Mourning the Loss of RLI’s Dr. Seana Lowe Steffen

Seana's Celebration of Love and Life took place on Saturday, November 18, 2017 at The Barn, in Evergreen, Colorado.

Tuesday, September 19

Dearest RLI Family,

The world has lost one of its brightest lights. We are heartbroken to share news of the tragic death of our founder and “chief enthusiasm officer,” the radiant, deeply loving and passionate, Dr. Seana Lowe Steffen.

Seana was killed in a car accident near Longmont, Colorado on September 16, 2017. She left her body near Rabbit Mountain, one of her favorite places to be in reverence of our precious planet.

Our leader, teacher and friend, Seana celebrated her 50th year of life just a couple of weeks before her untimely passing. She spent the week of her birthday in the same way she lived her life every single day, expressing delight and profound gratitude. The last words of her birthday reflection convey the very essence of her being:

“Infinite blessings to name and celebrate ... I am so grateful for the gift of my life every moment of every day, and wish the deep contentment of a fulfilled heart to all. Onward.”

RLI has lost a true creative visionary and strategic genius, and the world has lost a tireless champion of humanity’s potential to thrive in balance with all life. 

Seana leaves behind a legacy that only she could have built, and her spirit will forever carry forth restorative leadership practices in the world. We will be reflecting on and working to ensure that Seana’s work continues through all of us, and invite you to do the same, remembering what Seana often said and so deeply believed: “the 21st Century is calling us to greatness, and nothing less will do."

Seana was on a mission to answer the guiding question, “how do we bring out the best of our diverse humanity to ensure a sustainable future?” We invite you to honor her work by reading, listening to and sharing her pursuit of the answers to this great question through her publication and podcast, On Leading.

There will be a joyous celebration of Seana’s life held on November 18, 2017 at The Barn at Evergreen Memorial Park in Evergreen, Colorado. All are invited to attend. Please find more information and RSVP here.

May Seana move “Onward” toward a new realm of service, and may we all continue to act for the highest benefit to all on her behalf.

With a deep bow of gratitude, and in honor of our beloved Seana,

Jamie Rezmovits (RLI Global Advisory Network Chair), Sierra Brashear, Mary Lehman Adams, Zoë Nelsen, Kanji Kanawabe, Nikki Barrier and the rest of the Restorative Leadership Institute team.

Seana Lowe Steffen Passing.jpg

Seana’s Eddies of Possibility

Seana’s work created countless “eddies of possibility,” impacting the lives of innumerable people and natural environments across the planet. It was Seana’s deep belief in the possibility of thriving balance for all life that was the inspiration behind her professional path in service to a just and sustainable world. Given the extraordinary leadership she so fully embodied, there is no doubt that her resonant influence will continue to multiply.

Seana believed that business is a critical force for charting a sustainable future, which is why as CEO of RLI, she chose to found the company as a certified B Corp. As a result, we are part of a professional community on the vanguard of using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems, and modeling and lobbying for business that values societal and environmental benefits as highly as financial gains.  The mission of RLI is to cultivate leadership and enterprise that fulfills humanity’s potential to thrive in balance with all life.

RLI was the vehicle supporting Seana’s recent research, which she both self-funded and crowd-funded. Seana discerned the guiding framework behind restorative leadership through a grounded theory process analyzing data from structured interviews, field observations, and primary and secondary source materials from over 45 individuals, organizations, and communities. Cases were chosen for the nature and degree of impact. Seana’s study drew from public, private, not-for-profit, and civil society, and included active participation from recognized leadership such as Her Excellency Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway who chaired the first World Commission on Environment and Development as well as a lead negotiator of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Seana’s study appears to be the most extensive comparative analysis of its kind to date, and as a result she has several forthcoming publications, including a book organized around the Sustainable Development Goals.

Additionally, Seana’s podcast, On Leading, has featured compelling voices like climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, and Green For All founder Van Jones, offering insights on the question most central to her research, “How do we bring out the best of our diverse humanity to ensure a sustainable future?”

In her work with RLI, Seana has been active in the sustainable business movement as a social entrepreneur and founder of a certified B(enefit) Corp which has received multiple “Best for the World” awards among all B Corps across 50 countries for community and overall impact. As a result of her work, Seana was invited to be a Skoll World Forum delegate in 2016 and 2017.

Seana designed and taught award-winning community-based curricula for positive social and environmental change, and served on-the-ground efforts around the world focused on non-formal education, women’s empowerment, and sustainable development and redevelopment.

In Senegal, Seana consulted and coached INGO Tostan’s executive and senior management team for many years, along with their international office staff, on their work across eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa for sustainable long-term impact. During that time, Seana facilitated a change process to co-evolve culture, structure, and systems, with outcomes such as strategic adoption of their global leadership role as a social enterprise, an evolved strategy to scale, and the re-launch of their training center. Through Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program, over 8,000 rural villages have advanced their visions of sustainable development by publicly abandoning female genital cutting.

In Detroit, Seana worked frequently with one of Michigan’s top “Green Leaders,” Guy Williams, and his environmental justice organization, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, to forward the shared vision of the city becoming a global model of a vibrant urban center through sustainable redevelopment.

Seana supported the early leadership team of The Sustainability Consortium, which was seed-funded by Walmart to bring all sectors together to create measurement systems about product sustainability in an effort to reach zero-waste and zero-emissions targets.

In the domain of human rights work, Seana was invited to facilitate the opening day for President Carter’s Human Rights Defenders Forum that brought religious leaders from around the world together to take coordinated action, out of which came President Carter’s book titled A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.

Seana also served as the Chair of the Global Advisory Network for WORLD PULSE.  There she used the RLI sustainable impact process to help evolve the business model and scale impact.  WORLD PULSE, a social enterprise that uses digital media to connect women worldwide and bring them a global voice in solving the world’s most pressing problems. Most recently, they have connected over 53,000 people from 190 countries who are impacting more than 3.1 million lives.

Seana believed that nothing is more important than an education that ignites people’s passion for learning, engages them in the extraordinary complexities and possibilities in our world, and activates them as critical thinkers and global citizens being and bringing their best selves to life.

Seana was a co-founder and instructional leader of Explore Elementary Expeditionary Learning School in Thornton, CO where she worked with her dear friend, Kevin King, the director of the school. She also worked closely with Expeditionary Learning's Cyndi Gueswel and Sharon Findley Newman, who together believed so deeply in the mission of Expeditionary Learning to create classrooms where teachers can fulfill their highest aspirations, and students achieve more than they think possible, becoming active contributors to building a better world. At Explore, Seana was charged with facilitating strategic planning, designing and delivering professional development, training and coaching teachers, establishing the foundations of organizational culture, and managing assessment and accountability metrics. By the end of the second year, the school had elevated 15 of 15 measures for second through sixth grades against national MAPS benchmarks; progressed 100% of B-level ELL students to the final stage of progress for English language proficiency; and received the highest possible rating from EL for our effectiveness at building a professional learning community and creating positive school culture. By the end of their third year, Explore staff had swept all district awards for excellence; 98% of our kindergartners ranked above the state benchmark for PALS; and CSAP aggregate proficiency data for third through sixth increased from 30% to 48% in reading, 16% to 34% in writing, and 23% to 41% in math since our inception. The school received Colorado’s first-ever Commissioner’s Choice Award for “Getting Results.

As the founding director of INVST Community Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Seana designed and delivered interdisciplinary programs to develop engaged citizens and leaders working for the benefit of humanity and the environment. She led her team in fulfilling our three-year strategic plan objectives for the newly formed INVST Community Studies in only two years, while simultaneously stretching grant dollars to fund four years. During that time, she established the INVST Community Leadership Program (CLP), Youth Council for Public Policy, and ten courses that were either cross- listed or fulfilled core curricular requirements across all colleges and schools consistent with Colorado Commission on Higher Education standards. One of the earliest Learn and Serve Higher Education programs funded by CNCS, the Community Leadership Program (CLP) was likened to a domestic Peace Corps: over two years, the CLP equipped students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences to co-creatively solve complex social and environmental problems as a lifetime commitment. Seana also worked to co-create a campus-wide “Certificate in the Study and Practice of Leadership,” establishing the program as one of four pathways and with that securing its future.

Prior to her time at the University of Colorado, Seana co-founded the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, which received White House Recognition for positive change in the Southwest and was the first rural regional youth corps in the United States.

Seana was as a certified UNITAR (United Nations Institute of Training and Research) climate change trainer and Climate Reality Leadership Corps member, and participated as a credentialed guest at the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit.

Each of us who has been touched by Seana’s wisdom and work has a special opportunity to be sure her commitment lives on. May we each leverage the interconnection to ensure the cascading benefit that Seana visioned with such emboldened passion.