Ronda Rutledge at the 2023 Indigenous Leadership Awards. Photo credit: Jason Hill
Midway through a busy autumn season, Ronda Rutledge reflects on a full summer as Ecotrust’s Executive Director. In this conversation, Ronda speaks with Jessica Douglas, Indigenous Community Engagement Manager, about settling into this role, her approach to Ecotrust’s five-year strategic plan, and her vision for the organization’s future.
On first blush, I feel we have done a good job on almost all of the six goals in our strategic plan. I think the most visible part for me has been becoming an anti-racist organization and creating this sense of belonging. I feel like these two goals are very present in the trainings I’ve attended and the conversations I see happening at Ecotrust, when we talk about decision-making, using an equity lens to determine major decisions, and how we engage authentically in partnerships. I’m heartened by this work that I feel is foundational to delivering on our mission.
And, now that I’m getting out more and meeting with our project partners and community leaders, I’m becoming more familiar with many of the components that are touched on in the other four goals of our strategic plan. We’ve identified that more than half of our programmatic work directly advances our strategic goals around community climate resilience and intergenerational wealth building. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of our programmatic work directly advances our land and water stewardship goal. Our annual report further highlights the incredible work that we’re doing with frontline community members.
I’m very interested in seeing us go deeper with our community partners and implement our equitable evaluation efforts in a way that shows the metrics of the collective impact of the three E’s, equity, economy, and environment, in our region.
Ronda and Ecotrust staff in conversation during a staff and board gathering. Photo credit: Jason Hill
You mentioned meeting with community partners this summer. Who have you been able to meet with, and what has that experience been like?
My time has been a nice combination of working in the office with staff, putting faces to names, and embarking on field trips to meet with our project partners.
I’ve gone out to Anahuac Farm with Jaime Arredondo, our board member, and visited one of their projects that we had a hand in. Ecotrust helped them secure a piece of property to put the land back into the hands of Indigenous people—not just Indigenous to this country, but also folks who came to this country as farmworkers and who work in support of farmworker rights and farmworker justice.
I also attended the 2023 Columbia River Indian Fisheries Expo, hosted by Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC). I met with several of our project partners there to learn further about the commercial work that’s being done by the tribes that are affiliated with CRITFC. It was also nice to meet with those folks in a beautiful location along the gorge, as we are in salmon nation.
I’m excited about the partnerships that we’ve developed as well as those we seek to grow, following the inherent leadership that already exists in communities.
What are some of the challenges you foresee Ecotrust facing in the next two years? And what leadership qualities and approaches do you hope to utilize to alleviate these challenges?
This agency has been through a lot of change and a lot of transition coming out of COVID. And I mean, change in itself is challenging. Some people are energized by change, but for many people, it’s very scary. There could be challenges if we don’t handle these changes in a good way—and that means in a transparent, forward-thinking, and all-inclusive kind of way.
Employees spend a lot of time at our job, and we’re going to come closer to loving it if we also enjoy the people we work with. I feel that the skills I’ve acquired in executive coaching, life coaching, and developing and using a framework of emotional intelligence rely on approaches I am excited to bring to Ecotrust. The emotional intelligence framework, which we utilized at our all staff retreat in September, is paramount when you’re working with people, and we’re always working with people, right?
One of the challenges is a lack of trust resulting from the huge changes this agency has experienced. Reparative work can help people move forward into more trusting relationships. We’re building relationships inside and outside the organization. It’s our relationships with frontline communities in our region that help strengthen our work to support their efforts. I’m excited about the partnerships that we’ve developed as well as those we seek to grow, following the inherent leadership that already exists in communities.
Personally, as an Indigenous woman interviewing you, I am excited you are here and I am curious, as an Indigenous woman in an executive role position, what are you feeling?
It feels like a responsibility. I’m humbled, and I’m up for the challenge. I’m grateful that there was thought and intention put into the search process, to find a leader who comes from the community and can speak from experience and from the heart. I want to lead this organization in a very team-oriented way because I’m not a fan of the top-down ideology. I know I need to make big decisions, and I’m capable, able, willing, and interested. But I make those decisions with much consultation, thought, discussion, and teamwork. I welcome there being a lot of important voices in the room, and every person in this organization is an important person.
Ronda speaks to Ecotrust staff and board members at a summer gathering at the Natural Capital Center. Photo credit: Jason Hill
Thank you so much, Ronda. What are you looking forward to as the year comes to an end?
I’m ecstatic about the work ahead to close out this year, and I feel energized by the board and staff retreat we had in September. It was perfect timing from a planning perspective to shore up the board’s role and think about 2024. We have incredible people on our board and so much potential to grow in a way that mirrors what we’ve done at the staff level and community. I see it as an opportunity to bring people closer to this work, and that’s my favorite thing to do.
I also feel very inspired by each of the awardees celebrated at this year’s Indigenous Leadership Awards. We had a record number of attendees since the Awards began in 2001, and I’m grateful to the many staff members who organized and planned for months leading up to the event. We were also recently awarded a $1.5 million USDA grant that will boost our food systems equity work, support the needs of underserved farmers, and fund microgrants for urban farms in the Portland Metro area. And our Ecotrust Community Development Entity recently received a $60 million New Markets Tax Credit allocation that we can strategically invest in community projects that align with our goals.
Building on this momentum, I look forward to closing out our year with a strong fundraising season. I’ve seen our team demonstrating hard work and commitment, and I can’t wait to see what 2024 has in store.
PORTLAND, ORE. – May 30, 2023 – The Ecotrust Board of Trustees announced today it has selected Ronda Rutledge as its next Executive Director.
After an extensive nationwide search, Ecotrust is pleased to announce Ronda Rutledge as our new Executive Director.