50th Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Philippe Cousteau Jr.

Any conversation around the next 50 years of philanthropy -- Southern or otherwise -- would be incomplete without devoting significant time to the threats facing our environment, particularly climate change and its effect on the global ocean that covers 70 percent of the planet.

The health of our planet and its oceans will be on the main stage at SECF's 50th Annual Meeting through a presentation led by Philippe Cousteau Jr., whose family name has become synonymous with ocean exploration and conservation. Philippe, the grandson of the renowned Jacques Cousteau, will use photos and videos during his Friday morning plenary as he explores lessons learned growing up as part of a legendary family and the critical pathways we need to focus on in order to return our oceans to abundance.

"Growing up I was inspired by the work of my grandfather and father," Cousteau said in a recent interview with Australia's Grazia magazine. "[My grandfather] opened the world's eyes to the wonders beneath the waves and the need to protect and restore the health of our oceans. My father Philippe Sr. joined him and was a world-renowned filmmaker and explorer in his own right."

Cousteau never met his father, who died in a plane crash six months before his son was born. However, the books and documentaries he left behind, not to mention the influence of his grandfather -- who lived another 17 years after his grandson's birth -- inspired him to continue his family's work.

"Those stories are what got me to start thinking about what role I could play and that my inspiration was due to good education if nothing else," he said. "So, when I graduated from University and started my career, I was determined to focus on education."

Cousteau's focus on education has manifested itself through the organization he founded, EarthEcho International, which is dedicated to engaging young people in environmental leadership.

"Too often we try to make youths the hands and feet of a movement instead of the hearts and minds," Cousteau wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed. "Acknowledge that the opinions and voices of our younger citizens matter, no matter their age, and engage them in ways that meet them where they are."

Cousteau believes that adults have an obligation to get children engaged in environmental advocacy, writing that "it's important to remember the power of hope, even if sometimes we struggle to find it ourselves."

"Awareness does not lead to action, action leads to awareness," he wrote. "Action doesn't have to be complicated or overly involved, it just needs to be part of the equation; that's how we tap into the inner problem solver in every child."

While you'll have to wait until November to see Cousteau in person, it's easy to see him on TV, where he has produced and hosted numerous programs. He currently hosts the syndicated Xploration Awesome Planet and, on the Travel Channel, Caribbean Pirate Treasure with his wife, Ashlan.


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