A Philanthropist’s Story: Our Earth is Worth Partnering For

By Caroline Gabel, CEO of the Shared Earth Foundation

I think I was born knowing what I wanted to do, it just took a long time to get there.  I was born playing with bears and not dolls. I remember spending summers with my father, horseback riding in Jasper National Park in Alberta.  There, in the clear, dry, high mountains was the first time that I actually saw stars – I could see the Milky Way. I fell in love with the wilderness.  When I came home to the East Coast and read about the polluted waters of the Cuyahoga river catching fire, I just got really angry. I wanted to do something.

I got lucky – I spent my career working for elected officials who were ready and willing to do something.  I got a job with Congressman John Blatnik of Duluth Minnesota, who, with Senator Ed Muskie, authored the Clean Water Act of 1972. This was the first major U.S. law to address water pollution, from which all subsequent amendments are either helpful or destructive.  I was there for that.

When Blatnik retired, I worked for Congressman Jim Oberstar for nearly the rest of my career, where I focused on clean water, transportation and infrastructure policy.  Like I said, I was lucky – I was a part of the difference that elected officials can make when they genuinely serve the people, places, and communities that put them in office.  I was in the business of ensuring our surroundings were safe and healthy.

However, it was when I retired that I realized my heart’s wish: I wanted to help fulfill our responsibility to share the earth with our fellow, co-equal animal creatures and the indigenous people who protect them. And I had the means to do so.

I have money. I did not earn it, I am not sure I deserved it, but it happened.  I don’t consider it mine and the best thing I can do is give it away, so that is what I did, I set up a foundation called Shared Earth.

Creating the Shared Earth Foundation is my proudest accomplishment.  It has enabled me to meet and support projects, programs and people that would otherwise have not known about. I think of the groups I work with as partners, which is rewarding; I find great pleasure in giving and knowing the ways my gift will make a difference.

If I could share some advice, it would be don’t settle for awareness – awareness is not enough. Awareness alone won’t achieve lasting change like the Clean Water Act. You must be strategic and advocate. That’s LCV.  LCV is in the fight.  LCV holds elected officials accountable for their votes.  I advocate giving to individual candidates, but at LCV your money goes to a lot of places that you might not have thought of yourself.  LCV knows which candidates are on our side.

In the next five years, I want to spend down my foundation while I’m alive.  I have no children, and my foundation doesn’t need to last forever. I want a legacy that says, “I was here.”  I am building in sustainability for my partners organizations. I’m giving a lot of them a board reserve, which is kind of an endowment for a rainy day or the next economic downturn.   If my partners remain sustainable and go forward doing their work, I will have left something behind.  It doesn’t have to say Shared Earth Foundation or Gabel on the wall.  Enabling my partners to continue their work well into the future, long after I am gone, that is my legacy.

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