Steve Rhee adds 30 years of climate and community rights experience to Mongabay’s Board of Directors

In late 2021, Mongabay enthusiastically welcomed Steve Rhee to its Board of Directors.

“With his wealth of knowledge and experience on a range of issues in Indonesia and beyond, Steve Rhee is an incredible addition to Mongabay’s board,” said Rhett Butler, Mongabay CEO and Founder. “Steve will be extremely helpful as Mongabay expands into new geographies and scales up its reporting on issues at the intersection of human rights and the environment. I’m absolutely thrilled to have Steve on Mongabay’s board.”

For the past 30 years, Rhee has worked toward reducing climate change emissions as a researcher and practitioner of international sustainable natural resource management. Throughout his career, a top priority has been supporting marginalized communities to secure their natural resource and civil rights. Near the end of his 12-year tenure as a Senior Program Officer at the Ford Foundation and the Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA), Rhee witnessed the Dayak Iban village, Sungai Utik, secure its full civil and natural resource rights. This monumental step came after a 20-year struggle to protect their traditional lands from various plantation companies and the government.

“I was honored to be part of that effort in a small way,” Rhee said.

Rhee in Sungai Utik, a Dayak Iban village in Indonesian Borneo. Photo courtesy Kynan Tegar.

Rhee wasn’t always impassioned by nature. He immigrated to the United States from Korea at the age of 5. Growing up in suburban Atlanta, he didn’t feel like nature was a safe place for minorities. Instead, it was during his service in the Peace Corps in rural Nepal from 1992 to 1995 that was the turning point, he explained. His experience in Nepal sparked an interest in advancing social justice for the communities he served, and he quickly recognized the close tie between social justice and securing local communities’ rights to their natural resources.

“That has been and continues to be my North Star – environmental/climate justice.”

In following that North Star, Rhee has contributed to sustainable resource management and social justice via a diversity of roles from leading research projects around the world to teaching higher education. Rhee is now lending his expertise to help advance the work of organizations, which he sees as essential.

Recently joining Mongabay’s Board of Directors, Rhee aims to do just that: “Help advance the evolve Mongabay’s mission. Environmental journalism ceaselessly speaks truth to power, and in this polarized world full of dis/misinformation, original content environmental journalism is essential to speak truth to power.”

More about Rhee:

Rhee has lived and worked in the US and internationally and is fluent in Indonesian and conversant in Nepali. He has a range of professional experiences, from working in the U.S. State Department to living in villages in Indonesia and Nepal for years. He is skilled in forging connections with senior government officials, business leaders, and villagers equally with a deep sense of empathy.

In addition to Mongabay’s Board of Directors, Rhee sits on the boards of Health and Harmony and the Borneo Research Council. He’s also a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Water Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

Photos courtesy Kynan Tegar.