Next Generation Leadership Institute: A Look Back

The Next Generation Leadership Institute (NGLI), created in 2018 and launched in 2019, was established to equip conservation district leaders with tools to become national leaders through personal, civic, and organizational leadership development. The program was created in response to a high demand for leadership instruction for conservation district leaders facing the challenges of a changing world.

The inaugural cohort that began their leadership journey in 2020 immediately faced one of the largest and most unexpected challenges of a generation. They met for the first time at the National Association of Conservation District’s (NACD) Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, Nev., in February 2020, shortly before the world was quickly plunged into the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. What was meant to be a one year, five in-person meeting program became a time of learning and adapting to virtual meetings.

In July 2021, the world was finally opened enough for the 2020 cohort to meet in-person again at the NACD summer meeting in Chicago, Ill., fittingly for NACD’s 75th anniversary. The group instantly meshed well due to their shared experience and constant communication and it became clear that this group consisted of the leaders that conservation needs now. They have all jumped feet first back into the original programming. Though they are now on year two of the one year plan, they have each individually installed themselves in their state leadership, NACD committees and task forces, and within their communities and local governments. The 2020 NGLI cohort is an inspiring group of people who showed that when the world takes a hard knock, it’s time to dig deeper and work harder to continue the work you want to see done. They have shown adaptability, ambition, grit, determination, and empathy during their time at NGLI, and it is exciting to think about the heights they will reach upon graduation. This cohort wrote the book on leadership by example.

As we near their commencement at NACD’s annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., in Feb., let’s look back on their individual experiences with NGLI and how it has shaped their ability to lead through change.

“The NGLI experience is one of those things that I didn’t think I had time to do, but after just one session I knew it was a great investment of my time. How do you put a value on more than just knowledge? It’s the relationships with the cohort and trainers and their personal experiences. I am grateful and humbled by this experience and I believe I am a better person who can serve not only my conservation district, but our state and nation as we work together on the conservation challenges with which we all are faced.”
-Ryan Britt, Missouri

The Next Generation Leadership Institute has had a far greater impact on my leadership journey than I would have ever imagined. It has not only helped develop my public speaking skills but has also given me the confidence to pursue a more involved role in the conservation community. Between the trainings I have participated in and the relationships I have developed with my colleagues, I am very excited to see where my conservation journey takes me.”
-Samantha Steiner, Ohio

Your training though NGLI has helped me help others.
-Cassius Spears, Rhode Island

As we (I) approach the end of this leadership course, we (I) know that our conservation journey has just begun. Looking forward into the future, we are (I am) forever grateful for the opportunity to serve within the conservation space in any capacity.”
Phil Campbell, Oklahoma

The Next Generation Leadership Institute has been an amazing experience, bringing together like-minded individuals with diverse backgrounds to share, learn, and grow from one another. Infused with industry-leading facilitation, this program has challenged its participants to look at conservation from different perspectives, while at the same time giving those participants the tools necessary to lead conservation into the future.”
Joe Caughlin, Oklahoma

Participating in the NGLI program has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The content and leadership development opportunities have been top notch along with the relationships built with my new NGLI family. As the time for our inaugural cohort draws to a close, my sincere thanks to the Foundation and NACD leadership for their support in developing the “next generation” of conservation advocates.”
Mark Masters, Georgia

Being a member of the inaugural NGLI Cohort has been the most poignant and meaningful experience in my leadership journey.

Each meeting introduced topics and presenters who challenged us to look inwardly and outwardly on how to improve our conservation efforts by increasing our self-awareness and sharpening our leadership skills. Sessions were professionally facilitated, outcome based, and encouraged open and safe discussion amongst peers. Opinions were as diverse as our backgrounds, with the result that after every session, I was inspired to do more and learn more. The NGLI experience is exceptional and has made me a better supervisor and a better person.”
Barbara Bleiweis, North Carolina

Next Generation Leadership Institute would like to thank Barbara, Sam, Joe, Phil, Ryan, Cassius, and Mark for their commitment and dedication to the program above and beyond what was initially asked of them and are proud to announce their graduation ceremony occurring in conjunction with the NACD annual meeting.

For more information on NGLI, visit

For more information on the NACD annual meeting, visit

Please consider donating to NCF’s Fall Fundraising Campaign to help keep programs like NGLI funded into the future.

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