THE BLOG
05/22/2014 05:02 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2014

Passion and Collaboration in the Nonprofit Sector

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Nonprofit work is gratifying and it is wonderful to be able to say that I work on addressing the threat of global climate change for a living. But even at nonprofits it is easy to get tied up in the day-to-day details of the workload and lose sight to the other pressing issues that are facing our global community. There is so much motivating and amazing work being done by large and small organizations throughout the world that are driven by passion, hard work, dedication, and optimism. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be able to see and experience this earlier this month when I spent the weekend in San Diego with a truly awe-inspiring group of individuals and their nonprofit organizations.

Leaders from across the nonprofit spectrum spent two days in discussions focused on the power of ideas, passion, innovation, and collaboration for addressing society's most urgent issues. And let me tell you, I came away renewed, inspired and awed.

The event was a conference dedicated to mission-driven socially-conscious organizations seeking new and effective ways to address issues ranging from education to veterans services to poverty to animal rights to healthcare and more. Organized by the Classy Awards in conjunction with the United Nations Foundation and capped by an Oscars-style awards ceremony, this event brought together hundreds of nonprofits working everyday to improve our world.

Seemingly formless, I spent time with dedicated, fervent, and tireless fighters for children, the poor, animals, veterans, immigrants, those suffering from disasters, the disabled, and many others. The innovative ideas, camaraderie, collaboration, and optimism that pervaded both the organized talks and the impromptu hall meetings gave me new hope and inspiration that we truly can improve the world.

Let me give you just two examples.

Dr. Lori Marino of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy has studied the brains of dolphins and other cetaceans for decades and has come to the knowledge that these beautiful animals have deep social structures, language, self awareness, and the ability to plan for the future. With a paradigm shifting idea, she is working with the Nonhuman Rights Project to advocate on behalf of chimpanzees, orcas, and other intelligent creatures to be recognized as "non-human persons" with rights, including the right not to be held in captivity and is seeking their legal protection in court.

In many parts of our world it is not just socially taboo to be gay, lesbian, or transgender but it is illegal and can be punishable by death. Simply saying out loud that one is gay is risking one's life. Many such individuals seek asylum in the U.S. every year and in many cases the government argues against the granting of asylum. The organization Immigration Equality provides pro bono legal services to those seeking asylum and has helped many threatened individuals gain entry to new lives here in the U.S.

We also heard from Jim Gibbons, the CEO of Goodwill Industries who was the first blind man to get an MBA from Harvard. He has transformed an organization that is more than 100 years old and brought new life to its work to provide jobs and support to the disabled. And I heard from many other inspiring men and women -- including Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser, Clinton Foundation CEO Eric Braverman, and CARE USA President and CEO Dr. Helene Gayle -- who are just working to make the world a little better day by day. It was awesome in the true and original meaning of that word.

Finally, to cap off what was already an overwhelming experience, I was humbled, proud, shocked, and honored to have the name of the Climate Action Reserve called out from the stage at the Classy Awards ceremony as the winner of the Environmental Protection category. From more than 3,600 applications, we were thrilled simply to be included as a nominee in the Climate and Environment sub-category among great and effective organizations like WWF, The Paradigm Project, Acterra and Amazon Watch, and we were even more excited to win that category and join Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (winner of the Ocean, Marine Life & Freshwater Systems sub-category) and The Xerces Society (winner of the Land & Wildlife sub-category) as Finalists in the Environmental Protection category. These are all great organizations doing incredible work that I deeply respect. Each of these deserved to have won the award for their passion, dedication, and hard work every day on behalf of the planet.

I thank the Classy Awards and the United Nations Foundation for the opportunity to meet and hear from other outstanding and diverse nonprofits, whose stories gave me inspiration, ideas, and new energy to continue the Climate Action Reserve's work to effectively address the challenge -- and the opportunity for transformation -- that global climate change presents us all.