Editors' Note: This event has been canceled, and organizers hope to reschedule for Fall 2020. 

Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, a fourth-generation beekeeper and founder and CEO of Bee Downtown, will visit Virginia Tech on March 20.

Bonner will give a 4 p.m. distinguished public lecture titled “Moments that Matter: Leadership Through the Eyes of a Beekeeper” at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Blacksburg. The lecture will be followed by a question and answer session.

Honeybees are one of nature’s most important workers, and they pollinate $15 billion worth of crops in the United States each year. However, honeybee populations — and the services they provide to ecosystems and society— are quickly declining.

To do her part in addressing this pressing global issue, Bonner founded Bee Downtown during her junior year of college. The company installs and maintains beehives on the roofs and campuses of corporations to rebuild honeybee populations in urban areas. Additionally, Bee Downtown offers educational programs, events, and leadership exercises to increase employee engagement in the workplace.

What began as a school project has grown to provide employee engagement and leadership development at more than 50 corporations like Delta, Chick-Fil-A, AT&T, and IBM. Bee Downtown now maintains more than 200 hives to house more than 12 million honeybees.

“Running a successful business is just like running a successful beehive,” Bonner said. “One honeybee makes a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her whole life. But together a hive can generate over a hundred pounds of honey in a matter of months. If we — as leaders, as a community — can work together, like a honeybee hive, we can collectively create a lasting change in the world that we are all proud to be a part of.”

By integrating sustainability with a corporate business model, Bonner engages employees in beekeeping while enabling them to “think outside the hive” on their leadership journey.

Bonner holds a beehive pallet, which is covered swarming with bees. She is wearing a grey tee-shirt with a bee on it, as she holds the pallet with her arms stretched far out. Courtesy: Bee Downtown.
Bonner with a beehive pallet. Courtesy: Bee Downtown.

Bonner is a storyteller, environmental steward, and empowering leader. She is a 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur, a 2018 Inc Magazine 30 Under 30 Rising Star, a Southern Living Southerner of the Year, and a TEDx speaker. Top media outlets, such as Forbes, BBC, Inc Magazine, and the New York Times, have featured Bonner’s work.

Bonner’s visit represents the seventh lecture in the public Distinguished Lecture Series sponsored by the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech. The lecture series brings some of the world’s leading scholars to the Blacksburg community to discuss critical environmental and societal issues in an open forum.

“The environmental problems we face today are so complex that it’s easy to become overwhelmed, leaving many to ponder how they can possibly make a positive difference. Leigh-Kathryn Bonner exemplifies the fact that every one of us can contribute toward solving the world’s most urgent challenges,” said William Hopkins, director of the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech and professor of fish and wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “She has taken her passion for protecting pollinators and turned this into a highly successful business model that teaches corporate leaders and their employees about sustainability and social responsibility. She is an inspirational example of how we can each contribute to a sustainable future.”

Coordinated by the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech, the event is free and open to the public, thanks to joint funding efforts from the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, College of Natural Resources and Environment, Apex Center for Entrepreneurs, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Virginia Tech Graduate School.

“There is a big focus on entrepreneurship in the technology sector right now and we think it’s really important for students to understand all of the different ways that they can be innovative and successful. The hands-on, community-based business model that Bee Downtown has launched in the corporate realm is an excellent example of this. We’re thrilled to support bringing these types of leaders to Virginia Tech and the Blacksburg community," said Sean Collins, director of the Apex Center for Entrepreneurs at Virginia Tech.

For more information about the event, please contact the Global Change Center at 540-231-5400 or visit its website.

The Lyric Theatre is located at 135 College Ave. in Blacksburg. Doors will open at 3 p.m. Metered parking is available on the street as well as in the Kent Square garage. Anyone parking on the Virginia Tech campus before 5 p.m. will need a permit.

- Written by Rasha Aridi

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