Trinity University Press

Jane Goodall- Don Buford


Don Buford

    We met for the first time in late 1993, in the restaurant of an elegant Washington, D.C., hotel. As I ate my hearty breakfast and she nibbled on a piece of fruit, Jane explained to me that the Jane Goodall Institute, then headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, was in disarray. In fact, JGI was in dire straits, had no money, and key employees at several of her projects in Africa had not been paid in months. Orphaned chimpanzees, being cared for in JGI sanctuaries in several African countries, were in danger of starvation. The wild chimpanzees at the famous Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, the subjects of the longest uninterrupted behavioral field study in the world, might have to be abandoned.

    My background was fundraising, and I had gone to the meeting thinking I might be retained by JGI on a short-term fundraising project. By the time breakfast was over, nearly 2 hours later, I had agreed to become the full-time director of the Jane Goodall Institute . . . with no guarantee that I would be paid. And I was excited!

    Thus began four of some of the most interesting and adventurous years of my life. It was an experience that affected me profoundly. After relocating the JGI offices to Ridgefield, Connecticut (my home at the time), the first order of business was to go to Africa. Jane took me on a whirlwind trip, first to Gombe where she granted my wish that she show me The Peak, the solitary and awe-inspiring perch upon which she first sat in the early 1960s, searching for the wild chimpanzees. From Gombe, we traveled 18 miles north in a small boat to Burundi, where 20 orphaned chimps were being cared for in makeshift cages in someone’s backyard garden. Finally, we traveled west across Africa to Tchimpounga, the JGI-operated sanctuary for orphaned chimps near Pointe-Noire, Congo.

    Over the next four years I visited Africa four more times, and I traveled with Jane across the United States where her lectures drew packed houses. Through it all, Jane spoke with a tough-minded softness about the unique similarities humans share with chimps. About how--as creatures with unique talents--we were nonetheless part of something far larger and more profound than our own immediate lives. At one of these lectures, she said something that has stuck with me. She quoted the King James version of the Book of Genesis, in which Man is commanded to exercise “dominion” over the plants and animals. Then she paused. There are many biblical scholars, she said, who believe that the ancient word that had been expressed as “dominion” would be more accurately translated as “stewardship.” She went on to say: “’Dominion’ grants power that can be abused; ‘stewardship’ imposes the responsibility to behave as good custodians.” I am forever grateful to Jane for articulating this idea so memorably.

    A call for altruism is not at the core of Jane’s message, it seems to me. No, I think her message is about the empowering importance of humility. To feel responsible for something far larger than ourselves, it is necessary to adopt a posture of humility. Only then do we have the power to change ourselves and the world for the better, to allow our better angels to emerge, and, in an ironically selfish way, to live richer and more rewarding lives.

    I consider myself honored to count Jane Goodall as my friend. It is a greater honor by far to think that she might consider me hers.

    Don Buford founded the International Institute for Business Information and Growth in 2006 and serves as the CEO. He was CEO of the Jane Goodall Institute-US.