Shine Board Member Profile: Don Melnick


As part of an ongoing series, we want to introduce you to the Shine Global family and especially our outstanding and hard working board members who help move Shine forward.

Don MelnickName: Don Melnick
Joined Shine Board of Directors: 2005
Title: Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Conservation Biology and Director of the Center for Environment, Economy, and Society, Columbia University
Current Role at Shine: Chair of the Board of Directors, Member of the Governance and Nominations Committee

Currently, I am the Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Conservation Biology at Columbia University.  While I live only three blocks away from where I was born, I have spent most of my adult life traveling, working and living around the world. For the past 40 years, I’ve used molecular genetics to explain aspects of the ecology, behavior, evolution and conservation of animals. This research has spanned organisms from frogs to elephants, and continents from Central and South America to Asia and Africa. For the past 15 years, I have also been involved in environmental policy, co-chairing the UN Millennium Task Force on Environmental Sustainability, and providing strategic advice to many countries on environmental issues.  But perhaps most rewarding has been my work in education from developing an integrated ecology curriculum for middle schools in Brooklyn, to a STEM high school program in Indonesia, to new BA, MA, and PhD programs at Columbia in ecology, evolution and environmental biology – eventually leading to the first new department in the Arts and Sciences since WWII.

Why did you join Shine’s board and why have you stayed on for several years?
Whether in a megacity or a rural village, a highly industrialized nation or a developing country, a university or a primary school, throughout my travels and work, it has become clear that children form the foundation of every society.  I joined Shine for three critical reasons, the importance of children and the challenges they face, the value of bringing those to light through the use of documentary filmmaking, and an abiding faith that the founders of Shine, Susan MacLaury and Albie Hecht, will do everything in their power to bring the challenges and triumphs of children to a worldwide audience.  I have been with Shine from its beginning and the commitment to the Board that I have made, including being its Chair, reflects the importance I attach to its mission.

What’s a favorite Shine moment for you?
My favorite Shine moment came very early on in the organization’s history.  We were previewing War Dance at MOMA.  I was concerned that the audience would be too jaded to truly appreciate the film’s message, and too self-conscious to react in an emotional way to its uplifting ending.  I was wrong. The audience was on its feet for the last five minutes of the movie, cheering, crying, and hugging.  It was a very moving moment, one I will never forget.

How do you use your specific skill set in your work as a Shine board member?
I have led many large scale, complex projects in many countries.  I have also been a member of a number of boards of non-profit organizations.  I try to bring the skills I have gained in both of these capacities to the issues we face in Shine as we grow and work hard to stay true to our mission.

What is a Shine challenge that you feel supporters should know about?
Shine faces multiple challenges, as do all organizations of its type.  Foremost among these is raising the funds necessary to finance its growing number of projects.  But beyond the finances, Shine must adapt its work to the rapidly changing platforms of communication. This is not trivial.  Similarly, Shine must highlight the new challenges children face in a fast changing world.  Issues that most of us never dreamed we would confront as children.  In all three of these areas, Shine is poised to excel, which is why Shine is such an exciting organization.

See the full list of Shine’s Board of Directors Members and Board of Governors Members here and read the first fiveprofiles of board members Dario Spina here, Keith Brown here, Kay Sarlin Wright here, Marilyn DeLuca here, Al Cattabiani here, and Bill MacArthur here.