Jennifer Lenhart (graduate of 2007), Global Lead of Cities at WWF

January 9, 2020

12 years ago?! Yikes! Feels like yesterday. But in short, MESPOM influences the work I do every single day.

This week we caught up with 2007 graduate, Jennifer Lenhart in Chile, who is the Global Lead on Cities for WWF.  She talks about how the MESPOM Toolbox is still helping her 12 years after she finished the program. 


How are you engaged in your current role?

I work for WWF’s Swedish office, but am based in Santiago de Chile for personal reasons. (With a global role in WWF, this offers some flexibility, balanced with hard work and programme delivery.)  Within WWF Cities, we work in circa 40 countries on different city-based initiatives; our flagship is WWF’s One Planet City Challenge which supports cities to transparently submit their climate data and assesses this data against how closely cities align with the Paris Agreement. We are also building new initiatives on urban food systems and urban nature-based solutions. As the Global Lead, my role is to steer WWF’s engagement with cities and urban actors, develop (together with a great team) our goals and objectives, and support national WWF offices to engage with cities and urban citizens.  It’s a lot of fun – guiding a new area of work for WWF, supporting local offices, and equally important listening and learning from their on-the-ground engagements with cities and urban citizens and then, finding ways to scale these ideas up.   

You graduated from MESPOM 12-years ago now, how would you say MESPOM has impacted this journey you have had to reach your current position?

It remains by far, one of my “Top 5” best decisions, if not the best. MESPOM influenced me academically, professionally and personally. It helps me (every day!) to take on my role within WWF, leading a global team with colleagues from 40 countries in different time zones and contexts. MESPOM taught me cultural sensitivity. It taught me to listen and to have eyes open, a mind curious and a heart humble to respect the diversity of our planet and her peoples in different geographies, policy and cultural processes. It also taught me empathy. I believe this is crucial in solving the global problems we face today. Interestingly, I also frequently consult my MESPOM thesis (written 12 years ago!) as it addressed urban environmental behaviour and behaviour change. This is something WWF would like to tackle at a large scale and my team has been tasked with doing so – no pressure, right!? So yes, I use that MESPOM Toolbox every day as I interact with people, ideas and cross-sectoral approaches to address urban environmental challenges.

Is there anything you wish you'd known when you finished the program?

Hmmmm, I think that it is OK if everything doesn't work out right away. And stay committed to what you really want to do. But it's also OK if you don't have everything figured out right away. Maybe this can even make you stronger in the long run… So jump around a little, test out temporary projects or new locations until you find the thing you're really passionate about. We MESPOMers have received a unique education, and there is real value in what we have learned – in the classroom, from the varied landscapes and crucially from each other. Personally, I’m thankful to have bounced around a little professionally and geographically to land where I am today. Looking back now it seems like each step built on the other, allowing me to use the skills and experiences (now) in an integrated fashion. Although at times it felt more uncertain. 

Any future plans?

Well my secret (not-so-secret) plan has always been to be a city mayor, to envision and govern a city in its quest to become more sustainable, accessible and equitable. And what is so fantastic with the work that I do now, is that I interact regularly with ambitious city mayors. I just returned from the 2019 UN Climate Conference, COP25. Despite what you may have heard about the speed of the negotiations or the failure to create a strong ambition narrative on climate action, I can assure you – cities are stepping up! At COP25, I had the chance to engage with mayors from Colombia, US, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Australia, Malaysia and so many others. In fact, we also hosted the Lead Councillor of Glasgow in our WWF Cities event on “Tangible Ambition”. Glasgow is the host city of COP26 and they are lucky to have a very committed local leader eager to combine climate action, urban planning with social justice. Anyway, even if I haven't gotten into that role (i.e. city mayor) yet, I feel grateful to learn and interact with so many inspiring city leaders and role models – a kind of a childhood dream.  In any case, I'm very happy to work so closely with a level of (local) governance that I believe is critical to designing a more sustainable future, locally and globally.