Skip Yowell Leadership Lesson 3: There’s Strength In Numbers

There are countless groups in the outdoor industry doing incredible advocacy and stewardship work. And when we work together, our achievements become exponential.

By Devon O'Neil August 9, 2016

It is no accident that Tania Lown-Hecht has worked for two nonprofit organizations in her brief career: one that helps kids with cancer and one that works to protect outdoor recreation.

She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area infatuated with being up high in the Sierra, a gift passed down from her father. “We moved from New York to California when I was 6, and the first thing my dad did was take me backpacking in Yosemite,” says Lown-Hecht, now 30 and the communications director of Outdoor Alliance as well as a participant in the Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy.

Learn more about the Skip Yowell Future Leadership program

She spent much of her teenage summers in the Stanislaus National Forest, where she taught kids from the central valley how to backpack. By the time she was 15, Lown-Hecht was logging 50 miles a week with a heavy pack.

Six months later, in February 2002, she was diagnosed with Leukemia. Everything she loved outdoors instantly disappeared.

Listen to Lown-Hecht explains that time in her life in this My Outdoor Story recording.

Three rounds of chemo and countless wistful moments later, just after Lown-Hecht learned that her cancer was in remission, she and her dad hiked a mile up a trail in June—every foot she could muster—then pitched their tent in the Stanislaus.

“It was really healing for me to be back there,” recalls Lown-Hecht, who’s now cancer free. “It restored life to my soul after I was sick.”

She went on to graduate from Whitman College then earn a Ph.D in English at the University of Illinois. Her first real job entailed translating research findings into layman’s terms at CureSearch for Children’s Cancer. She joined Outdoor Alliance (OA) in December 2014. “I feel like I owe my life to medical research and to the outdoors,” she says. “So it’s been important to me professionally to give back to both of those fields.”

Because OA represents seven organizations, it’s critical those groups reach unity on issues in order to maximize the alliance’s leverage. That’s why OA focuses on “the low-hanging fruit” with its advocacy, says Lown-Hecht, who does everything from manage the website to write letters to the editor at various publications. “Among climbers, mountain bikers, paddlers, backcountry skiers, hikers and mountaineers, there’s a lot more that we agree on than disagree on. So our goal since we started has been to tackle what we agree on—that low-hanging fruit—and see where that gets us. So far we have not run out of low-hanging fruit.”

“Our goal since we started has been to tackle what we agree on—that low-hanging fruit—and see where that gets us. So far we have not run out of low-hanging fruit.”

In the Yowell Academy, Lown-Hecht has received mentoring from Scott Whipps, VP of global sales at Toad&Co, who’s helped her recognize her confidence and potential to lead, she says. So have many of her fellow Yowell class members, who text each other en masse about job offers or other professional challenges. “Every week I talk to at least a few of the ladies in the program on the phone,” Lown-Hecht says. “It’s really great to have so many supportive people around me saying, ‘You can be a leader if you want to. Here’s some advice. Here’s some mentorship.’”

Lately, Outdoor Alliance has been focused on the so-called Public Land Heist, a largely Republican effort to sell off public lands to private entities. Lown-Hecht has been heavily involved with the opposition to that idea. Can a 30-year-old woman with just two years of experience in the industry make a difference? Lown-Hecht thinks so—and she has some ideas for how.

Learn more about the Public Land Heist

“I work at an advocacy organization, but one of the areas where I think there’s a lot of room for growth in this industry is using our collective power and voice to shape policy,” she says, citing the pharmaceutical and oil-and-gas industries as examples.

Listen to OIA Executive Director Amy Roberts talk about the power of collective action in her Industry Breakfast presentation at ORSM16.

“Some businesses have done a lot in this regard, but if everyone says, ‘Keep Public Lands Public,’ that’s going to have a huge impact on how far these proposals to privatize and sell off public lands go,” says Lown-Hecht. “I think that issue is crucial to the future of public lands and the future of the industry. Businesses should weigh in for their own interest.”