“Hey, mermaid! It’s time to get out of the water.” Kimberly Ray’s mom would beckon from the beach, encouraging her daughter to drag herself reluctantly out of her favorite pastime and move onto more practical things like supper and bedtime. Saying Kimberly spent many hours swimming and playing in the ocean as a youth is an understatement. Her early passions and curiosity led her to become a marine conservationist and science communicator, who is also an expert at building professional relationships through networking. Kimberly is the Founder and CEO of Marine Conservation Network (MCN), a woman-led marine conservation nonprofit. Her work is focused on community engagement, ocean literacy, and network building. The purpose of this network is to help close the communication gap between scientists, educators, and the public. The network is a global one, promoting ocean literacy around overfishing, pollution, and sustainability. Like my role as Conservation Catalyst, Kimberly identifies and interviews experts in her field, more specifically those that champion marine conservation, showcasing their conservation projects while connecting organizations to one other. As MCN grows, it is looking to educate youth globally through scholarships and marine science training opportunities with the Youth Ambassador Program (YAP). Kimberly shares with WildHub her lessons learned in building a nonprofit, a strong global network, and self-determination that would put Wonder Woman to shame.
Carolyn Rosevelt (CR): The Marine Conservation Network (MCN) over the last 5 years has built an infrastructure of over a hundred marine focused non-profit organizations. When did you know that you were successful?
Kimberly Ray (KR): I knew I hit a milestone when we started to hear from other nonprofits requesting to be interviewed. They were reaching out to us instead of the other way around for greater visibility and knowledge sharing! These connections were gelling into a supportive thriving network. The road there was tough; I experienced sexism and discrimination, and many did not take me seriously as a woman. I was not seen as an expert, despite my degree in marine biology.
Lessons learned: Vision comes out of experience, and a strong vision and persistence are key to taking those first steps in creating a nonprofit.
Image 1. Kimberly Ray, Founder of Marine Conservation Network (MCN). photo credit: MCN website
CR: The Youth Ambassador Program (YAP) currently helps qualified participants around the globe to pursue their passions in the marine sciences. What challenges did you face launching this project?
KR: I first took a conservative and ultimately smart approach to creating YAP, which currently has hubs in the United States, Cuba, and Sri Lanka. We took the time needed to research this endeavor in depth before launching. We worked hard and iteratively to define YAP’s vision and purpose: to support youth ages 9 to 17 financially with their formal and informal marine science education. Selected youth go through an application process and are typically already leading the way in their communities in conversations around fisheries, including by-catch, sustainability, and pollution. Youth participate in a program designed by MCN and supported by local opportunities, including classes and trainings, presenting at speaking events, and conducting outreach. We offer between $1,000 to $2,000 as a continuing education scholarship to the members that complete the program and reach their goals. The donations we receive for the YAP program goes toward adding programs with certificates to the program, getting their diving licenses (if they are interested) and awards.
Marketing YAP has been a learning curve. We want to partner with exceptional youth who are already making a difference in their communities and finding these individuals through better marketing will be this year’s goal.
Image 2. Youth Ambassador Program participant, earning program goals and scholarship towards marine science education. photo credit: MCN website
CR: What is your process for engaging new partnerships to support or participate with MCN? How do you maintain these relationships?
KR: Expanding your network is like growing a business. I apply common sense interpersonal skills to expand the functionality and impact of MCN. Whether I am writing an email or making a phone call, it is all about relationship! The internet makes this easier. You can converse through comments on posts, create discussions, and communicate your brand of promise. I recommend researching an organization, emailing them, complementing their work, and asking relevant questions while introducing your organization. Reach out regularly afterwards.
Lessons learned: Build a trustworthy relationship and you will see results. Talk to a lot of people, make friends, and nurture these relationships. Keep up to date in what’s going on in their lives and organizations.
CR: What do you enjoy most about imagining and planning a new program?
KR: Imaging new ideas and ways of being used to be a big disappointment; I was discouraged growing up. When I started to let myself have big dreams and feel their impact, it was a natural high. Planning our programs was challenging at first and hard to learn the steps, but patience and eventually seeing results in the form of our growing network improved my confidence.
Lessons learned: Identify and do your best to put aside old habits that may be holding you back.
CR: What projects or challenges are coming up next?
KR: Of course, to continue to build out MCN and YAP. We also want to get our board back to pre-pandemic size, from four members back to 15. Lastly, our YouTube channel could use a little freshening up the first chance I get.
CR: Thank you Kimberly for agreeing to be interviewed. It has been a real pleasure learning about your rich experiences building MCN and launching YAP. The WildHub audience benefits already by having you as a member and continues to benefit from the words you shared with us today. To learn more about MCN and Kimberly’s background and expertise, please visit her LinkedIn profile.