Why You Should Devote Your Career to Nature and How to Begin

We can address our planetary challenges by redirecting the world's most talented individuals, currently stuck in meaningless jobs serving only the capital markets, towards endeavors that truly matter in our multi-layered planetary crisis.

I’ve recently seen a presentation about a wonderful initiative called The School for Moral Ambition. It originated in the Netherlands and was founded by entrepreneurs who had experienced the grind of successful yet soul-crushing corporate life, working 60-hour weeks in large consulting companies or investment banks. They came to realize, amidst an early midlife crisis, that the majority of their daily hours lacked meaning.

Their message really struck a chord with the crisis I found myself in while pursuing my executive MBA at INSEAD, after nearly burning out from 15 intense years in the business world, transitioning from a young corporate super achiever to a startup founder. Somewhere along that MBA journey, amidst classes with Professor Neil Bearden on Decision Making, which pushed us to uncover our fundamental life objectives to guide our decisions, and delving into Easter philosophy from Bruce Lee to Lao Tzu, I found myself in a soul search transformation. This was further intensified by a month-long kung fu training in the mountains of Thailand, and deepened by a volunteering stint in Cambodia with a microfinance institution aiming to support smallholder rice farmers in making a decent living.

I found myself flipping my business career on its head and pivoting towards the trendy new buzzword in business and finance – Impact Investing. My motivation stemmed from a profound love for nature, a connection that had been somewhat neglected since my childhood, surfacing in rare moments of vacation time or while walking my beloved dog.

Eight years on from taking that pledge, something strikes me, which I believe is somewhat overlooked by the theory of change advocated by the School Of Moral Ambition. The notion that we could address our planetary challenges by redirecting the world’s most talented individuals, currently stuck in meaningless jobs serving only the capital markets, towards endeavors that truly matter in our multi-layered planetary crisis. What’s missing is that, like my younger 35-year-old self, the majority of ambitious and talented individuals out there are products of an educational system deeply entrenched in a Newtonian view of separation, fragmenting problems into isolated pieces to be addressed with specialized expertise. In other words, the talent emerging from Ivy League universities, whether in business, engineering, medicine, law, or science, comes equipped with a wealth of knowledge and expertise in one narrow field closely tied to their identity. What’s lacking is the integration of knowledge across these fields into interconnected systems.

My eight years dedicated to investing in food systems, with the primary goal of transforming them into something akin to regenerative, has required me to delve not only into business but also into ecology, psychology, biology, agricultural engineering, and even my own spiritual development. It has necessitated posing the challenging question of how I can regenerate myself as a system, fully integrated with the rest of the planet and not separated from nature.

I echo the call to action of the School of Moral Ambition, but before we roll up our sleeves and unleash all that incredible expert talent, there’s a need for a different kind of education. One that enables individuals to grasp the interconnection between systems. An understanding that the health and food systems are so intertwined that you can’t alter one without affecting the other. That addressing deforestation in the Amazon isn’t merely a matter of better monitoring technology and new laws but requires a holistic view considering poverty and social issues in the region as part of a total interconnected system, which includes factors like wind currents carrying sand from the Sahara desert to nourish its soils.

Thankfully, a new wave of educational institutions is emerging to address this talent gap. In higher education, we have schools like Schumacher College , University of Gastronomic Sciences – Pollenzo in Italy, and University for International Cooperation in Costa Rica, offering a new approach to higher education that is more holistic, allowing students to experience multidisciplinary learning while also touching on important aspects of inner development. For young undergraduate students, Universidad EARTH is providing holistic education in food systems, blending entrepreneurship, agriculture, ecology, and food engineering with other disciplines.

Earth University

Even at a more technical level, as our obsession with training more coders and programmers persists despite disruptions caused by AI, we should consider how we can train new park rangers with a holistic understanding of conservation and communication skills to engage with local communities. Similarly, at the farm level, after three generations of farmers battling against nature, we need farmers with an understanding of ecology and nature to foster a collaborative, regenerative approach.

Enough writing for now. I need to dive into soil and agriculture at the LightHouse Farms Academy, set up by Wageningen Academy to provide professionals in the food industry like myself, who lack a background in soils and agriculture, with a comprehensive understanding of alternative agricultural practices through their network of lighthouse farms worldwide.

Wageningen University

If you feel it’s time to honor your moral ambition and dedicate your talent to nature and the planet, start by exploring the list of schools above for a more holistic education. Gain a better understanding of how nature truly operates before attempting to build your new regenerative startup or seek out a new job with a sustainability title. Please share any additional courses or schools with similar approaches in the comments below. We’re on the lookout for new examples in food systems and beyond.