SFS laid the foundation for building my key passions: conservation, media, and international travel. I was a self-taught photographer in Africa learning about wildlife management. And now, these passions are the heart of Green Living Project.
Rob Holmes Kenya Fall ’90 is president and founder of Green Living Project, a multi-media company that showcases diverse initiativse in global sustainability.
Why did you choose SFS as a study abroad program?
I was studying wildlife conservation in college when I heard about SFS from a friend. I was attracted because I was looking for a hands-on field experience in a remote and exotic location. I wanted to do something totally different, and nothing beats Africa for a departure from Western society. And it didn’t disappoint! I got the true experience of living, studying, and working on wildlife management projects in Kenya. Nothing is more productive and hands-on than spending quality time in the field with SFS. The total immersion was awesome.
Reflecting back on your experience, what lessons did you learn from SFS?
We learned what it takes to be successful in wildlife conservation and field research. The staff members were very well known and knowledgeable, and I learned about the African flora and fauna and the broader ecosystem of East Africa. The environment plays such an important role there, while in the U.S. our consumerism creates a greater distance between ourselves and the natural environment. When we were in Kenya, we were a part of the natural environment.
Maybe most significantly, as it turned out, Kenya was not only a great place to learn about the environment, it was also was my inspiration to learn photography. When I decided to go to Kenya with SFS, I knew I would want to take incredible photographs of my experience, so I taught myself how to shoot.
What is your most profound or lasting memory from your SFS program?
We had two baby ostriches; the mother had either been killed or had left, and there was a nest of babies. One of the faculty members adopted them to raise on the property. They grew up in front of our eyes during those six months. We called them left and right, and the two of them ran side by side.
Another memory I have is running in Kenya. When I wanted to get away from the group and reflect on all that I was seeing and doing, I would go for a jog. I ran around the camp and I would casually jog by a giraffe or a group of wildebeests on the open plains.
What advice would you give to a prospective SFS student?
I would say, do it! Get out of the U.S. and experience another part of the world. If you’re specifically interested in wildlife or Africa, then I would strongly recommend the Kenya program. It changed my life, opened up new doors, and gave me a global perspective on society.
What do you do for work?
I am the founder and president of Green Living Project, a company focused on documenting, promoting, and supporting successful and unique models of sustainability internationally. We tell the stories of our non-profit partners through film and photography, leveraging the vagueness of the term “sustainable.” It means different things to different people, and we explore how this concept is interpreted by different groups and show the positive impact it is making in the lives of people around the world.
What makes us different from a typical media crew is that we are not just documenting and producing, we are also marketing. We believe in the programs that we are supporting, so we actively seek to promote their mission. Through our lecture series, launched in collaboration with National Geographic Adventure, R.E.I. and other strategic partners, we educate listeners on sustainable living while giving our international sustainable projects exposure in the US.
When you’re a photographer, you don’t always have access to your subjects, and hence, your photos aren’t as personal. Now, with Green Living Project, I’m getting direct access in the community with the non profit partner and an assignment. I get the chance to make an impact in conservation on a global scale in unique locations, and I get to hear great stories.
Our focus in 2008 was Africa. We worked with a variety of organizations from leading non-profits to conservation organizations to travel companies. In our lecture series, we presented on a USAID-funded consortium of organizations that have helped identify Rwandan coffee as a powerful economic driver and as a premium export for the recovering nation. We also featured organizations like the Mihingo Lodge, a safari lodge adjacent to Lake Mburo National Park that leverages green and sustainable practices and operates almost entirely off the grid. In 2009, we shifted our attention to South America, but not before documenting eight new projects in southern Africa.
Did your SFS experience contribute to where you ended up?
Entirely. SFS laid the foundation for building my key passions: conservation, media, and international travel. I was a self-taught photographer in Africa learning about wildlife management. And now, these passions are the heart of Green Living Project.
How did you translate these passions into a career?
It took awhile to get here, but I’ve always had a goal and I’m a very hard worker. I have always worked two or three jobs, and I went to business school to get my MBA. Then, in the heyday of the dot com era, I started a company from scratch called trails.com, a site where subscribers could access hiking guidebooks online. I ran it for seven years before selling, and I loved trails.com, but I was ready to launch a new project that was based in conservation rather than recreation. I knew that my next career move was going to be global. There’s a world out there, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Maybe I should add a fourth pillar to my list of passions: conservation, international travel, media (photography), and business. I was always an entrepreneur. Even as a young kid, I was starting snow-blowing companies in my neighborhood and delivering the Boston Globe. The fact that I’m a business person, that’s the part that made me excited to take this leap and start greenlivingproject.com.
What advice do you have for other SFS alumni looking to get into your field?
My advice is: work hard, follow your passion, and do whatever it takes to get there. And you’ve got to be patient.
I got excellent advice along the way, like the importance of networking, being curious, and asking questions. Before I went to grad school, I sat down with a few friends of my father who were in business. The common advice was to go into sales to teach yourself how to communicate, articulate, persuade, and get out of difficult situations. Communication skills are so important.
Is it who you know or what you know?
In this global economy, it is a combination. Networking is crucial, professionally and personally. You learn from who you meet.
But you also have to have solid comprehension of the issues in your field. For me to document projects around the world, I need to understand conservation and Africa. I use my foundation in wildlife management and ecology to select unique and successful sustainable projects. I have to ask myself, “What is a true conservation project and what is just greenwashing?”