Chris Rainier and Olivia McKendrick – The Race to Save Cultural And Intellectual Diversity

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Mark Bidwell  [6:30]

So Chris, Olivia, very nice to have you both on the program. Let me start with you Chris. In my mind you’ve got probably the best job in the world, National Geographic Society Fellow, and you’re a documentary photographer. Now, maybe we can just start with where your career began when you were working with Ansel Adams as his last photographic assistant. What I’m interested in is, what was so powerful about his images that enabled him to have a role in protecting national parks from the onslaught of the extractive industries in the 1980s? What did he do with photography that made it so powerful?

Chris Rainier  [7:29]

Well, I think Ansel Adams was very unique, because first and foremost he was an artist, he was what’s called a fine art photographer. His source of inspiration was his heart, he was growing up in California, growing up in the Sierra Nevada, and he was truly inspired by really the kind of end of an era in the movement West in the United States, the American wilderness, the search for the new frontier. And that was really at the end of the 18th century, or rather, 19th century into the 20th century. He was a young man, he was inspired by many of the authors, John Muir for example, who’s very well known for his conservation views, and his appreciation of wilderness. So Ansel was born into an era where the wilderness and the American West was alive. And he was really inspired by Yosemite, and for anybody that’s ever gone to California and been to Yosemite, it’s almost like being on the Earth the day after creation, a stunningly beautiful landscape. So he grew up surrounded by the mountains, hiking up into the glaciers, and watching sunrises and sunsets. And he was also born into an era where photography was just developing, was refining itself. So the two combined wonderfully for him to be first and foremost the fine art photographer. But he was also born into an era where conservation was coming into itself. He eventually became the president of the Sierra Club, and eventually won some of the great battles that began to unfold during the 40s, 50s and 60s. They wanted to dam the Grand Canyon, and he, along with the Sierra Club fiercely fought that and won that, so he began to truly understand the power of photography as a social tool, and the power of these images to celebrate nature, and to often stop some of the vote to open up the West to mineral extraction, damming, and the likes. Many times he would go back to Congress in Washington DC, present a portfolio to various key members within Congress. And it was because of those portfolios that again, this is like the Grand Canyon, we’re not dammed up. So I came along as a young photographer, inspired by the beauty of his work. But truly, by working with him and being surrounded by his efforts, I truly got the message that photography can be a very, very powerful social tool. And that went on to inspire me for my entire career. And in fact, in the early 1980s, when I was working for him, Ronald Reagan was the president, he had a very controversial Secretary of Interior that was determined to open up some of the National Park. And we drew the battle lines and many of those battles that we fought really solidified and served as a catalyst for me to use photography to go on and really do what we’re doing now.

Mark Bidwell  [10:43]

And we’ll come back to that in a minute. Because it does sound like, 40 years later, or 30 years later, you’re fighting a similar battle a little bit, with different people. But let’s go back to that in a minute. So then you spent, you’ve been very busy obviously, you spent 10 years on and off in Papua New Guinea, which is a place you described as where the people have one foot in the stone age or in the Garden of Eden. And you were there, sort of documenting the languages and trying to understand more about these remarkable cultures. Two questions. Firstly, how did you transition in and out of this remarkable environment, where, I think you even mentioned you’d met people who’d never come in contact with Westerners before? How did you manage that transition in and out, because you were there for 10 years on and off, right?

Chris Rainier  [11:43]

Correct. Once I left the Ansel Adams Studio, I really went in search of things that I was most familiar with. I had grown up overseas, my father had an international job, we lived in Africa, we lived in Australia, the Middle East, England, and California. So I wanted to apply that kind of fine art social message that Ansel had with the landscape, to saving culture. And as I grew up in Australia, as a young boy, people would often talk about this island to the north that was Stone Age. And of course that is New Guinea, made up of Papua New Guinea on the eastern side, Irian Jaya on the western side, which is a province of Indonesia. So I always kind of had this desire, this dream to go to New Guinea. And I took a trip in 1985 there, and truly decided this is where I wanted to kind of make a steak and do a long-term project. So as you mentioned, for the next 10 years of spending anywhere up to six months each year, I systematically covered the entire island in terms of documenting these tribes there, under threat from modernity. And you asked about the transitions, I love those transitions, whether it’s a New Guinea or Africa or Mongolia, or more recently, us working in Mexico and soon in Kenya, it’s immersing yourself in the culture, it’s slowing down until you truly are absorbed within the culture, and then observing it and documenting it. And then the transition back into your culture, it’s the grinding of the gears of coming from essentially a stone age culture into modernity, is where I learned the most about myself. I reflect on the excessiveness of our culture in the short-term attention span. And I think those are the most inspiring moments when I come to conclusion. I’m not placing any value judgment on our culture. I certainly am from a modern culture. But I think the two can learn from each other. And in fact, that’s very much our mission with the Cultural Sanctuaries Project is to have a cross-pollination – ancient cultures speaking to modern cultures, and vice versa, out of respect and not hierarchy.

Mark Bidwell  [14:14]

And we’ll come to that in a minute. But let’s now introduce Olivia, because you, Olivia, went through quite a transition. You’re a partner at Linklaters, which is part of one of those, so called Magic Circle of the elite London law firms, 180 years old, working in corporate M&A. That was almost a career that I had, if I’d hung around in law school for more than four days. But you had a number of years there, and then you went to Paris in 2015, and you had a kind of a-ha moment, a light bulb moment. What happened there, Olivia?

Olivia McKendrick  [14:49]

Well, I think you’re right. I mean, it’s not a predictable path, I think if you had told me five years ago that now I’d be working in the field of charity and conservation and the environment, I’d be as flabbergasted as I think my parents sometimes are. Until 2015 it was pretty traditional, I mean, I was at a good girls school at Cambridge, the daughter of academic parents, went to Oxford to read law, went straight into law school and Linklaters, and a pretty straight trajectory, barring one year traveling in the gap year style. And then I really stayed at Linklaters, and as you said, I was specialist in corporate M&A. And so I worked in various Linklaters offices around the world and really worked, as you know in that world, you work pretty long hours. And you can be quite blinkered, and I loved every minute of it. I was there for 24 years in total, and I was a partner for 13, I think I was the youngest partner, female partner or partner, I can’t remember, made up at the time. So it was very much, and I couldn’t conceive of believing it frankly, until meeting Chris. Then you get to know Chris, hearing the stories that he just told you about culture, about the environment, and then by hook or by crook, partly because of Chris’s then job, we went to the Paris Climate Change Conference. And I was sort of juggling being in Linklaters Paris office with going out to the conference. And slowly, and I hope this doesn’t sound disloyal to Linklaters, slowly part of myself was being drawn more to be at the Paris Climate Conference, because I just felt it was so important and felt I was learning so much that I haven’t known, rather to my embarrassment. And so after, off 2015, we decided to set up the Cultural Sanctuaries Foundation together. And slowly it dawned on us that I couldn’t be in two places at once. And so I decided, actually, remarkably quickly, to end up the 24 years, to leave Linklaters and start on this new path.

Mark Bidwell  [17:14]

Extraordinary. And we’ll get into the Foundation in a minute. But I’m really curious, what did you bring with you? And what did you leave behind? Because it’s quite a significant change in working environment and work content, of course.

Olivia McKendrick  [17:30]

Yeah. And I think what’s interesting is that, I think when one’s only ever had one career, and I thought it was normal to have long career because mostly my Linklaters partners stay forever. And certainly, in 10-15 years ago, it’s quite unusual to leave, it’s slightly more peripatetic. Now, people do move around from law firm to law firm, but I thought it was normal to have one career, my parents who only ever had one career. And I think increasingly, I feel that it’s really important to potentially have more than one focus and more than one direction. And I think particularly what I found in the last couple years now, is that while when I was a lawyer, I thought I could only be a lawyer, because that’s the only thing I’d ever been since basically 17, I now realize that actually all those skills are very transferable. And that actually, in some ways, even though it sounds like an odd journey with a big fork in the road, actually, the skills I learnt at Linklaters have actually proved extremely useful in this field. And I think that’s been a real takeaway for me, I always now encourage my friends in a way I would never have done before, to think about changing track in their careers. Because I think that you can lean on what you’ve learned to go in very different directions.

Mark Bidwell  [18:47]

Yes. So let’s talk about this different direction. What is the mission or the goal of the Cultural Sanctuaries Foundation?

Chris Rainier  [18:58]

Well, let me jump in if I may, I think what we realized, and I was beginning to realize by the time we arrived in Paris, which of course, if we all recall, was a very heady moment in world politics. All the leaders came together for the first time, some pretty seismic shifts in understanding conservation were laid down. My mission there was to bring a group of indigenous leaders and elders from a number of different communities around the world. And they spoke about their wisdom and their understanding, and the complexity of conservation and climate mitigation within traditional cultures. What I began to realize was the missing link within the conversation of culture, or rather, conservation was indeed culture. We have traditionally, and all the way back to the American national park system, and in part by the efforts of people like Ansel Adams, the whole idea was to extract the local, the first people if you will, that lived on the land, out of an area and create a national park.  And, of course, that around the world, Serengeti and national parks scattered around the world, in Australia included, has caused a kind of backlash, and caused poverty within those traditional cultures as they moved to cities like Nairobi, or Lima, or Cairo around the world. And in fact, they are the most valuable asset in terms of conservation and land preservation, and the preservation of forests and oceans and biodiversity. So the coin has begun to click by the time we got to Paris, is that by including the traditional culture, and not looking at them as a problem or a poverty issue, but enhancing their ability to have a voice, to be able to be represented, and to be a part of the solution. And that is, my feeling here, as we race well into the 21st century, is that we need to have a kind of paradigm shift in the way we address and engage indigenous cultures, and add extra seats at the table of the dialogue of how we’re going to solve the problems of climate conservation, all of those things that are interconnected well into the 21st century.

Olivia McKendrick  [21:39]

I’ll just add that the six words elevator pitch really is the way I explain it to people, is that we’re trying to create national parks with people in them.

Mark Bidwell  [21:49]


Olivia McKendrick  [21:50]

And people think of national parks as simply flora and fauna, but it’s the idea that we protect the land, but importantly, we protect the people that live there, too.

Chris Rainier  [22:03]

And I think with that, if I could just add one final note, is of course, the obvious criticism of this is, well, isn’t this just kind of telling indigenous people what to do? One of the baseline things that I learned while doing a number of programs at the National Geographic that were leading up to this empowerment of indigenous cultures, empowerment of storytelling by indigenous cultures, is they have to be fully engaged. They, in fact, lead us on this quest. And we only go where we’re invited. We only deal with cultures that want us. Many traditional cultures say ‘enough is enough, we don’t need our language, we’re going to move to the city.’ That, of course, is their choice. But there are many traditional societies that have their finger in the dam, so to speak. And they are trying to preserve their land, whether it’s in the Amazon, or in Masai Mara, and Kenya and Tanzania. There are infinite amount of traditional cultures that are saying ‘wait a minute, we want to be a part of that dialogue, we want to help preserve our land.’ And that’s what we’re working with.

Mark Bidwell  [23:18]

And you mentioned the word language there. I was doing some research this summer, I was amazed to read that there is something like 7000 languages in the world. And the vast majority of them are oral. I’m curious about why is it the central part of your work?

Chris Rainier  [23:42]

Yes, language is an indicator of cultural diversity. You know, Margaret Mead once said, her greatest fear, having been born into a polychromatic world, into a diverse world, is that her children, her grandchildren, and indeed all of our children will wake up one day in a monochromatic world, and never know there was a difference. It’s our diversity, whether we’re in business, or we’re deep in the jungles of New Guinea, or the Amazon, that brings solutions to the issue. We need to have diversity, and embedded in language is diversity. The way a Mayan looks at the world, or the way a Quechuan  looks at the world, is very different than the way we look at the world. And yes, close to 80% of those 7000 languages are oral, and every two weeks an elder passes away with this kind of library of knowledge that if it isn’t written down, if it isn’t passed on to the next generation, then one day, we will wake up in a monochromatic world and wonder what has happened.

Mark Bidwell  [24:53]

So can you give an example of how these different cultures look at the world in a different way from us? I’m just curious about, the obvious example for us, for instance, is in our language, when you use words like chairman or fireman, there’s sexism built into that, the implication that women can’t do the job. I’m just wondering, are there some examples from some of those cultures you mentioned, be it Quechuan or whatever, where there’s a stark illustration of the fact that language defines the mental models that people use to think about their problems.

Chris Rainier  [25:31]

Exactly. There’s so many different examples, but I’m going to use one from a country that we’ve successfully created our first cultural sanctuary in, and it’s Bhutan, and it’s way up in the high Himalaya, just north of India, in the mountain range close to Nepal. And they’re a Buddhist country. And the former king made kind of comments about, close to 20 years ago, that most countries deal with gross national product. They deal with gross national happiness. And it’s just not a tagline, it’s actually a mandate by their government. And it’s a deep philosophy, that whenever they engage with someone, whether it’s socially or within business, the other person has to be just as happy, just as content if not more happy. So you imagine a transaction, a deal, a huge banking deal, where your first and foremost thought is ‘how am I going to make my client, the other person, the person that I’m having that transaction with, happy?’ Happy in the sense of feeling satisfied that this works for both parties. And just that small little vignette of a story opens up a myriad of other examples around the world, where perspective in the way you look at it, if in fact, we are going to survive on this planet, is that we do have to take into account everybody, and their voices, their language and their understanding, not just the modern Western point of view. And often people say ‘well, why do we need these languages?’ We have English, that is the language of global economy. But that is not the only perspective on the planet, is economic drive, there is long term survivability, there is the way to look at the world in multiple different ways, and not just live in fear of what is happening, but to actually turn it around and allow this world to flourish, allow the younger generations to have infinite possibilities that are quickly dwindling unless we change.

Mark Bidwell  [27:50]

Yes. And I’m curious, Olivia, if you’d have used that mental model in your time, negotiating M&A deals on behalf of Linklaters, how would that have worked out, just out of interest?

Olivia McKendrick  [28:03]

Completely standard for lawyers, always to want the other side to win. I don’t think I would have lasted at Linklaters for 24 years. But there’s an element of compromise in any negotiation, of course. But I was going to add another story that really resonated with me from Bhutan, partly triggered by your reference to firemen and that concept of gender equality. And that was one of the things that we learned when we started working there, when we were meeting with the Royal Family and the government, was that Bhutan is an extraordinary country. And it was protected for many years, physically, by its own distance from the rest of the world. And also, because frankly, it’s just that the airport didn’t open to, I think, the early 90s. And the government and the king then, it was a monarchy until 10 years ago, takes a very long term view, and is quite remarkable in thinking about their country, and what they want to be in a way that often governments can’t, because they’re looking at the short termism of the next vote, or the next popular appeal, etc. And the king at the time was debating whether or not the country should introduce television. And there were lots of people in the country that wanted television introduced, they thought long and hard about whether it was going to be good or bad for the country. And eventually they made the decision to introduce it. Now, I’m not saying whether it’s been a good or a bad thing. I could say what the impact has been, but what they did tell us was, that one completely unintended consequence of the introduction of television, was the introduction for the first time into the country of misogyny and prejudice, because they’d never ever, it’s matriarchal society, you see women on every level of every job, high level of jobs. Suddenly, with the introduction of TV, gender inequality starts to be introduced as a concept. And I just found that extraordinary in terms of thinking of how cultures impact on each other. And again, I’m not making any judgment, I just think it’s an extraordinary example of how cultures can be affected by other cultures. And everything we try and do with the Foundation is about achieving balance. It’s not about turning back the clock or saying one thing is bad and one thing that’s good. It’s trying to find a balance, so that culture doesn’t get washed away in the tsunami of modernity and technology.

Mark Bidwell  [30:38]

Yeah, yeah. I think there’s a couple of things here, which a listener sitting in a large organization perhaps can take away. One is how these communities, these indigenous communities, actually, they marshal, and they’re custodians for resources over very, very long term time horizons. And I think the second piece is around how transactions can be thought about in a very different way from the zero sum traditional model of the corporate world, which is all focused on win-lose, or at least short-termism. Any other big lessons that you can read across from these communities or these societies that have been around for thousands and thousands of years? Any other takeaways that perhaps you could have used in your corporate life, Olivia, for example?

Chris Rainier  [31:39]

Well, I think one of them, as I have turned 60, and began to kind of look at the second half of my life, if you will, I think we in the West, and I was even reading in the New York Times yesterday, it’s like you are beginning to have your first midlife crisis in the Silicon Valley at age 35. So they are now beginning to look after these aging 35 year olds that have probably made a fortune, but certainly are looked at by the 20-somethings that are running Google and Facebook and all these other companies. And I think what, in the humor of that sort of statement, what I’m trying to say is that there’s a tremendous amount of wisdom in people that have experienced a lot. And I think we somehow or other need to shift into a perspective that I see very, very strongly in traditional cultures, is the elders hold a lot of value system and a lot of wisdom inherited by experience, and somehow or other, in our disposable culture that we live in, that is often overlooked. And I don’t know how we do it. But I simply have learned a tremendous amount. As I walk into these traditional society, I’m always looking for the leader, or I’m always looking for the person who holds the wisdom. And often they’re not the person that comes running up to you in the beginning. But you see this person sitting off in the corner, often a woman, and with just a slight smile on their face. And you realize those are the elders, those are the wisdom keepers. Those are the people that have a tremendous amount to say, and I think it just reminds me every time we engage a traditional society is not to look at it in a Western framework, but to look at it a very different way of what is important and what is not, and who holds the wisdom.

Olivia McKendrick  [33:53]

The second point I would add is that I think traditional cultures have it right in long-term thinking. I think, if you look at most companies, most businesses, certainly governments, there is just so much short term thinking. And if you sit down with a Mayan farmer, or any of the amazing, wonderful communities that I’m now meeting for the first time, there is just an extraordinary ability, an innate ability to think ahead. How many times will their land have to be divided to be able to allow their grandchildren to continue to farm it sustainably, etc. Very long term thinking, generations ahead. I do think that often in the West, we are increasingly getting that wrong. And that’s going to come back to bite us. So I think it’s something we can really learn from the traditional communities.

Chris Rainier  [34:51]

We’ve just finished a photography project with a number of Native American tribes and pueblos both in the United States and Canada. And again, I was reminded, when several of the elders spoke of the seventh generation, and this is certainly something that is very prevalent within the first nation communities across North America, is that every single structure is talking about the future is not just the next generation, and the next 20 years, it’s seven generations. [35:23] How do you begin to make decisions about economics, about land management, about policing, about investment in your youth, when you’re actually talking about how well will the seventh generation do? [35:38]

Mark Bidwell  [35:39]

Interesting. As you talk, it does remind me, I’m a bit of a Warren Buffett junkie. And they’ve got their annual general meeting coming up in a few weeks, and him and his business partner, I think of their combined age, his business partner Charlie Munger is 95, I think Buffett is about 90. But these guys, they’ve got a very unique way of expressing capitalism, which has been extremely successful. But they do seem to me, they’re a great example, a rare example of where we do listen to elders, but most of the time in the corporate world, elders don’t last after their 60, whatever, they’re out the door, and increasingly people live longer. And I wonder whether we, the way we treat our parents for instance as they get old, versus the way some of these traditional societies treat the elders, there seem to be very, very different approaches, but plenty that we can learn from these societies essentially.

Chris Rainier  [36:44]

Yeah, and I don’t think for a moment we’re suggesting, or anybody is suggesting that we go live in a commune or kibbutz, and radically change the way the world thinks. But as we evolve, and we begin to see systems that have been in place for the last 60 to 100 years, are actually fraying at the edge, we need to do some course corrections. And certainly, in terms of the environment, fairly radical course corrections. I’m optimistic, I just think what begins, has to begin in respect and dialogue. And it goes back to the metaphor I was saying, just adding extra seats at the table. And we’re all globally connected. I think it’s not uncommon for us to get on the phone and be talking to people in China or South Africa. So we are now becoming absolutely connected. The next true step to that is to be able to include everybody in that dialogue, and to sit around and talk about what it means to be human.

Olivia McKendrick  [37:49]

And just look at what the teenagers are doing in terms of the climate change movement. In terms of empowering the young voice, in terms of our optimism, I think it’s certainly the young in the West that are going to really force change, either as consumers or as voters. So you’ve got the importance of elders on the one hand, but you can’t in any way, underestimate the importance of the youth too, around the world.

Mark Bidwell  [38:16]

Yep, yep. So you use the expression fraying at the edges, which I guess is a bit more serious from a climate change point of view. But nonetheless, you’re both optimistic based on how you see the progress, because of your exposure to some of these decision makers.

Chris Rainier  [38:38]

I think so, you know, there’s certainly enough to be pessimistic about, but I think I’m an optimist, because what I have seen over the 40 years that I’ve been documenting cultures and traveling to cultures, is a whole new younger generation that is proud to be Maori, is proud to be Kayapo proud to be from their particular tribe deep in the savannas of West Africa. And they’re manifesting that in a lot of what I document, traditional tattooing, and some of these traditional mask rituals and dances and revitalization of culture. Going back to just this recent documentation of some tribes up on the northwest coast of Canada, some 800 miles north of Vancouver, is there’s a tradition that was outlawed for many years by the Canadian government, the Potlatch, and now the youth have taken it up, they have traditional dance rituals, they sit down at the feet of their elders, and try and understand many of these rituals, because they know that that is the thread that takes them into the future, and that will keep the diversity, and that will allow our cultures to be polychromatic.

Olivia McKendrick  [39:58]

I do think, I mean Chris is a natural optimist, I’m a natural optimist too, so I think we lean towards the positive, and we certainly don’t believe that we’re going to get anywhere by being negative and being pessimistic about any of this. But I think there are lots of really bad warning signs too. The fact is that in philanthropy terms, only 4% of charitable donations globally are given to the environment and climate change. 4% you know, and as much as I love a donkey and a cat as much as the next person, but there’s no point giving money to donkeys and cat sanctuaries, if we’ve scuppered the earth such that we don’t have oxygen to breathe. And I actually think that’s pretty appallingly low. And we need more people to be focusing on, and I’m using donkeys and cats, but I just think that we need more shoulders at the wheel, we need more people focusing on reduction of carbon emissions, reduction of temperatures in the oceans. So we are not in any way sort of blindly romantically optimistic. It’s just that I think, to do what we do, one has to be positive that we can affect change. And we are proud that we are affecting change. But I think there’s a hell of a lot that needs to be done, and particularly by governments. Corporates are starting to see what needs to be done, I think, even in the energy sector, and there are more and more shoulders being put to the wheel. And what I think is great, actually, since 2015, there’s been a sea of change in public opinion about climate change. And I can’t remember the stats now about how many people understand the climate change threat, and understand its existential nature. But I think that is a really good time, that people are seeing more and more of the issues, and addressing more and more of the issues, but we just need more people to come and help.

Mark Bidwell  [41:59]

Yep. So time is a little bit short, Chris, Olivia. So can we begin to wrap up with the three questions I sent across? I think the first one, I think I’m right in saying you’re both gonna have a crack at. What have you changed your mind about recently? Chris, do you want to start with that?

Chris Rainier  [42:17]

Well, good question, and we’ve discussed this. When we first started our foundation in 2015, we came out of the gate with our pitch, our deep philosophy. And what I was reminded of again, is that predominantly there is conservation of land, and then in a completely different conversation, there are people that are focused on preserving culture and language. And so we started out as an organization dealing with both, talking about culture. And what we realized is that was not as successful as, so to speak, the Trojan horse to get us in the door, to have the meetings to be able to actually get to where we wanted to, to really have a dialogue. We had to say ‘conservation.’ So we drive our conversations now about conservation. And then, sort of almost as an afterthought, it’s people are integral to that. So that was a course correction, a failure in a way, and a certain refinement of the dialogue. You know that when anybody sits in a room, you only have a very short period of time to get the message across. And so we find people understand the conservation conversation now. And in fact, everybody’s having it. What we like to do is say ‘we’re conservation organization that deals with culture and the importance of culture woven into that.’

Mark Bidwell  [44:01]

Wonderful. So a different on ramp to the same conversation, essentially.

Olivia McKendrick  [44:05]

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And the second part of that was, I think when we started, we were a little bit, a little bit not naive, but a little bit over optimistic about the speed at which we’d be able to effect change. So for my last five years at Linklaters, I was Head of our corporate strategy in terms of business development. And I knew very well that at Linklaters, in order to build up a client base in any particular sector or whatever, it’s all about long term relationships. And actually, when we started Cultural Sanctuaries Foundation, we had ambitious plans, and we said ‘we’re going to create two cultural sanctuaries a year, so we’re going to create 20 in 10 years. And we’ve had to just take the foot off the pedal, because things just don’t work that fast. And it’s all about building relationships, particularly with indigenous communities and governments. You know, it takes time, and we’ve just gently had to massage our own thinking, our own expectations, to make sure we do things properly and that we don’t spread ourselves too thin, and we do it right.

Mark Bidwell  [45:16]

As you talk, the phrase comes to mind, most of us overestimate what we can achieve in the short term and underestimate what we can achieve in the long term.

Olivia McKendrick  [45:25]


Chris Rainier  [45:26]

And I think for us, we’re in for the long haul. So it may take a little longer. But the other option of failing is not an option at all. We’re very determined. And even now, at this point, we look over our shoulder and very proud of what we’ve done, created the world’s first Cultural Sanctuary, in Bhutan, and many more on their way. And so we are realizing that just, you know, putting off those short term gains for the long term goal, the horizon, and that’s where we’re going.

Mark Bidwell  [45:57]

Lovely, lovely. Now Olivia, did you have a different answer to that question? Or shall we go to the next question?

Olivia McKendrick  [46:06]

No, I just wanted to make the point about Chris’s talking about culture versus conservation, where you start the conversation. I wanted to make the point about timetable and relationships.

Mark Bidwell  [46:16]

Got it. Okay, so can we go to the second question? Where do you go to get fresh perspectives, especially when facing challenges?

Olivia McKendrick  [46:27]

I think as you and probably all listeners will have gathered in the course of our conversation is that Chris and I come at things from a very different perspective. And actually I think, maybe we would say this, but we complement each other well in our different perspectives, and sometimes when I’m in a little bit of a hole, or I’m in a little bit of a pickle, Chris just comes at things differently. He’s much more visionary, big picture, artistic, poetic. I’m, I guess, once a lawyer, always a lawyer. I can be more risk averse, more structured in my thinking. When we write, we write pitches together. And so I do the first draft, and then Chris makes them much more beautiful than mine, would be otherwise a little dry. So I think we find those different perspectives in our team as it were.

Mark Bidwell  [47:21]

Wonderful. Great. Well, sounds like it’s a very, very complimentary relationship, which is wonderful. Third and final question, what’s your most significant low, how have you learned from it, and how did you apply that learning?

Chris Rainier  [47:39]

Well, I’ll jump in on that. You know, I’m in the arts, I have a profession, that when the economy goes down, people tend to take out their own iPhone and photograph something instead. So I’ve been in the field of photography, working for National Geographic, for Time Magazine, a number of institutions over the years. And [48:08] [keywords: creativity, failure, business, experience, skillset, adaptation, success] in any of these kind of creative fields, failure is woven into everything you do. So even applying that to what we’re doing, running a foundation now, one just has to assume that there’s a significant percentage of, I won’t even call it failure, I would just simply say, setbacks. I am stubborn, I do not believe in failure, no is not an option. Olivia is smiling here, because many times I’ll say, well, maybe we’ll just go back and try one more time. And so I think in business, in life, certainly all of us get to a certain age, and we’ve had a certain amount of wear and tear under our belt, you realize there’s ups and downs. And again, what I mentioned just before, putting off those short term gains, instant satisfaction so to speak, for long term goals. If you are blessed enough to find a job that you love, a career that you love, a passion that you have, a mission that you have for your life, then you’re in for the long haul, and there will be bumps, and there’ll be flat tires, and you just have to pull over to the side, change the tire and keep going. And you know, we’ve introduced something very new within the conservation movement here. And it’s kind of coming around, so to speak. But it’s counterintuitive to a lot of conservation organizations, the inclusion of indigenous people, so we have a certain amount of education of conservation organizations, of awareness there. What we’re actually finding is that we can bring a complement, and a skillset to the table that they don’t have. So we’ve learned from our failures to adapt what we’re trying to do. And eventually, those failures become successes over a long period of time. You just have to believe in yourself and you have to believe in your vision. And also, you know, what’s the alternative? What is the alternative is everybody says ‘well, someone else is looking after the environment, I’ve got to get to work.’ [50:24]

Mark Bidwell  [50:25]

Yep. Yep. And you have one sanctuary up and running. You said you originally had an aggressive target, but what’s the rollout of the model? Sorry, that sounds very corporate speak. What’s the next five years look like in terms of locations of sanctuaries you’re planning on putting in place?

Olivia McKendrick  [50:47]

It’s now one sanctuary a year, but knowing that we probably needed our first year to really get ourselves up and running. So Bhutan is completed and we’re really proud of it. We created the first ever dictionary of the oldest oral language there, and now created the sanctuary for the oldest indigenous community in Bhutan. Mexico is in progress, we’re protecting the Mayan culture in the Yucatan Peninsula. And now we are in discussions in relation to a number of different countries, Mongolia, Kenya, and Patagonia being the three probably next in our focus. But you know, sometimes one will speed up and one will slow down or will hit a roadblock in relation to something, so we’re opportunistic, and hopefully pragmatic in the way we approach things, but hopefully one sanctuary per year for the foreseeable future.

Chris Rainier  [51:47]

And also you see what’s going on in South America, is that there’s a kind of shift underfoot. So we were well on our way down a project within Columbia. And, of course, Columbia has just come out of the Civil War, so it accelerated and then it slowed down, stopped. And there was a new administration. So you know, we’re trying to do something very unusual here with working high in terms of the government, and working with indigenous people and bring them together in the middle, and having them cooperate, and it takes two, cause we need the government and we need the voice of the indigenous people. But pacing ourselves I think we’ve become very savvy in world politics. And also there’s something really interesting, that for some of these leaders, they have a vanity, they want to say, well, we created a cultural sanctuary, we created a place where indigenous people within our community can live and thrive. And so we’re beginning to get very astute at what are the government’s, what are the countries, what are the locations that are most susceptible to being able to have a paradigm shift. And we also overlay it with of course, the urgent need to save biodiversity in that particular region of the world.

Mark Bidwell  [53:05]

Yeah, and I guess Olivia’s business development skills, you know, looking for buying signals at the governmental level will help you identify the places to go in the short term, right?

Chris Rainier  [53:16]


Mark Bidwell  [53:18]

Wonderful. So where can people get in touch with you? And I will obviously put the details in the show notes for this podcast. But if people want to find out more about you and your work, where would you point them to?

Olivia McKendrick  [53:30]

Well, first and foremost, our website which is, and by way of an email, it’s on the website too. If you send an email to [email protected], it gets to both me and Chris. One of us, as long as we’re in WiFi and not in deepest, darkest Mongolia, will email people back straight away, and we’d love to hear from people who are interested, we’d love to hear from potential funders. Funding for our cultural sanctuary is probably our greatest challenge, and anyone who wants to get involved.

Mark Bidwell  [54:07]

Wonderful. Well, I was very, very keen to meet you both and to have this conversation. It pulls together a number of passions of mine. As I said, I was keen to sort of tease out some of the lessons for executives dealing with maybe slightly more prosaic business issues, but nonetheless, there’s so much wisdom in the work that you’re doing, and also that the cultures that you’re studying and preserving. So really very, very grateful for your time, and I look forward to meeting you both in person one of these days.

Chris Rainier  [54:43]

Thank you so much for having us on.

Mark Bidwell  [54:45]

Not at all. Have a great day.

Olivia McKendrick  [54:47]

Thank you, Mark.

Mark Bidwell  [54:49]


Diversity in all its forms is key to solving many of the most significant challenges we face today, and if we fail to address these challenges, future generations will inherit the consequences. Preserving cultural and intellectual diversity is the purpose of the Cultural Sanctuaries Foundation, and enables us to take advantage of useful wisdom hiding in plain sight. Learn more in this interview with the founders, photographer and National Geographic Society Fellow Chris Rainier and former Linklaters partner Olivia McKendrick.



What was covered: 

  • Photography as a powerful tool to bring about social and political change that affects climate, global business and economy
  • What are Cultural Sanctuaries and what is their role in preservation of nature and cultural diversity
  • The values and perspectives of traditional societies that are precious for maintaining the diversity and sustainability on global level

Key Takeaways and Learnings:

  • Why protecting traditional cultures is key to conservation of land and how it impacts climate change
  • How traditional societies are thinking about the world in very long-term time horizons, and the place of wisdom and experience in their value system
  • A different way to look at the nature of transactions that indigenous cultures can offer to the world of business today

Read the full article HERE. 


Cultural Sanctuaries Foundation

Chris Rainier and Olivia McKendrick - The Race to Save Cultural And Intellectual Diversity 1


Links and Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Mark Bidwell

Mark Bidwell

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