In June, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced Monica P. Medina as its new President and CEO.
Medina is the first woman to take the helm at WCS and brings with her a wealth of experience from numerous esteemed roles across a variety of institutions, including key leadership positions in three presidential administrations.
It’s easy to get lost in the breadth and depth of Medina’s accomplishments. However, outlining her credentials sheds light on why WCS — a conservation organization known for its diverse operations that span place-based projects worldwide and a network of zoos and an aquarium in New York City — chose her as their leader.
Medina began her illustrious career as an active-duty officer in the Army and then served as senior counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. She later joined the Clinton administration, where she held positions as the deputy associate attorney general at the Department of Justice, overseeing the Environment Division, and as the general counsel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
After her tenure in government, Medina ventured into marine law and policy with the Pew Environment Group and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). She also practiced law at Heller Ehrman.
Subsequently, in the Obama administration, Medina took on roles as the principal deputy undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere at NOAA and the U.S. Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission. In these capacities, she tackled issues such as Arctic conservation, restoration efforts after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, fisheries management, and various species conservation initiatives.
After the Obama era, Medina transitioned to work alongside the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, focusing on combating discrimination against women in the military and addressing sexual assault.
Her journey then led her to the National Geographic Society as the senior director of ocean policy, and later to the Walton Family Foundation as the deputy director of the environment program. Medina showcased her versatility by diving into media; she managed Our Daily Planet, an environmental newsletter, and frequently contributed opinion pieces to high-profile publications such as The New York Times, HuffPost, The Hill, and USA Today, ardently voicing her support for environmental policies like the Green New Deal.
In 2021, Medina’s efforts in the Biden Administration saw her serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Notably, she spearheaded the push to conserve 30 percent of global lands and seas, a goal later adopted in the 2022 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. Moreover, she was instrumental in advancing policies to curb plastic pollution and driving negotiations on the U.N. agreement to protect marine biodiversity in international waters.
Medina’s diverse experience spanning government, media, philanthropy, civil society, academia, private legal practice, and the military, has positioned her well to lead WCS, with its multifaceted conservation objectives.
Medina recently spoke with me about her career journey and her aspirations for WCS.