Mongabay Features

Interview with Dax Dasilva

In 2021, Canadian technology entrepreneur and activist Dax Dasilva launched “Age of Union” with a $40 million donation to support high impact conservation projects. Operating on the conviction that conservation has the potential to make major contributions toward addressing both climate change and the extinction crisis during this critical decade, Dasilva quickly committed all the funds to ten organizations. He also set to work on a communications strategy that seeks to catalyze broader support for conservation by demonstrating that wins are indeed possible when it comes to protecting the planet.

Dax Dasilva. Photo credit: Monique Weston
Dax Dasilva. Photo credit: Monique Weston

Dasilva’s capacity to undertake environmental philanthropy emerged from his success with Lightspeed, the e-commerce software company he started as a technology consulting business in the 2000s which today is listed on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges. But the seeds for Dasilva’s work with “Age of Union” were planted early in life on family camping trips in the wilds of the forests of British Columbia. That interest would evolve into activism during the Clayoquot Sound protests against old-growth logging in the 1990s.

“When I was a teenager, I started hearing about the logging of the old growth forest and the war in the woods that was happening around Clayoquot Sound. The news affected me deeply because I cared so much about nature in B.C., and it was horrific to see 1000-year-old trees being logged,” Dasilva told Mongabay during a recent conversation. 

“It was the drive to Clayoquot Sound that changed my perspective forever on our potential impact on the environment. We drove through hours and hours of clear-cut moonscape to get to the island, and I saw the destructive capacity of humans and what a lack of care for nature can result in. I swore that one day, when I had the resources and the right experience, I would come back.”

Come back, he did. After 17 years as CEO of Lightspeed, Dasilva transitioned to Executive Chairman of the company and transformed his book, “Age of Union” into “a full-time conservation alliance.”

Sea Shepherd's Age of Union vessel. Photo credit: Age of Union
Sea Shepherd’s Age of Union vessel. Photo credit: Age of Union

Dasilva’s approach is to bring “startup DNA” to conservation to achieve action on environmental issues faster with a focus on supporting grassroots, locally-led, and Indigenous-led projects. He looks for entrepreneurial changemakers with approaches and ideas that can drive impact at scale in some of Earth’s most endangered ecosystems.

Beyond financial support, Age of Union offers lessons and resources from the business world to its conservation partners, including mentoring on how to scale impact, guidance on management approaches, and practical HR support. Age of Union also has a strong emphasis on storytelling. 

“One of the main things we want to do is to show people that things can be done,” said Dasilva. “The worst outcome would be for people to stop believing that we’re out of time and that there’s nothing left to do.”

“We need to demonstrate that action is possible, and that we can have wins on the environment. It’s not time to give up on the environment; the time is now to make this a decade of change that we can build upon. That’s the main goal of the storytelling we want to do.”

To that end, Age of Union has been supporting short documentaries and social media-oriented videos on its partners and conservation issues.

“I’m excited about the potential to reach bigger audiences and bring them into the conservation effort through these really powerful mediums,” said Dasilva. “The proliferation of streaming and the actual love that people have for nature content have become a real tool in the toolkit for conservationists that maybe wasn’t as powerful or didn’t exist before. It’s a real way to get people to care enough about these topics to engage and act.”

Dasilva spoke about his passions, his philosophy on conservation, and more during a March 2023 conversation.


By Rhett Ayers Butler

Rhett Ayers Butler is the Founder and CEO of Mongabay, a non-profit conservation and environmental science news platform. He started Mongabay in 1999 with the mission of raising interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife.