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Building Success Together: <br/>Krista Wright’s Journey with <br/>Polar Bears International

Interview - Krista Wright

Building Success Together:
Krista Wright’s Journey with
Polar Bears International

When Krista Wright joined Polar Bears International as a volunteer, she never imagined making it her career. Now, nearly two decades on, Krista leads the organization as its Executive Director. Her journey to this point has been shaped by meaningful experiences and career-defining decisions.

My education in environmental education and environmental science had me thinking I’d work for the government or the Park Service. However, my first role in the government quickly taught me that I craved a workplace where creativity was embraced, and innovative ideas could quickly be brought to life.

My first experience working in the nonprofit sector in a conservation and environmental education role resonated with me immediately. There was purpose to the role and a strong feeling that I was making a difference. For the next 25 years, I continued working with young people and educators to get them excited about nature, hoping to inspire a lifelong conservation ethic in them – and I loved every minute of it.

Eventually, I felt it was time for a change. I thought about leaving conservation—not because I stopped loving it, but because it seemed like it might not work for me as a career anymore. I still wanted to do something that was meaningful and that I was passionate about. I had an opportunity to volunteer for Polar Bears International. I never planned for it to become my career – and here I am, 17 amazing years later.


Polar Bears International was in its early stages of growth when Krista came on the scene. She leveraged her experience from her past and drew on the expertise of others to help facilitate the organization’s growth and bring it to where it is today.

When I joined Polar Bears International, the organization had a smaller team and a different structure than it does today. It was evolving from a volunteer-based organization to a place where it needed dedicated, full-time staff. I saw an opportunity to draw on my experience and support this evolution. Having worked with various nonprofits, serving as a board member for several organization, and advising friends on starting their own nonprofits, I knew how to lay a strong foundation for an organization that was looking to grow.

I started as Chief of Staff, then became COO, focusing on creating structures for growth. I got to wear many hats to achieve the organization’s objectives and accomplish what needed to be done.

I consider myself a leader who prefers to lead from behind. At Polar Bears International, polar bears and scientists are the forefront, but as the executive director, I shape our strategy and manage the organization. I work with a talented team that’s been key to Polar Bears International’s success.


When Krista became Executive Director, she understood that leadership wasn’t just about guiding the path forward but also about trusting her team and partners to help navigate and shape the journey.

When I first became Executive Director, I would remind myself that it was about the steps I was taking to get closer to the bigger goals. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This helped me focus on small steps towards our big goal, a mantra I repeated for two years.

Undertaking our first professional strategic planning exercise with Level5 was a pivotal moment in Polar Bears International’s history. It was the first time we developed a strategy that actively involved the board and incorporated robust input from staff members. This strategy became an integral part of our organizational fabric. Our discussions weren’t merely about identifying pain points anymore; we could link everything we were doing back to our strategic plan, giving us a clear path forward. Fostering a sense of ownership and clear accountabilities to the plan brought the entire organization along and emphasized the collective role we each played in Polar Bears International’s success.


When COVID-19 halted fieldwork, Krista led a strategic shift that expanded Polar Bears International’s outreach and initiated international projects, turning obstacles into opportunities for growth.

COVID-19 necessitated a strategic pivot for us, especially since fieldwork, a core part of our operations, was paused. We quickly adapted by enhancing our outreach programs, exploring new strategies for off-seasons, and focusing on research publications. This time allowed us to dive deeper into projects in the North, including expanding into the Norwegian Arctic, showing the power of our teamwork to turn challenges into positive impact. Our strategy has always been to build on what works, like our successful projects in Churchill, Canada, and replicate them in new places like Norway. This approach has not only expanded our global presence but also significantly grown our support network in just a few years.


Stepping into a leadership role at Polar Bears International taught Krista several things, but above all, being a good strategic leader is about more than just making decisions. It’s about collaboration, trusting your instincts, and bringing your team along.

As a leader, I’ve realized that not having all the answers is okay, and the key is to be surrounded by smart people, both in and outside our organization. Much of our growth has come from working with external partners, achieving things we couldn’t have done on our own. Collaboration is at the heart of what we do, extending beyond our team to include external partners and organizations.

Trusting my instincts has also been a critical success factor for me. For example, when we wanted to start a children’s school program in Churchill but faced obstacles, we found a new way by tapping into my experience with youth summer camps. This highlights the importance of flexibility and creativity in overcoming challenges and finding new ways to achieve our goals.

Effective communication and inclusive decision-making have been key in navigating our organization’s path forward. By involving a broad spectrum of our team in the decision-making process and maintaining open lines of communication, especially considering that we are an international team, we’ve fostered a sense of ownership and commitment to our collective mission.


Krista’s career has provided her with insights and takeaways that can help guide other young women aspiring to leadership roles.

Don’t take things personally. I’ve learned to set aside my personal feelings and understand that it’s about the situation, it’s not about me. Be open to receiving feedback; if there’s a better way of doing something, be open to that, be kind, and be humble.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Many challenges, especially in life, come from not communicating enough. Looking back, when things didn’t go as planned, often the missing piece was communication.

Surround yourself with smart people and embrace their expertise. Working with experts from various fields can really elevate your understanding and contribute to your success. My own growth in areas like finance and accounting came from actively seeking the insights of knowledgeable colleagues and board members.

About Polar Bears International

Polar Bears International’s mission is to conserve polar bears and the sea ice they depend on. They also work to inspire people to care about the Arctic, the threats to its future, and the connection of this fragile ecosystem to our global climate.

As a science-based organization with staff including leading polar bear scientists and partnerships that span the circumpolar Arctic, Polar Bears International focuses on addressing both the long- and short-term challenges that polar bears face, with a goal of sustaining a future for the bears across the Arctic.

Learn more about Polar Bears International’s mission and how you can support the impactful work they do by visiting their website:



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