Environmental Leadership in Diverse Indianapolis

Environmental Leadership in Diverse Indianapolis

KIB logo

By Christina Wildt, M.S. 2015

When I moved to Indianapolis this past year, I was not familiar with a single environmental nonprofit active in the city: not in Indianapolis or even in Indiana. I knew there had to be some great people doing positive work for the environment, just as there are everywhere else in the country; I just had to find them. It turned out that I didn’t have to look very far; Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB) seemed to find me. From signs along the interstate by newly planted stands of trees, to a partnership with the brewery that I worked for, KIB seemed to have its thumbprint all over my new city.

Enter Mr. Dave Forsell, the fearless leader of this organization. It turned out that a colleague at work was able to introduce me to Mr. Forsell, who had graduated from my alma mater, DePauw University. Forsell agreed to meet with me in person at the KIB offices in the Fountain Square neighborhood of Indianapolis so that I could interview him and try to uncover some of his secrets to success.

Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Headquarters in Indianapolis
Keep Indianapolis Beautiful’s headquarters in Indianapolis

It didn’t take me long to understand why Forsell has been the president of the nonprofit for 12 years. Charismatic and generous with his time, he has been successful in growing an NGO with the mission “to engage diverse communities to create vibrant public places, helping people and nature thrive.” Whether or not KIB is effective in carrying out that mission in the city of Indianapolis, I had yet to determine, but it was certainly thriving. LEED certified and absolutely stunning, the KIB offices were not the average specimens for a non-profit. It had to be doing something right to be that well funded.

When we sat down and dug into Forsell’s leadership of the organization, it became clear that it was doing a lot of somethings right. First, I asked him to give me an overview of his background and how he had gotten to where he was. Forsell painted a beautiful picture of passion and values. While he never formally studied the environment or humans’ interaction with it, he had a connection with the natural world instilled in him from a young age. He has turned that passion into a long-term career at KIB.

To me, one of the key messages that Forsell shared was his mantra of “preserve the core while stimulating progress.” In other words, stick to your core mission and strengths while continually striving to innovate and grow. This message resonated with me, and it’s something that I’ve thought about often since meeting him. To me, it’s akin to what my mother has always told me: “anything you do, do well.” Taken together, I think that those two mantras will help any individual or organization thrive.

Indianapolis is a diverse city with a wide demographic range, including race and socio-economic class. I was curious about whether, and if so how, KIB managed to reach and connect with these different communities. Mr. Forsell spoke to the importance of tailoring KIB’s message to each group that it is trying to reach. For example, understanding that people in poverty don’t have the luxury of worrying about the environment, in the less affluent neighborhoods, KIB connects on the platform of neighborhood beautification.

In a world of increasingly complex and hard-to-solve environmental problems, I think that people often forget the power of connecting with the natural world around them. Fostering that connection to the land is an important first step to increasing peoples’ consciousness of their impact on the environment, and I commend KIB for working so hard to create those opportunities in my city.

I’d like to thank Mr. Forsell for the generosity of his time and attention. KIB is already the largest chapter of Keep America Beautiful, and I don’t think that it has any plans of slowing down. I’m looking forward to working with the organization in the future and watching its growth and success.


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