The Most Important Thing is Kindness: Martijn Wilder’s Story

“The best piece of advice I ever got was from my father: You should always be kind, always be respectful, and you should always stand up for what you believe in. I think people often forget to be kind these days, and being kind is really important.”

Alumnus Martijn Wilder AM (1990–1992) has spent his career personifying this advice from his father. Martijn is the CEO of Pollination, which is a climate change and investment firm, as well as the chair of WWF Australia. Prior to that, he was a partner for the law firm Baker & McKenzie, where he was the Head of Global Climate Change Law for 20 years. He has also just finished chairing the Victorian Government’s Independent Panel on its 2035 Climate Target and was on the boards of the Climate Council and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, as well as Chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and a Visiting Professor at the ANU College of Law.

Decades before any of this, Martijn arrived at Sydney University with dreams of becoming a vet. However, despite his love for animals, he soon discovered that he didn’t have quite the same amount of passion for physics and chemistry. Instead, his love for the natural world took a new form when he began volunteering for TRAFFIC Oceania and WWF during his degree.

“Towards the end of university, I focused on environmental economics,” Martijn says. “I then went to the ANU to study law. My Honours thesis was on Antarctic legal issues, and I got quite interested in international law and, more specifically, international environmental law.”

Martijn’s interest in climate change started early on, well before it was part of the national discourse. “A lot of people in Australia didn't believe in it in the late 90s,” he explains. “In early 2000, people started to believe, but then we had successive governments that wouldn’t acknowledge it. So, it was pretty hard going.”

However, Martijn persisted and worked tirelessly to address climate change. Increasingly, this is also extending into nature and biodiversity. Right now, his work as Chair of WWF includes a big focus on avoiding koala extinction and stopping the deforestation of Australia. He is also passionate about working towards a net zero future, which is at the heart of his start-up, Pollination.

“We work to design legal frameworks for governments to implement the Paris agreement and help companies move towards net zero,” he explains. “At the same time, we are also advising on and developing nature solutions. We are partners in the world’s largest mangrove restoration project in Pakistan. It’s all very challenging, but it's all critically important.”

Martijn shares that it was equal parts exhilarating, stressful, challenging and rewarding to go from a structured environment in a large corporate firm to a start-up that, when it began three and half years ago, didn’t even have an office. Now, however, Pollination is a global firm with offices in the US, the UK and Singapore, as well as Australia.

“A lot of people who have joined the business have left big organisations where that ability to be really nimble and pivot and do interesting things was limited,” he says. “We don't want people to become cogs in the machine, we want people to really be a part of something special and to have real lasting impact.”

Community and connection have always been important to Martijn, especially after his experience at Burgmann. Though his Bachelor of Laws at ANU was his second degree, it was his first time living out of home.

“It’s the experience of being a part of a community and of being independent,” he shares. “I had so much fun and made really good friends, some of whom I’m still in touch with today.”

Martijn spent a lot of his time at Burgmann not only studying law but also playing College sport. Another activity he confessed to enjoying was getting out on the Homer window ledges and crawling along to other people’s rooms. “That story horrified [Principal] Sally,” he laughs.

Martijn was also the founder of the inaugural Wandering Albatross* literary magazine at Burgmann, which spent a few years in publication in the early 1990s. “It was a lot of work,” Martijn explains. “It was pre-email, so everything was on floppy disk.”

While Martijn says that his time at Burgmann was an incredibly enjoyable, easy experience, he is quick to acknowledge that it is also an experience that not everyone has access to. “Living at a college, if you’re able to do that, is a great privilege,” he says. “But I think it’s important to note that not everyone has that opportunity. It’s good that the College also has the means to support people [through its Bursary Program].”

Even all these years later, Martijn’s love for sport and the outdoors is still going strong. “I probably do about an hour and a half of exercise each day,” he shares.

“I think it’s really important for your mental health to just really enjoy nature and the great outdoors. Connection with other people and with nature is absolutely fundamental. It doesn’t need to be intense. So always challenge yourself. If it’s a cold day, just go out for a really nice walk with someone. It’s still a great thing to do.”

“When I was young,” he continues, “Mental health was never discussed. It’s pretty open now and we’re able to talk about it. Looking after yourself, and one another, is so important.”

For current residents, Martijn has some simple advice. “Enjoy the experience,” he says. “University is a great time in your life, so make the most of it. Because it won’t last forever. So, get involved in College life, make good friendships, and just really cherish the experience that you have.”

*Note: Unfortunately, the College does not have any copies of the original Wandering Albatross magazines. They are such an important part of Burgmann’s history, so if you have any copies we’d love to hear from you!

Martijn Wilder AM holding the original Wandering Albatross illustration
The wandering albatross3
The original Wandering Albatross illustration
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