Program Officer, Oceans

Program Officer, Oceans

The Builders Initiative

Location Flexible. Chicago, IL, San Francisco, CA or San Diego, CA preferred   |   August 28, 2020

About The Builders Initiative

The Builders Initiative (TBI) is a private foundation established by a member of the Walton Family and his wife (the “Principals”). TBI is the philanthropic arm of the Principals’ broader family office, which also includes a direct investing team; a portfolio management team; and an operations team: all committed to the goal of a more humane and healthy planet.  Collectively we are focused on four core issue areas:

  • A more humane and healthy food system, with a focus on sustainable agriculture and food production, the welfare of farmed animals, and equitable access to healthy food in Chicago.
  • Sustainably managed and healthy ocean ecosystems, with a focus on scalable innovations in fisheries management, restorative aquaculture to provide ecosystem benefits and healthy seafood, and resilience strategies to protect ocean habitats against climate change.
  • Renewable energy for all, with a focus on accelerating the pace to 80% renewable penetration and planting seeds for the remaining 20%.
  • A flourishing, democratized arts sector, with a focus on enabling artists to enhance communities through visual arts and storytelling and to lead communities to connect in Chicago and the Rural Midwest.

The TBI mission is to shift markets and minds for good. TBI does this by applying a range of tools including grant-making, policy advocacy, strategic communications, impact investing, and direct investing to play three key roles:

  1. Demonstrating economic viability: Showing that sustainable goods and services can be profitable for producers and accessible for consumers;
  2. Building systems: – investing in the “missing pieces” for market development; and
  3. Challenging mental models: Engaging in targeted activities that create new knowledge, change cultural norms, and make the case for change.

Given this variety of tools and roles, TBI’s partners include non-profits, researchers, alliances, governments, peer investors and donors, companies, makers, and entrepreneurs committed to a better future. TBI currently grants about $30-$50 million annually and will scale significantly over the next few years. In addition, it expects to deploy substantially more resources to mission-related investments over the coming years. 

About TBI’s Oceans Ecosystem Initiative

The Oceans Initiative at TBI is focused on developing sustainably managed and resilient ocean and coastal ecosystems. Its geographic emphasis is on North America, including the United States, Canada, Mexico and the wider Caribbean.

The program has three core thematic strategies that focus its work:

  • Scaling innovations in fisheries management;
  • Restorative aquaculture to provide both a sustainable food source and ecosystem service benefits; and
  • Climate resilience for ocean and coastal habitats and ecosystems.

Core components of the work on oceans include policy initiatives, research and science, and demonstration projects, as well as core strategies to shift minds and markets for good.  This includes efforts to catalyze markets for oceans solutions in climate, seafood, technology innovation, and ecosystem services on the markets side.  On the shifting minds side of the Foundation’s work, this will include behavior change work, workforce and talent development, and academic and public-facing partnerships.

An overarching model for TBI’s work in Oceans is to stack or cluster interventions in key regions to promote deep, systemic change at scale that will be durable over time.

The Opportunity

Reporting to the Senior Program Officer, Oceans, the Program Officer will drive the continued development and implementation of TBI’s Oceans strategy during an exciting growth period for the program and the foundation.

This is an opportunity to work at an early-stage private foundation with a deep commitment to oceans and sustainable seafood and significant resources. The Program Officer will have the autonomy to lead strategy areas and grantmaking within a lean team spearheading impact investing work in the Oceans space.

Key Responsibilities for the Program Officer, Oceans include:

  • Oversee grant-making across core strategy areas (fisheries, aquaculture, climate resilience) including soliciting grant proposals, reviewing programs, developing internal grant documents and monitoring progress of grants.
  • Developing and supporting regional ocean clusters grant-making programs in 2-4 core geographies for the foundation that will be developed over the coming months and years.
  • Engage with academics, NGOs, and industry partners at a regional and national level to hone strategy and solicit grant proposals.
  • Conduct site visits to ongoing or potential project sites, attend public meetings, and represent the foundation at conferences and other events.  The Program Officer will be asked to travel frequently as needed.
  • Identify potential new partnerships and opportunities, including identifying other funding partners to engage each geographic focus.
  • Provide information and assistance as needed to Foundation board members.
  • Work with program staff across the office to implement and refine TBI’s learning and evaluation program for Oceans.
  • Support internal and external communications efforts in the office to build awareness for our programs and partners.
Candidate Profile

TBI has a strong commitment to racial equity and inclusion and is seeking diverse leaders to consider for this role. The most competitive candidates will have the following professional and personal qualities, skills and characteristics:

Experience in, and Passion for, Conservation

This position calls for an understanding of issues related to ocean conservation, fisheries management and policy, marine/climate issues and aquaculture. The Program Officer should bring demonstrated experience in building and sustaining relationships with diverse stakeholders in the environmental sector and ideally, a deep knowledge of key issues in ocean conservation.

Grantmaking and Foundation Expertise

The ideal leader will have conservation experience grounded in grantmaking or grant proposal development. It will be important for this Program Officer to have the ability to analyze, think critically, and understand emerging issues that are directly relevant to programmatic funding areas. They should bring strong research, analytic and problem-solving skills and will seek to implement creative and strategic grantmaking to enhance the impact of TBI’s tools.

A Detail-Oriented Collaborator

This role requires self-direction and decisiveness combined with flexibility, humble leadership, and a capacity to give and receive feedback graciously. The Program Officer will be an individual with superior interpersonal skills, a respectful attitude for the work of grantees, and a demonstrated ability to work effectively as part of a team. A strong asset for this role will be the ability to be extremely organized, detail-focused and to bring proven skills in time management, written communication skills, and intellectual agility.

At The Builders Initiative, diversity, equity, and inclusion are directly aligned with TBI’s vision of a healthy and humane planet. TBI knows that a diverse workforce allows everyone to see problems in more nuanced ways, creating the thought leadership needed to achieve the organization’s mission. TBI actively seeks to recruit, develop, and retain the most talented people from a diverse candidate pool. The Builders Initiative is an equal opportunity employer and welcomes people from all experiences, abilities, and perspectives to apply.


Koya Leadership Partners, a member of the 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.

Kara Teising, Alison Ranney and Libby Cornelssen are leading this search. To make recommendations or to express interest in this role please visit this link or email [email protected]. All nominations, inquiries, and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.