Sara O’Brien named Executive Director, Bobby Cochran returning

Leadership Evolution: Sara O’Brien named Executive Director, Bobby Cochran returning in resilience-focused role

By Mike Jordan, Sara O’Brien, and Bobby Cochran


Today, we are pleased to announce that Sara O’Brien has been named Willamette Partnership’s Executive Director. Sara has more than a decade of conservation experience in the West and brings passion and skill toward building effective teams. This makes her an outstanding choice to lead this next phase of Willamette Partnership’s growth and she is thrilled to expand the Partnership’s impact, capacity, and reach.

“I’m really honored to take on this new role, and I want to thank Bobby, our board, our staff, and our partners for your trust and support. I am deeply, deeply proud of this organization – proud of who we were created to be, and proud of who we’ve become.” – Sara O’Brien

Bobby Cochran is excited to return to the Partnership on July 1, 2019, after a year-long stint at the National Policy Consensus Center exploring ways to support communities in changing systems to improve health, water, and other pillars of resilience. In his new role at the Partnership, Bobby will create and test new strategies to meet the challenges of community resilience, focused on building a role for the environment in community development and linking health to the outdoors.

Willamette Partnership was originally created as a model for collaborative leadership, tackling complex natural resource challenges. We believe this work is even more critical today than it was in 1996. Though some of the details have changed – today you’ll find us working on issues that reach far beyond water quality in the Willamette Basin – we still are a continuation of that initial concept. Our leadership sees the need to address our most pressing environmental challenges, together and not as individuals.

Sara O’Brien and Bobby Cochran announcing their new roles at the May 9th Honoring Our Roots Event / photo by Harmony Burright

“The Partnership team is a generator – infusing energy and powerful ideas into the work of our partners. And now, with Sara as our executive director, and an incredible team in place, the Partnership is poised to support communities in the West in wonderful new ways.” – Bobby Cochran

Collaborative leadership requires each of us to ground our work in our individual strengths, skills, and interests, continually asking what we can contribute to our mission and the broader community. At the Partnership, we define each of our roles and responsibilities based on these answers, rather than standardized job descriptions and organizational charts. We are continually refining and evolving our understanding of who each person is, how they are growing, and what they bring to the organization and its mission and vision.

We believe this moment in time is an important one for all of us, ripe with opportunities and challenges. At Willamette Partnership, we see more and more communities wrestling with exactly the kinds of complex natural resource issues we specialize in. We believe the Partnership’s vision of a future where nature helps make people’s lives better is increasingly relevant, and we’re eager to work together to help make that vision a reality.

In her role as Executive Director, Sara O'Brien, is Willamette Partnership’s chief strategist, lead conductor, and biggest fan. Under her leadership, Willamette Partnership is helping to build a future in which people build resilient ecosystems, healthy communities, and vibrant economies by investing in nature. Most recently, Sara was Willamette Partnership's Director of Strategy and Business, helping to refine its business strategy and identify opportunities for growth. She previously worked at Defenders of Wildlife, the University of Arizona's Institute of the Environment, and the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia. Sara holds a B.A. in anthropology and linguistics from Grinnell College and an M.S. in natural resource management from the University of Arizona. In her spare time, she enjoys relaxing with projects such as managing a farm, building a straw bale house, and raising children.


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