INTO, they unite people in their concern for heritage and make the National Trust movement greater than the sum of its parts.


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