Reflecting and Projecting Part I: The Power of Community in a Tough Year

2020. The Conservation Alliance started this year energized and full of hope. 

In January, we released a five-year strategic plan that sets us on track to work toward an ambitious ten-year goal that at least 75% of the world’s commercial seafood production be on the path to environmental sustainability with safeguards in place to ensure social responsibility. We began organizing our community so that we could put our plan into action, and in March, we hired Mariah Boyle as Executive Director of the Alliance to lead us toward the future we collectively wish to see for our ocean and the people who depend on it. 

Mariah joined the team, excited to gather in-person with the Alliance community in Boston at Seafood Expo North America, and suddenly the world seemed to stop turning for a moment as the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic became evident. Life and work grinded to a halt and uncertainty and set in. The seafood industry was quickly turned on its head as fishers were suddenly unable to fish and markets disappeared overnight. We wondered what all this meant for our new strategy and plans for working together and what this would mean for one another. 

Then suddenly, as things looked bleaker than perhaps ever before, there it was again; that energy and hope we’d held back in January. Almost immediately, our colleagues from throughout the Alliance community began to reach across to each other, checking in and looking for ways to support one another and supply chain partners. We hosted impromptu calls to understand what people needed. We grieved with organizations that were struggling to stay afloat and forced to say farewell to long-time team members. Twenty Alliance organizations co-created a statement of support for the seafood industry showing solidarity with this movement and the partners we’ve worked with for over a decade. 

As the months ticked on and we would be introduced to the pets and children and living rooms of our colleagues, and the knowledge that we’re actually more connected than our pre-pandemic minds might have thought. By early summer, we were finding our footing in the new reality. Alliance organizations were working quickly and effectively around the world in response to the pandemic and we were learning from experts about its impacts on the human rights of seafood workers

With a growing understanding of the changing world around us and how the sustainable seafood movement was evolving in step with it, we were able to approach our strategy with more urgency than ever before and a refreshed vision for how we’d put it into action. We were grounded by a new focus on the importance of resiliency and recognition of the interconnectedness of the systems in which we work, and bolstered by a public commitment to equity and anti-racism that commits us to make sure that the work we do uplifts the voices that have been excluded in the past. 

As we marched into the fall, the forced pivot from planned in-person meetings to virtual formats meant we’d be hosting our community’s Annual Meeting online for the first time ever. This meeting is a critical opportunity for our colleagues to gather and celebrate progress and look toward a new year of working together. We worried that in bringing the meeting into a digital space we’d be forfeiting the human connections that are so foundational to our efforts and fuse our work with purpose. 

We are privileged to work in a community of changemakers who never cease to inspire us, and as such, we were relieved to have our fears abated. The Alliance community showed up; three-and-a-half times as many people as typically attend, many of whom had never been to the meeting before, joining us from across 17 time zones around the world for what was one of our best Annual Meetings yet and most definitely, a highlight of the entire year. 

Conservation Alliance Annual Meeting 2020 Stats
Conservation Alliance Annual Meeting 2020 Zoom Shot of Attendees

As this wild year draws to a close and we reflect on the unforeseen challenges and perceived setbacks we’ve needed to navigate, in many ways, we find ourselves where we started off; energized and filled with hope for what’s to come. What’s next for the Alliance? Peering ahead to 2021, we are perhaps most excited to expand our efforts to grow our community so we can include new and more diverse voices in our work, so that we can continue this work of repairing seafood supply chains together. Come back next month to learn more.

For Part II: The Year Ahead, click here.

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