Bainbridge Graduate Institute’s ‘Fireside Chat’ focuses on vision

Left to right, Bainbridge Graduate Institute co-founder Gifford Pinchot, Bryan Welch and David Johnson will participate in a sustainability Fireside Chat at IslandWood Thursday.  - Courtesy photos
Left to right, Bainbridge Graduate Institute co-founder Gifford Pinchot, Bryan Welch and David Johnson will participate in a sustainability Fireside Chat at IslandWood Thursday.
— image credit: Courtesy photos

Committed to integrating sustainability and business, Bainbridge Graduate Institute co-founder Gifford Pinchot believes in maximizing resources.

As part of the innovative business school’s curriculum, students participate in a week-long intensive at IslandWood, which culminates in a “Fireside Chat” with pioneers of sustainable business.

“We’ve brought fantastic people to Bainbridge Island,” Pinchot said Tuesday. Some of these “change agents” are lesser known entrepreneurs and others are executives from companies you may have heard of: Birkenstock, Cliff Bar, Toyota.

Rather than let the extra seats at these informal panel discussions go to waste, Pinchot routinely invites the Bainbridge community to partake as well.

“It’s an asset,” he said. “They’re already being flown in.”

This month the Fireside Chat will feature Bryan Welch, founder of Ogden Publications, which publishes Mother Earth News, Natural Home and Garden and Utne Reader, among others, and David Johnson, CEO of Navos Mental Health Solutions and Chair of the Washington Community Mental Health Council.

Pinchot likes to expose BGI students to innovative thinkers such as these in a variety of fields, and to that end hosts Change Agents in Residence, or CAIRS, on a regular basis.

The CAIRS then assemble at IslandWood for the informal chat facilitated by Pinchot. To make the most of the opportunity, he talks with the CAIRS privately for an hour, sometimes even two before the event, to get a feel for the person, particularly how willing they are to be vulnerable with the students.

“It lets me know what risks I can take, where they will rise to the occasion,” he said. “In many cases what motivates them is very personal and I ask them, ‘Are you willing to talk about that?’”

For instance, Welch nearly lost his life in 2007 in a motorcycle accident. Though traumatic, the experience provided a powerful metaphor that expanded into a book “Beautiful and Abundant: Building the World We Want.”

Coming from someone else, the message might seem almost airy fairy – have a positive vision – but Welch has the practical track record to back it up.

“Bryan is an extraordinary man,” Pinchot said. “He’s a profound, deep person. I like the way he thinks, his commitment. He’s deeply spiritual and he’s a great commercial success.”

That combination, of doing good and making money doing it, is the cornerstone of BGI’s mission and Pinchot thinks it helps students hear about the struggles and setbacks that others have overcome.

“Nobody’s perfect,” Pinchot said. “Sometimes people didn’t know what they were doing. To hear these stories, to hear it from people we admire, gives people courage.”

And courage is one thing Pinchot sees as critical to success.

“The single most important quality (to success) is persistence, a kind of flexible persistence,” he said. “Of facing reality, but holding to purpose. To change the how, but not the purpose.”

For Johnson, “changing the how but not the purpose” sums up his work in reframing the approach to working with persons with mental illness. He is CEO of Navos, a consortium of mental health and social service providers that supports clients in mapping out goals for wellness in seven areas, with the ultimate aim of living a life bigger than their disease.

He is a frequent speaker on topics that address the intersect of transformational aspirations with pragmatic interventions.

Pinchot invited the two innovators to help BGI students imagine themselves in that type of role.

“It’s important for them to see that there’s no one right way to be,” he said. “You can be introverted, extroverted, tall, short, man, woman, gay, straight and it’s possible to succeed.”

BGI graduates are taking such lessons out into the world. Manure entrepreneur Kevin Maas and his brother Daryl are founders of Farm Power, a for-profit business that converts manure into electricity, fertilizer and bacteria-free animal bedding. The methane kept out of the atmosphere equals the annual greenhouse-gas emissions of 3,000 cars. With both persistence and vision, Farm Power is now expanding to Tillamook, Ore., farms.


Fireside chat

Bainbridge Graduate Institute hosts a sustainability panel “Fireside Chat” from 8-9:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8 at IslandWood, featuring Gifford Pinchot, Bryan Welch and David M. Johnson.

Seating is limited and reservations are necessary.

To learn more or to reserve seats, visit



Staff Writer

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