For This Leader, the Local Informs the National

Last November Flavia de la Fuente and her husband, Christopher, took their two kids into the voting booth with them in Austin, Texas, on Election Day. “We wanted to show them it’s another way to protect the planet,” says de la Fuente. Samantha, who at age seven was adamant that they vote only for girls, was impressed by the process. “She was worried it wouldn’t be fun, but even with ‘boys’ on the ballot she enjoyed it. If a seven-year-old thinks voting is worthwhile, that’s a good sign.”

De la Fuente is well-qualified to promote the connection between civic duty and protection of the environment. She worked as an organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign from 2010 to 2013, which prompted a move from her native Southern California to Austin. Five years and an MBA degree later, she was recruited to join the Sierra Club Foundation Board of Directors, on which she now serves as treasurer.

De la Fuente’s chosen path was spurred by both a love of the natural world and intellectual curiosity. She grew up in Irvine, California, the eldest of three siblings whose parents are natives of Chile. “Both on our own and with visiting relatives, we were outdoors fairly regularly,” she says. “We were big on hiking and being in nature; my parents were enraptured by everything California had to offer.”

After earning a BA in political science from UCLA, de la Fuente left for Texas just two weeks after graduation. “I moved to Austin and haven’t looked back,” she says. She left her Sierra Club organizer position to enroll in the MBA program at The University of Texas at Austin in the fall of 2013.

What prompted that decision? “I was assessing the entire landscape of the movement, and felt that there was already plenty of policy and law expertise, but very few people who could understand the world of capital markets and how money moves,” says de la Fuente. “I felt that I understood politics and power, but didn’t really understand money… and to have a complete view of the world, I needed to have all of those.”

While choosing to pursue an MBA wasn’t driven by her environmental concerns, de la Fuente has a clear vision of how they link up for her. “I have a good grasp of different worlds and kinds of people, which ultimately makes me a more valuable asset in the environmental arena,” she says. “You can drop me in any neighborhood in the world, and I can develop shared values with the people there. Ultimately that’s what we’re trying to do as members of a movement and environmental community—make shared connections with people, in order to build the world that we want."

De la Fuente and her husband, Christopher White, hiking the Chaitén Volcano in Patagonia.

Not long into her graduate school program, de la Fuente became involved as a volunteer with the Club’s national political committee. “I had been on it from the staff side, and wanted to experience all the heady power that comes from being a volunteer,” she says. “You get to do as much as you want, and dabble in whatever you feel like doing. At the time, for me it was politics.”

As she neared completion of her MBA, de la Fuente was approached by a Sierra Club staffer about joining the Sierra Club Foundation’s board. They were specifically interested in adding someone with a financial background, as well as some youthful talent. De la Fuente applied and was accepted in 2017, and the following year she also joined the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter Austin Group. “I like that I get to sit on a body that has a 10,000-foot view and also something very local,” she says. “The Austin Group keeps me grounded and able to bring a local perspective to that high-level view of things.

“The hard work of being in a local group is bread and butter things like agendas, booking meetings, and notes,” she adds. “I love good organizations so I embrace it, but it’s definitely a challenge for volunteers who prefer to spend their time doing outings and fun stuff. If you want to be a leader, there’s paperwork and bureaucracy that comes with it, and being an organized person is key for this type of work.”

She feels strongly about keeping Club activism inclusive and local in Austin. “I want people from all walks of life to be involved, and as a parent I want to ensure that making a difference is accessible to everyone,” she says. “Some give themselves over fully to the work, but most have other responsibilities outside of themselves. Sometimes that means that members only have one or two hours a month. That’s fantastic and I’ll make sure they feel empowered and like they’re making a difference.”

De la Fuente now works at a venture capital firm that’s primarily focused on technology companies, where she enjoys interacting with start-up entrepreneurs and founders. In their free time, she and Christopher take Samantha and her six-year-old brother, Ryan, out in nature. “We’re passionate about getting the kids outdoors so they appreciate the world as we do,” she says. “We take them on little hikes and let them investigate however they want to—using kid tools like a magnifying glass or bug catcher, or just exploring by the creek. We love getting out in Texas, it has a lot of cool rustic nature and communities—real hidden gems.”

Ryan and Samantha explore nature during a visit to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Texas.

She’s also keeping an eye on the recent string of successes of her not-so-long-ago colleagues with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “I’m thrilled, as anyone would be. It feels great; I know what it’s like to do the work, and it’s awesome to see it come through on almost a weekly cadence.”

It seems that the soul of a campaign organizer still lives in Flavia de la Fuente, a strong foundation upon which a career of many facets has been built.

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