Dodge Q&A: Margaret Waldock

Posted on by Dodge

This is the fourth installment of our new series featuring Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation staff here on the Dodge Blog. We’re going to check in with what they’re learning and thinking about as they visit with nonprofits around the state, and we’ll ask them a few fun questions, too.

Today we talk to Margaret Waldock, Program Director, Environment.

How do you nurture creativity in your job and in your life?

I am fortunate to work in an environment where creative ideas, people, and organizations abound.  You cannot turn around at the Dodge Foundation without tripping over something that’s inspiring.  I have the privilege of meeting and working with some of the smartest people in the state. I am consistently awed by their abilities and passion, and they make me excited to get up in the morning, which is good since working on environmental protection and causes in this state can bring you down and burn you out if you’re not careful! Plus, we do a lot of cross-program work and I get to experience fantastic performances, exhibitions, poetry and programs. Working at Dodge has further cemented my love for New Jersey and given me a deep appreciation for the unique communities and perspectives of this state.

Aside from my work, getting outside anyway possible, whether by wheel or foot, is essential to my well-being and creativity. My go-to sanity savior and preferred tool of decompression is my bicycle.  I am fortunate to live in a community with access to some of the best cycling spots in the state and my town is pretty bike friendly (though there’s always room for improvement — drivers of cars, I’m talking to you). Some of my best ideas come to me when on my bike and I have solved many of the world’s great problems climbing hills in Hunterdon County.

What books/e-books are on your (real or virtual) nightstand?

I have not yet made the leap to the e-book, I spend so much time during the workday on screens I find great pleasure and escape in reading actual, real books.  Plus I really like to fold down page-corners to hold my place.

The stack of books that I have next to my bed is ambitious.  Waiting in the cue are Andrew Zolli’s “Resilience,”Judy Wicks’ newest “Good Morning, Beautiful Business,” Woody Tasch’s “Slow Money,” Robert Sullivan’s “My American Revolution,” and Sandor Katz’s “The Art of Fermentation.” I really want to get to these books!  I know they will be well written, informative, engaging and I’ll be smarter for having read them. But fiction always wins with me.

I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” and I am currently in the middle of Alice Munroe’s short story collection, “Runaway.” I have an affinity for Canadian, female writers — Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, Munroe.  I spent a fair amount of time in Canada as a kid, growing up close to the border in Western New York and summer vacations at Lake Nippissing in Ontario, so maybe it’s me feeling wistful for the Canadian vibe. Or simply that they are all genius storytellers.

What’s your favorite vegetable, and how do you most enjoy preparing it? What about other snacks?

At the risk of being labeled a liberal, hipster-foodie: Kale. Raw with salt, lemon, and flax oil. Also, beets roasted in the oven, sardines fresh or straight out of the can, hummus, and red garnet sweet potatoes. Not all together, but I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to that.

Tell us about one Dodge environment grantee project or event that you are excited about.

Excited to be working on stormwater and water infrastructure as a relatively new area of focus for us. I get that it’s not likely to engender whoops and cries of enthusiasm but when you consider how vital these systems are to human survival and prosperity and how our failure to invest in maintenance and upgrades is negatively impacting our environment, our economy, and the quality of our waterways and our communities, there’s lots of room for improvements here.

And, there’s this growing focus on how to incorporate and replicate natural systems in the form of green infrastructure to help manage stormwater, which has the added benefit of greening communities and engaging citizens in solving the problem. I think this is a great complement to our traditional focus on watershed protection and restoration and an extension of our work into urban communities dealing with flooding, pollution, and public health risks associated with failing water infrastructure. By coordinating this work, really working on rivers and watersheds as systems, I hope we can begin to move the needle on improving waterways in our state.

Also completely jazzed to see the power and potential of the Sustainable Jersey program evolve. The Dodge Foundation was integral to launching this program and it’s amazing to see how impactful its been in a few short years. The fact that the over 300 municipalities in the state are enrolled in this voluntary effort, and working on an array of local initiatives to advance long term sustainability, is inspiring. I encourage everyone I know that if you want to get involved in your community, and really make a difference doing something that sings to you, find your local green team and jump in.

How are some of Dodge’s environment grantees working together and with other partners?

We are always exploring how to foster non-traditional partnerships at Dodge and some of the work around the recovery from Superstorm Sandy yielded some great new relationships. In response to the storm, we pooled some funding with other foundations and directed it towards nonprofits from our traditional areas of focus — arts, media, environment, but with the intention of fostering closer, more collaborative work to advance long-term resiliency efforts in the state.

I think there is a natural affinity between the storytellers — the arts and media organizations — and those working on environmental protection and planning efforts, and making these connections and supporting this kind of collaboration is integral to their success.

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2 Responses to Dodge Q&A: Margaret Waldock

  1. Bill Wolfe says:

    Hi Margaret – nice conversation, good idea, we should have more of it. A few thoughts:

    1. I was struck by and curious about your statement thus:

    “working on environmental protection and causes in this state can bring you down and burn you out if you’re not careful!”

    Could you expand on that? What specifically is it about environmental protection in this state that tends to cause burnout?

    2. You praise the work of Sustainable NJ – but then also tout Dodge’s recent work on storm water.

    I see a real tension, even a deep contradiction, between the policy models and means of social change implicit in those two projects that I’d like your thoughts on:

    SNJ is a voluntary, non-regulatory, local, privately funded initiative with vague goals and aspirations.

    The Dodge/Rutgers/NJ Future storm water report explicitly recognizes the role of State regulatory mandates as a “driver” of significant reforms – i.e. DEP CSO permits. The problems and their goals are defined by enforceable numeric state water quality standards. Billions of dollars of public money are involved.

    Some of us have long championed the regulatory model that is explicit in the storm water work – a model that has been explicitly rejected by Dodge for some time. As a result, there is literally no Foundation funding going into state regulatory policy work.

    At the same time, many of us have been highly critical of the SNJ model, particularly its reliance on corporate funding and its embrace of corporate partnerships.

    Can you shed some light on these tensions?

    Can you stand in my shoes and recognize the frustration?

    BTW, on the fiction side, I’m reading Balzac – non-fiction is “The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left” – strongly recommended.

  2. Margaret Waldock says:

    Thanks, Bill. The getting-to-know the Dodge staff blog is a new feature, and while it’s personally a little unnerving to be the subject of such focus I did have fun answering the questions.

    I think burnout in the nonprofit sector in general is a problem, not just in the environmental sector. Non-profit leaders have to keep their focus on all fronts—mission and programs; legal and regulatory compliance; building and sustaining relationships with constituencies, funders, and board members; attracting and keeping competent and capable staff; all while dealing with ever increasing competition for resources and attention. For the environmental sector, there’s added pressure to fight the marginalization of environmental issues and keep them at the forefront. But this is a resilient community that manages to keep up the pace and energy. Perhaps it has something to do with the kind of people attracted to the work, or the rejuvenating power of nature –experiencing what you are working to protect is amazingly restorative, as is the rush from the victories when they do come, and in hearing appreciation and encouragement from those who support your work.

    While I appreciate your perspective, I don’t share your view of contradiction between the Sustainable Jersey model and our work on stormwater. Advancing sustainability and environmental protection requires a diversity of approaches, there is room for more than one strategy.
    SNJ sparks local action to advance sustainability on multiple fronts (energy, arts and culture, diversity and equity, conservation, education, communications, economic development, public health) and provides citizens and leaders tools, funding, technical support, training, and resources to implement actions—including local policy, legal/regulatory, and programmatic actions. In an age of apathy with regard to civic participation and individual action this program is succeeding in engaging traditional and new constituencies in sustainability work. It’s also providing opportunity for action on issues that many feel are too big, esoteric, or beyond their personal reach. It’s sparking healthy competition among Mayors trying to out-compete each other to be the most sustainable community in the state – that’s the kind of competition I want to see! As for corporate partnerships and support, I do not share your concern that this is inherently negative. SJ has cultivated positive, working partnerships with businesses, academia, government, and non-profit partners and continues to refine its sustainability focus and goals based on a diversity of opinions, data, and science.

    As for water infrastructure I concur that a big part of the solution to our state’s water infrastructure crisis is regulatory – and using the permit process as opportunities not only to drive compliance with water quality standards but also to deploy innovative, “green” approaches that provide a multitude of benefits to communities. And, unfortunately, billions of dollars are needed so we are going to have to figure out how to raise revenue for this investment, a particularly daunting task considering that many of the oldest, failing infrastructure systems are located in communities with high concentrations of poverty. But success is not confined to this regulatory approach; it will require a range of strategies including involving citizens, businesses, and institutions in acknowledging and participating in solving the problem. Programs like SNJ are essential partners in engaging and addressing this issue, and others on the ground in communities and providing demonstrated solutions that build awareness and support.

    I also must push back on your assessment that the regulatory model “…is a model that has been explicitly rejected by Dodge for some time.” That’s not true of the Dodge Foundation, nor is it true of other foundations directing investments in New Jersey. We aim for balance in our environment program – supporting organizations working on watershed protection, urban greening, and food systems work through direct, applied work (restoration, land preservation, stewardship, community engagement) as well as regulatory and policy reform, and see these approaches as complementary. You can review a list of our environment grantees on our website.

    Yes, I can stand in your shoes and recognize your frustration – you feel strongly that your approach and strategies are the most prudent and effective, but I don’t think we are that far apart in our positions nor does disagreement discredit or discount alternative views. The challenge to foundation work is sorting through a million-and-one worthy causes, ideas, and strategies and placing your bets on the approaches that are going to have the biggest impact, to get you where you want to go. Our decisions will leave some cheering, some scratching their heads, and others criticizing. My hope is to provide a clear articulation of our decision making, to evaluate and show progress, and make course corrections when called for. These are hallmarks of Dodge that all of the staff works hard to continue and improve.

    Never read Balzac, though it appears he was a major influence on some of my favorite storytellers: Dickens, Poe, and Faulkner, so clearly I need to add him to the list.

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