This post was originally produced for Forbes.
“I was living in Tokyo at the time and working for a Wall Street bank when the earthquake hit; I was on the trading floor literally when this huge earthquake hit,” says Wendy Hapgood, 40, now chief operating officer for the Wild Tomorrow Fund.
She goes on to explain that it wasn’t the earthquake that rattled her so much or even the ensuing tsunami. Rather, it was the nuclear crisis that developed in the following days.
“A lot of people commented at the time of the disaster, ‘Well, you know, it wasn’t that bad; nobody died [from the radiation].” And I really thought—because I was there on the ground and I experienced it personally—that they were missing a crucial part of the environmental destruction and the poisoning of our Earth,” she explains.
“I used to joke with friends that I felt like the only banker on Wall Street who wanted to quit to join Greenpeace,” she says. Watch the full interview with Hapgood in the video player at the top of this article.
Several years would pass before she left Wall Street to form the Wild Tomorrow Fund with her co-founder and Executive Director John Steward.
For his part, he credits a conservation volunteer trip to South Africa in 2013 with inspiring him to step away from his career as an advertising creative executive. “I first witnessed the immense struggles wild animals and the people responsible for their safety were facing.”
Steward is proud of the impact their organization is having. “I am most proud of educating people on the issues facing our natural world. I have seen many people take positive action to protect wildlife who I believe would not have done so without my influence.”
When Hapgood left Wall Street in 2015, she not only co-founded the Wild Tomorrow Fund but also started a master’s program in sustainability management at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. She studied the intersection of poverty and rhino poaching.
Poaching is a hot-button issue for her. She notes that rhinos are critically endangered entirely because of poaching, with fewer than 20,000 white rhinos and 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild.
Things aren’t much better for elephants. From 2007 to 2014 when the last census was taken, 30% of elephants in Africa were gone due to poaching. Seeing “144 thousand elephants killed in the last seven years, sort of on our watch, this is not a crisis from the past it’s a crisis of today.”
The Wild Tomorrow Fund started working by literally putting boots on the ground. While the organization considered sexier investments like drones, when they learned that rangers in South Africa were not only poorly paid but so poorly equipped they didn’t even have boots, they raised money to buy them boots.
Today, the organization has a four-pronged approach to conservation:
“I would like us to have even greater impact on the ground in Africa,” Steward says of his vision for the fund’s future. “The activities we choose to support will stay fluid in order to match the region’s conservation challenges. For the foreseeable future, we will continue to help protect wildlife by supporting the region’s underfunded wildlife reserves and we will continue to purchase and protect large areas of wild land that are under threat from agriculture and human development.”