Holly Mckinlay is Senior Director of Communications at the World Wildlife Fund. Pre pandemic she was based in Washington DC but moved back to the UK during lockdown. Working from her she-shed, she talks to 35Thousand about her mission to create big scale solutions to save our planet, how roses and rosé have got her through COVID-19 and why ‘It’s ok not to be ok” is something we can all learn from.
Describe yourself in 3 words…
“Loyal, kind, and a bit sassy”
Tell us about your work…
“I’m responsible for guiding the strategy and communications for WWF-US Freshwater and Food conservation. Our team is seeking to find solutions to tackle two of the biggest threats to our planet – agriculture (for food production) and infrastructure (for human development). These two things when done badly are contributing to the wild places we love being destroyed and to the climate change crisis, but when done sustainably can be positive forces for nature. So, my work is focused on using communications to co-create and promote solutions for our planet with the businesses and governments that can make impact at scale, with the consumers who drive the demand and the change needed and, most importantly, with the people and communities at the heart of the critical landscapes we work in.”
Do you work in the spare room, a skyscraper or others
“I’m currently working from my ‘she-shed’ on my patio. It’s small, but perfectly formed.”
What parts of your work give you energy?
“Working across sectors, teams around the world at WWF, and with some of the world’s biggest organizations to achieve positive impact. We are always looking for innovative ways to solve our planet’s most critical environmental challenges and we’re at the cutting edge of science – that’s exciting, if not a little daunting at times.”
What parts of your work drain you?
“Working on complex issues…across time zones…in Zoom meetings…as amazing and impactful as the results can be, the process is sometimes exhausting.”
Most pivotal point of your career so far?
“In 2019 I was invited to create some briefs for WWF as part of the Cannes Young Lions competition – a global event were the next generation of creatives come together to solve problems through design. Briefing young creatives and seeing how they came up with smart, and sometimes game changing solutions, to our ‘how to save the world’ brief, was the most inspiring time of my career, and the moment I knew I that art, creativity, and the next generation, had the power to save our planet.”
Best piece of advice you received that you now pass on to others…
“‘It’s ok not to be ok’. There was a point in my life recently when I was grieving and still trying to carry on being a strong leader at work. I was pushing down all my personal emotions and feelings and acting like everything was fine, not wanting to show any vulnerability out of fear of being perceived as ‘weak’. My boss at the time, founder of a new conservation organization called Stampede International and now very good friend of mine, who had been through the same thing, told me it was ‘ok not to be ok’ and not to be scared to show my human side. I’ve seen this happen a lot in the pandemic actually, people showing their human side and admitting that they aren’t doing ok and need a break, and I hope it continues long after. We aren’t robots, you can be a powerhouse leader and still cry or show vulnerability on a Zoom call, it’s ok.”
What’s your context outside of work – do you have family, other people counting on you, pets, hobbies, external commitments?
“I live alone but try to spend as much time talking to or seeing my family & friends – within the limits of lockdown of course. My main dependent is my new rescue pup, Pluto. I love walking and have a new appreciation for the need to protect the nature and wildlife around us, even though it’s my day job. I try to do yoga when I can to focus my mind, and when that doesn’t work…wine.”
Describe your pre-pandemic day-to-day…
“Wake up and video call my family in the UK with a coffee, walk to my office in downtown Washington DC, full workday of meetings and calls, happy hour with colleagues or yoga, home to relax. I’d not been living in DC that long, so weekends were spent exploring the landmarks and brunch with new friends.”
How has your daily life changed, what’s your new normal?
“I’ve got more time in the morning to work out, enjoy breakfast and go out for a walk. My hours are definitely longer, there’s been no avoiding that, but I have more flexibility in the day so I can work, exercise, talk to friends & family and meditate on my own schedule.”
Has the Corona crisis impacted you personally and professionally? How?
“Yes, on both fronts. I was living in Washington DC when the pandemic hit in March. I made the hard but necessary decision to move home to the UK before the lockdown, to be nearer to my family. So, I’ve been working remotely on US time from the UK for almost a year now. It’s difficult at times but for me personally it was the best decision- I had good friends in DC through WWF, our ‘panda family’, but I knew I needed support, and my best friends and family to get through the pandemic. I’m very lucky that WWF has been supportive throughout, allowing me the flexibility to not only move countries but ensuring my working hours aren’t too crazy.”
What, if anything, keeps you up at night?
“The state of the planet…. occupational hazard….and the wellbeing and mental health of my friends and family during this time.”
What have been your best coping strategies over the past year? Do you have any objects, routines or tools that you found particularly uplifting? Gin or Gym?
“Rosé and roses…. seriously. I’ve started to buy fresh flowers for my house and office* (*read ‘shed’), every week (another piece of advice from a good friend, buy your own darn flowers), I get out in the fresh air every single day, no matter what the weather and I like a glass of rosé in the evening to mark the end of the workday.”
What has kept you sane? And kept your family sane?
“Walking and talking…. oh, and a constant supply of memes and banter.”
Did 2020 change your outlook on life in any way?
“Before 2020 I was constantly travelling and or moving countries for work. This year made me realize the value of having a really strong network of friends and family nearby – I hands down wouldn’t have coped with this pandemic and the lockdowns without them.
I’ve also changed my outlook on the UK, our health system and the beautiful nature on our doorstep that I always took for granted before, I won’t again.
Having said this, I miss travel, I miss immersing myself in different cultures – the only way we can really evolve is by listening to and learning from people with different cultures and social backgrounds to our own. I hope with this new remote generation that lines between travel and managing work will merge.”
Are you travel ready? Where do you want to go, with who or would you rather stay home?
“I’m ready to feel the sun on my face and the sand between my toes again, that’s for sure. I’d love to explore the Amalfi Coast, Italy with my family, and Ibiza, Spain with friends, but I’d be equally happy with exploring the coast of Dorset or Cornwall.”
Finish this sentence “If you look in my handbag at any time you will ALWAYS find….”
“MAC lipstick – of various shades, but I always have a red handy. ESPA hand sanitizer – it took me ages to find one I actually liked the smell of. WWF reusable facemasks – they’re available in the UK and US, have wildlife prints, are sustainable and raise money for global conservation work.”
What are your work from home saviours? (routines/ products/ coffee/ music?)
Creating my own office space in my shed has been a saviour – I’ve decked it out with art that inspires me like a design print of a flamingo from BuyBarry, books, house plants, my Alexa for music and Nespresso machine for regular coffee hits. I’ve also just invested in some AirPod Pro headphones, and they’ve changed the game for conference calls.”
Describe your style?
“Classic (all black everything), and ethical and sustainable where possible.”
Name your 5 essential items of clothing
“A good black jumper dress – I’m currently wearing an organic cotton one from And Other Stories
A classic pair of sliders or pumps – I recently discovered ethical brand Hexa shoes
A well-fitting pair of jeans – I like Levi’s, Ralph Lauren Denim and F&F Denim (Tesco), WWF is working with them all on their sustainability strategies.
A statement jumper/sweater or t-shirt – I love the ones for good causes like Fund Jumpers.”
How do you see your business or career in two years from now?
“I’d like to keep growing in my career and working in conservation and environment. Ideally, I’d be doing something that combines working with big brands on sustainability strategy, my love of the arts & creativity and saving the planet.”
What’s something you haven’t conquered yet but really want to?
“Kilimanjaro and self-confidence – both mountains to climb.”
What could you say to your 20 year old self that would help her the most?
“Don’t focus all your energy and time into your career, leave time for fun, and make the most of the simple times spent hanging out with your friends before life gets more complicated.”
Do you have a life motto or mantra that really resonates with you?
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind”.
If you loved this article then you will love the reading about so many other inspiring women and how they navigate the ups and downs of life in our How She Carries On section