More Than Monkey Business
As an undergraduate intern at National Geographic, John Trybus, BA '08, had the opportunity to hear a speech by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall. Her passion and intensity had a profound effect on him, but he had no idea then where it would end up leading him.
After attending GW, Mr. Trybus moved to Chicago in expectation of beginning his post-graduate life there but didn't get the job he'd expected. At loose ends, he took a two-month trip to Asia on his own—a vacation he calls "the trip of a lifetime."
While in Indonesia, Mr. Trybus went orangutan trekking with one of the world's foremost authorities on orangutans, Dr. Birute Galdikas. Recalling the power of Dr. Goodall's presentation, he applied for a job opening he saw at the Jane Goodall Institute.
The institute, which Dr. Goodall established in 1977, uses research, education, and advocacy to help the public understand and preserve great apes and their habitats. According to its website, it aims to create "a worldwide network of young people" taking responsible action "to care for their human community, for all animals, and for the environment."
For Mr. Trybus, it sounded like an ideal fit. "But it was a horrible job description," he says now, laughing. "It did not tell me what I was getting myself into."
The journey across Asia continued—he interviewed for the post at JGI on the phone from Singapore—but what Mr. Trybus could not have anticipated was that the "trip of a lifetime" would become his full-time job.
Now, as manager of outreach and public relations in the global office of the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, Mr. Trybus plans and manages an international speaking tour that occupies more than 300 days a year, with nearly 35,000 people attending in the United States alone.
The interactive nature of Dr. Goodall's style, Mr. Trybus says, is a key part of her effectiveness as an ambassador of sustainability and community service.
"She could be sitting at home, just doing media interviews, but the power of what she does is to raise awareness on an individual level," Mr. Trybus says. "We don't just give a speech and then leave; we try to build a relationship. [Dr. Goodall] looks people in the eye and gets them interested in what we're doing."
Sometimes that interest takes unusual forms. Mr. Trybus remembers when, at the end of a "a particularly long book-signing at the Memphis zoo," a man lifted up his shirt and said, "Dr. Goodall, will you place your signature here?" After she signed in big letters, the man informed them that he intended to get a tattoo. Mr. Trybus handed him a business card and told him to send a picture if he followed through. "The next morning we had a photo," he remembers.
At GW, Mr. Trybus says, he was already preparing for the far-flung, fast-paced lifestyle he now lives. "It wasn't uncommon for students and faculty [at GW] to be not just thinking about, but actually doing, things around the world. To dream big was not out of the ordinary—it was almost expected."
He has also seen, in a concrete way, that big dreams can bear fruit. "I've gone to a lot of cities with Dr. Goodall more than once, and we see a lot of the same people come back and tell us what they've accomplished since our last visit.
"It's hard work," Mr. Trybus continues. "But we have fun, too, and it's [because of] these incredible people. When we bring Dr. Goodall to these places, we connect likeminded people. Then they go out in their communities and make a difference."
Mr. Trybus doesn't let the demands of his job slow him down. While working full time, he is also finishing his master's degree in public relations and corporate communications at Georgetown University, focusing on communications for social impact.
"I don't communicate about products, as some other public relations professionals do, but I consider myself a salesman of ideas," Mr. Trybus says. "Dr. Goodall has an amazing message. I'm proud to help get it out."