CEO/President/Executive Director/Head of School, Environment and Conservation, Nonprofit and Social Impact

Executive Director

  • David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship Program
  • Remote/Flexible Location, USA

This position has been filled.

About the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship Program

Funded by the Cedar Tree Foundation (CTF), and served by its administrative partner and grantee, the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB), The David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship Program (The Smith Fellowship) was founded in 1998 on a bold vision to bridge conservation science and practice by supporting the development of promising early career conservation scientists.  A prestigious two-year post-doctoral research fellowship, the Program recruits and funds high-caliber, early career scientists at the post doctorate level to conduct research to contribute critical knowledge and application to pressing problems in conservation science.

Mission and Values

The purpose of the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship is to create opportunities for leading conservation scientists to strengthen their skills through two years of applied post-doctoral research, supplemented by training programs, peer networking, and field learning experiences; so that they may:

  • Build productive partnerships with conservation practitioners; and
  • Contribute and communicate scientific knowledge to problems of critical importance in conservation.

Smith Fellows’ research and activities have long served on the cutting edge of conservation science, producing future world leaders in conservation science research and application. Led by long-time Executive Director, Dr. Michael Dombeck, the Program has become a premiere post-doctoral Fellowship in the United States and the life-long Smith Fellows network has grown to over 100 fellows working across the conservation science field. Under Dr. Dombeck’s leadership, Fellows consistently describe the Program as a life changing experience that fills a unique and critical need by providing valuable long-term benefit to conservation and society. Now, after 16-years of exemplary leadership, Dr. Dombeck is retiring.

Today, the Smith Fellows Program seeks an Executive Director to lead the Program with a particular focus on the following:

The Changing Field of Conservation Science

The field on conservation science and practice has grown in complexity and accordingly so have the aspirations and development needs of early career conservation professionals. Environmental challenges such as climate change are growing in urgency and require attention. The incorporation of the social sciences has become increasingly important in the development of scientifically sound and socially acceptable solutions to the loss of biodiversity. A recent Ph.D. graduate today is now entering a global field of conservation in the context of personal and institutional commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion and broader movements around racial justice, and Indigenous knowledge. There also exists increasing public skepticism of academics, institutional research and science in decision making. The need to support early career professionals to link impactful and timely conservation science to complex real world conservation issues on the ground has never been more important or more complex. Being able to participate in and hold space for this dialogue will be critical in this role.

Catalyzing the Network

Since its founding, the Smith Fellows network has grown from an initial class of seven early career Ph.D. fellows to a global network of over 100 career professionals working across academic, non-profit, for-profit, government, policy, law, and intergovernmental organizations. While many Smith Fellows are deeply engaged in the Smith Fellows Program, there is opportunity to further catalyze this diverse and extensive network to support the program’s mission.

At its core, the Smith Fellows Program both shapes and reinvigorates the discipline of conservation science, ensuring that early career scientists are capable of asking and answering the questions that truly matter to the conservation community.

For more information on the Smith Fellows Program, please visit the Program website.

The Opportunity

The David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship Program (Smith Fellowship) is seeking an innovative, experienced conservation professional and proven organizational leader to be its next Executive Director. Reporting to the Smith Fellows Program Board, the Executive Director works closely with the current Program Director and a Program Assistant to lead the recruitment and development of current and prospective Fellows, curate a wide network of volunteer scientists, and nurture the growing network of alumni. The new Executive Director will lead the Smith Fellows program into its next stage of development, including updates to both program content and organizational structure.

Highlighted responsibilities for the Executive Director include:

  • Serve as the Program’s publicly facing representative, engage external audiences and partners, seek new opportunities to provide high-level visibility for the Fellows, and amplify the Program’s stature and thought leadership in the field.
  • Mentor, coach, and collaborate with Smith Fellows Program staff, developing a culture of continuous professional development.
  • Center and engage the rapidly changing field of conservation science and practice while consistently aligning and assessing the Program’s mission, strategic priorities, organizational design, and short and long-term program goals in relation to SCB and CTF.
  • Work closely with and under the guidance of a newly expanded Smith Fellows Program Board to provide overall strategic guidance, monitor success, and recommend and implement improvements and modifications.
  • Collaborate with academic and field-based mentors to ensure that Fellows are engaged and supported; provide relationship management between Fellows and their mentors.
  • Lead a highly competitive recruitment and selection process, working collaboratively with Program staff and core partners to establish a diverse pipeline of Fellows candidates.
  • Monitor the full life cycle of professional development and performance for current Fellows to assure that research and activities are consistent with research proposals.
  • Develop (3) engaging, inclusive week-long professional development retreats per year, participate in mentor/fellow site visits, and design trainings, events, social gatherings, and related activities that give visibility and expertise to the Program.
  • Catalyze, engage, and support the Smith Fellows network by fostering a “Smith Fellows for Life” alumni engagement.
  • Visibly engage in community dialogue, discourse, and thought leadership within a rapidly changing social, political, and interdisciplinary conservation landscape.
  • As the Program’s primarily liaison to SCB and CTF, lead the production of grant materials, partner with the Program Board, and steward Program resources effectively, ensuring a sound, competitive program model and responsible fiscal administration.
  • Cultivate a culture of 360-degree feedback, working with the Smith Fellows Program Board, Fellows, and alumni to advance Program’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
Candidate Profile

We recognize that the spectrum of lived and professional experiences that could be successful in this role. While no one candidate may be an exact match for every responsibility outlined in the position profile, we seek candidates who demonstrate the following core competencies:

Commitment to Conservation Science

An experienced conservation professional, they share an unwavering belief that environmental challenges are growing in urgency and require attention. They understand that the social sciences have become increasingly important partners and collaborators in the development of scientifically sound and socially nuanced solutions to the loss of biodiversity. As the need for conservation and biodiversity becomes increasingly more dire, they fully understand that policy, business, and leadership training are necessary to develop outstanding, socially conscious scientists and thought leaders. 

Mentorship and Advising

A relational, facilitative mentor and advisor, they create a seamless learning and advising experience for both individuals and cohorts. They view mentorship as a collective endeavor and consider the sustainability of their advisory both in terms of Fellows’ institutional resources and career aspirations. They advise with humility, listen reflectively, and leverage their practical experience and content knowledge to provide advisory and support strategies to early career professionals that center the personal, professional, and overall wellness of their mentees.

Program Strategy and Network Activation

They lead, mentor, leverage, and collaborate with a skilled staff to develop high-quality, sustainable programs and activities.  A senior leader, they provide effective, strategic support for a highly competitive program, leverage networks and partnerships, and build sustainable, high-quality programs and initiatives. They understand that the intersection of research, professional training, and relationship-building between academics and conservation professionals is necessary to advancing the field broadly, and develop supportive, innovative programs that support professional growth and development.

External Relations

Experienced at leading change in organizations and networks, they are a flexible and adaptive communicator and storyteller. As a thought-leader in the field, they leverage both professional networks and internal partners. They lead with humility and gravitas, successfully engage core constituents by including people with a range of identities, disciplines, personal and professional backgrounds, and perspectives. Deeply collaborative, they effectively align the needs of their boards, funders, and program participants to effectively grow, develop, and enhance program delivery and offerings. Strategic and future-focused, they engage a wide range of internal and external partners, including academia, philanthropy, government, and non-profit organizations.

Social Justice and Inclusion

A lifelong learner, they recognize that the field of conservation science has an increasing responsibility to build a new legacy of equity, inclusion, and belonging. They have the courage to look inward, reflect outward, and take conscious steps to establish a culture where diversity is visible, celebrated, and cherished. They bring demonstrated experience advancing diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives, both in the context of conservation and within their staff and teams.  A reflective listener and a perceptive leader, they bring the knowledge, skills, and the disposition necessary to develop an inclusive program environment and alumni network that enables equitable participation of all groups while seeking to address and acknowledge issues of oppression, privilege, and power in the conservation community.

Preferred Qualifications

  • A PhD is required unless a candidate has a compelling, equivalent work experience.
  • Experience mentoring and supporting individuals with high levels of research activity (particularly post-doctoral level) is preferred.
Compensation & Benefits

This is a remote position that offers both a flexible work schedule and the ability to retain other professional affiliations/appointments. Some travel is required (when safe to do so) for retreats, site visits, and other on-site Program activities.

The hiring range for this position is $125,000 – $150,000.  This position is an employee of SCB (the Fiscal Sponsor of the Smith Fellows Program) and includes a competitive benefits package including a flexible schedule, paid time off, retirement contributions, health insurance, and more.


Koya Partners, the executive search firm that specializes in mission-driven search, has been exclusively retained for this engagement. Malissa Brennan is leading this search. To express interest in this role please submit your materials here. All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.


The Smith Fellows Program and its administrative host, the Society for Conservation Biology, are committed to equity, inclusion and diversity and invite individuals who bring a diversity of culture, experience, and ideas to apply. We are an equal opportunity employer and strongly encourage applications from people of color, persons with disabilities, women, and LGBTQ+ applicants. As part of our initiative to build a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and just program, we highly encourage applicants from underrepresented groups in conservation to express interest in this opportunity.

About Koya Partners

Koya Partners, a part of Diversified Search Group, is a leading executive search and strategic advising firm dedicated to connecting exceptionally talented people with mission-driven clients. Our founding philosophy—The Right Person in the Right Place Can Change the World—guides our work as we partner with nonprofits & NGOs, institutions of higher education, responsible businesses, and social enterprises in local communities and around the world.

For more information about Koya Partners, visit

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