Twin Cities Thinkers

Meet the Minnesotans shaping our future

Breen also worked on the Minnesota Family Leave Act, the first law in the nation that guaranteed both parents a right to six weeks of family leave. Six years later, the federal government nationalized a version of it.

"I was very lucky in how my career developed," Breen says. "I got to do things I really loved doing."

Conserving Our Most Important Resource

Aviva Breen
Nick Vlcek
Aviva Breen
David Hartwell
Nick Vlcek
David Hartwell

David Hartwell says conserving the outdoors is important not only from an environmental standpoint, but for our physical and mental well-being. For more than three decades, Hartwell has been working to preserve Minnesota's undeveloped land.

"Without his leadership and vision and energy, I can honestly say we wouldn't have as many conservation success stories as we've had over the last 15 years," says Kris Larson, executive director of the Minnesota Land Trust. "The public itself are the great beneficiaries of David's work."

Hartwell—the grandson of former General Mills president Charles Bell and great-grandson of James Ford Bell, who founded the company—grew up in Minnetonka. Hartwell spent hour upon hour beside his mother on Minnesota's lakes and rivers, fishing with a cane pole and bobber. He still makes time to fly-fish for small bass on the St. Croix River with her.

"Nothing's going to dissuade me from figuring out how to do that trip once a year," he says.

One of Hartwell's first conservation projects was in California in the mid-1970s, when he co-funded a study that showed that a power company's diversion of water from streams surrounding Mono Lake was destroying the ecosystem. The research became key evidence in a court case forcing a Los Angeles power company to change its practices.

Back in Minnesota, Hartwell worked to expand the Belwin Conservancy, 241 acres of family land in Afton and West Lakeland Township that his grandparents donated to teach kids about nature. Today, St. Paul schoolchildren visit it as part of their outdoor education.

In 1984, the Nature Conservancy recruited Hartwell to its board, and he helped the organization acquire land for the public. Back then, Minnesota was fairly unusual—in most other parts of the country, land trusts had sprouted up. Instead of placing land into public ownership, these trusts kept the land private but protected it from development by getting landowners to add conservation easements. But that hadn't happened here.

"Because Minnesota had avoided most of the serious development pressure that most of the East and West Coasts had seen, you ended up in a situation where there hadn't been a need to do conservation easements in Minnesota," Hartwell says.

But Hartwell saw that need coming. In 1991, he pulled together a group of people to form the Washington County Land Trust. Two years later, that group became the Minnesota Land Trust. Since its creation, the trust has placed 400 conservation easements on private land.

In 2001, Hartwell was on the board of the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota in St. Paul when Gov. Jesse Ventura slashed $3 million in proposed parks funding. The council raised the money to make up the difference.

"There was great celebration at Parks & Trails," Hartwell say. "I looked around and said, 'These folks are crazy. If $3 million is success, I don't know what failure is."

Hartwell thought Minnesota conservationists needed to think bigger. So he began pulling together a group to talk about the future. By 2007, they decided to ask for an amendment to the state constitution that would dedicate more funds to the outdoors.

In 2008, voters approved the effort, known as the Legacy Act. Now a dedicated portion of state taxes will go toward preserving Minnesota's land and water.

Hartwell is pleased. But the best way to guarantee that conservation efforts continue, he argues, is spending time in nature, especially with kids.

"If we all care about—and we all need to care about—environmental protection, we need to create opportunities for people to have a personal interaction that moves them," Hartwell says. "It's important that kids get their feet in the mud and aren't afraid of it. Because as adults they'll make choices about their energy consumption, their resource consumption, as voters."

Encouraging Young People to Lead

When Matt Hemsley noticed that local nonprofit boards were lacking younth, he decided it was a problem. Sure, kids might have less money, but they probably had plenty of energy and time.

Four years ago, Hemsley and seven friends launched an organization called the LEAD Project, short for Leadership Emergence and Development. The group tries to match up-and-comers with leadership opportunities.

Hemsley, a McKinsey consultant, got the idea for LEAD after attending a black tie event with his parents. "I went to this event, and I was easily the youngest person there, by 25 years," he says.

During the past four years, LEAD has held 10 fundraising events and raised about $110,000, and connected 300 young professionals with charitable organizations. LEAD volunteers are helping several major nonprofits—including the Minnesota Zoo, the YMCA, and the Science Museum—come up with plans to engage kids.

"Most young people, in my opinion, don't think that they ought to be on a board," says Hemsley. "It sounds intimidating—they think they have to be the CEO of some organization."

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