General | Our Community - Reflections on Adventure | Our Impact

New Direction for The Cairn Project 2024

A letter from co-founder Alison Wright on big changes for The Cairn Project in 2024

When my co-founder Sarah and I started The Cairn Project, we didn’t have a clear vision of where this organization was headed. Instead, we had a near-term goal of raising money in conjunction with a long backpacking trip – and a commitment to giving that money away to organizations offering young women transformative learning opportunities outside. We had an inkling that this wouldn’t be a one-time thing, so we took the step of forming a branded organization with a fiscal sponsor, a website, and a lot of forward-looking language. 

Like all great backcountry expeditions, the journey The Cairn Project has gone on since that initial thru-hike of the John Muir Trail is a winding one, with bumps in the roads and unexpected redirects. 

The most gratifying of these “what’s over the next ridge” developments has been our Ambassador program, which has become the core of our organization – the program is what distinguishes us, and what keeps us going. We’ve had more than 50 women join our project to “Get Out, Give Back” and each of them has personally put in the work to turn adventure into a force for good. 

We’ve also worked to meet our organizational aspirations through change and transition, including incrementally shifting from all volunteer staffing to varied constellations of part-time paid support. Taking this step to invest in internal capacity has been necessary, invigorating, and has brought forth new puzzles to solve.

As we learn into our seventh year as an organization, I’m proud to reflect on some of our core accomplishments and share some new directions we will be taking in 2024. 

Our Impact Over the Years

We start this year having channeled $300K into programs around the country that offer young women the chance to learn and lead outside. We couldn’t have reached this milestone without the hard work and commitment of each of our Ambassadors over the last 5 years, the donors who have helped to sustain our work since the beginning, and our ever-growing community of allies. We’ve convened two backcountry peer learning exchanges that offer outdoor leaders the chance to connect and learn together. And we’ve dabbled in a lot of fun things, partnering with groups like No Man’s Land Film Festival and She Explores (we still miss you!)

Looking Forward

To continue our impact, we now have to streamline and right-size our work – we have to make tough choices about where to invest our efforts and how to best direct the resources we raise toward meaningful change. In 2024, that means two big shifts for us: we will focus on funding scholarships that would not exist without our support, and we will shift our Ambassador program to a rolling basis format. 

2024 Specifics

Our first funding impact this year is an all-scholarship youth mountaineering expedition on Mt. Baker, funded in collaboration with the Summit Scholarship Foundation. This is a first for the Summit Scholarship Foundation, and we share their enthusiasm about the response to this opportunity – selecting these winners was tough! For these young women, this expedition promises to be a life-defining opportunity. We can’t wait to follow along from our virtual “basecamp” and to hear all about their experience once they return from the mountain. We’ll be sharing additional scholarship investments as we finalize them over the course of the year. 

Shifting away from an application cycle for Ambassadors will, we hope, lead to an even more participatory and dynamic program. It also opens the door for us to dive into new partnership opportunities with WHOA Travel and AWExpeditions, with whom we will partner to transform adventure travel into even more of a force for good. We couldn’t be more excited to grow our Ambassadors community through these new pathways. 

More Girls Outside

Each of our Ambassadors puts in the work to advance our vision of “More Girls Outside.” And each of the recipients of scholarships we fund is a young woman who feels the pull of outdoor learning and leadership. This is a community that is united by its passion for outdoor adventure and all the learning and gifts it promises. We can’t wait to share the story of this new chapter with you as it unfolds. 

Aw Cf Sup
Alison Wright
Founder - The Cairn Project

A San Francisco native, Alison grew up in a family that enjoyed the privilege of outdoor access – many memories were made in California’s iconic mountain and coastal landscapes. Alison has spent her career in the philanthropic sector, advancing initiatives for justice and empowerment internationally and closer to home. In addition to her leadership at The Cairn Project, she directs the Environmental Defenders Collaborative at Global Greengrants Fund, channeling support to frontline environmental activists around the world.