Feeling the Warmth of Jackson, Wyoming


Beth Caplan

February 28, 2023

Snow landscape with mountains in Jackson, Wyoming

Snow and freezing temperatures couldn't put a chill on Rainforest Partnership's trip to Wyoming. The warm welcome offered by the women invited to a gathering in Jackson fueled powerful and inspiring discussions and sparked new and exciting relationships. Rainforest Partnership’s Chief Strategy Officer Beth Caplan shares insights from this first "community to community" event she and CEO Niyanta Spelman made in January to invite new people and communities into action for rainforests.

Snow. Snow everywhere. On the ground, on the trees, the roads, on our faces when we got off the plane in Jackson, Wyoming. Niyanta and I had arrived in a place that, from all appearances, looked cold and inhospitable.

Snow covered mountains and landscape in Jackson, Wyoming.
The snow covered beauty of Jackson, Wyoming

Appearances can be so, so deceiving. On this trip to introduce Rainforest Partnership to the incredible community of Jackson, Wyoming, we found warmth and welcome everywhere — for rainforests and all who live in and rely on them, for RP, for us individually. And because of that warm hospitality we were able to plant seeds and cultivate new relationships in this generous community.

So how did we get here? Or rather there….? Let’s rewind to mid-2022.

2022 was when our team emerged from the shadow of Covid to meet with people in person again. And believe me, we had pent-up demand after the isolation of the preceding year and a half. Like many of you, during the peak of the pandemic, we made connections around the world over numerous Zoom calls, Google Meets and Slack Huddles. But now that we could get together in person again, we embraced the chance.

It wasn’t just that we wanted to get out of the house again. (Which we did!) We realized that to meet our ambitious goal of zero deforestation by 2030, we needed to invite more people to join us in meaningful action for rainforests. While we continued to do that virtually and remotely, we knew that relationships are accelerated when people get together face-to-face.

And so began the planning to expand our “community of communities”, inviting people to embrace their power and join us in collective action. Time to grow our global network, one community at a time. Last March, we took our first steps at SXSW when the world came to Austin once again. We returned to Climate Week NYC in September. But those were familiar cities and events. It was time to branch out to new locations.

Niyanta, as always our trailblazing ambassador, traveled to Munich for the DLD Conference, to Davos for the World Economic Forum, to the Galapagos for the Leaders for Change Summit, and to Ecuador for a dialogue in the Amazon. Each place she traveled, she spoke for the forest, and people responded, joining our community as individuals, rainforest partners, corporate partners (including a 1% For the Planet partner) and even a new board member.

The common thread for those events: they brought people together around shared experiences and shared causes. We realized that as we continued to augment our outreach, foster powerful conversations and inspire bold action, we needed to reach back to a founding principal of RP: linking people to people, community to community.

Jackson might seem an unlikely candidate for RP for that campaign, but as Niyanta said, “our connection to forests and nature isn’t limited by geography.” As it turns out, Jackson was an ideal new place for us to bring rainforests and RP.

The backstory

I heard about Nona Yehia before I ever met her. More accurately, I saw and heard Nona before I ever met her. At a gathering of amazing women organized by a friend last spring, I heard about Vertical Harvest, a company headquartered in Jackson, Wyoming. Gingee Prince (then newly met, and now a valued friend) screened an interview from CBS Sunday Morning that showcased a dynamic and visionary woman, who as Vertical Harvest co-founder and CEO intended to drive systemic change across a range of social goods through vertical farming. That woman was Nona.

Vertical Harvest farm in Jackson
Vertical Harvest farm in Jackson
Niyanta and Beth tour Vertical Harvest
Niyanta and Beth tour Vertical Harvest

I told Gingee that I wanted to meet Nona and learn more about her work. Through Gingee, I learned more about both and anticipated the time when I would meet Nona in person. I knew I’d like Nona. I hoped she’d like me. And when it finally happened in Austin last October, our friendship clicked into place.

In my bones, I knew that we had to connect Nona and Niyanta. They had so much in common as visionary female founders, and CEOs of purposeful organizations with ambitious goals. By the end of that day (and into the wee hours), we brought Niyanta in and widened the circle.

Before parting, Nona made a generous offer: Come to Jackson. I’ll host an event to introduce Rainforest Partnership in my vibrant and welcoming hometown. We accepted in a heartbeat.

Three months later, we gathered in Jackson at Nona’s home. A gracious host and convenor, she opened her home and network to invite thoughtful and purposeful women from across Jackson to connect with Rainforest Partnership. And despite a Winter Storm Warning, promising more than a foot of snow and bitter cold, they came.

From left: CEO of Vertical Harvest and our host Nona Yehia, Rainforest Partnership CEO Niyanta Spelman and Chief Strategy Officer Beth Caplan
From left: CEO of Vertical Harvest and our host Nona Yehia, Rainforest Partnership CEO Niyanta Spelman and Chief Strategy Officer Beth Caplan

Her co-founder and others from Vertical Harvest came. Women from her architecture firm came. Neighbors and friends came. They came to meet us, to hear our stories, and to share their own. They came for the wonderful gourmet food Nona prepared, to express their appreciation and concern for climate, nature and forests, and they came to enjoy the company of other amazing women. It was cold outside, but the event was on fire.

You might think the highlight of our night was to speak to this group, to tell them about rainforests, our extraordinary rainforest communities and RP.

But for us, the highlight was listening. Listening to the stories, experiences, concerns and aspirations of the women who came. It wasn’t about talking to them. It was all about talking with them. Getting to know them through dialogue.

So how do we feel about RP’s introduction to Jackson? Delighted! Delighted to talk with and hear from so many amazing people, to see so much of the natural beauty and wonder in this town. We left inspired by this dynamic group, enriched by conversations rooted in the rainforest, but extending to so much more.

We are energized for what’s begun, and what’s to come, in Jackson and in other cities where we’ll bring this “community to community” model. We’re eager to welcome new Rainforest Partners — people like you — into action.

You don’t have to wait for us to visit your town to begin your rainforest journey with RP. You’re invited to connect with us right now: follow us on LinkedIn or Instagram and start that dialogue with us there. If you’re inspired to host an event, reach out to us at info(at)rainforestpartnership.org.

Thank you, Jackson! Thank you, Nona and Mark! We’ll see you in the spring, ready to continue our conversations and deepen our connections, individually and community-wide.

Video Bonus: I can write pages about how we felt and not do it justice. If you want to watch the embodiment of that delight, click the link to this video: https://youtu.be/beDUQv3tggY. Niyanta’s exuberant joy is the feeling brought home with us.