Abigail Abrash Walton, Ph.D., is a 2016 graduate of the PhD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University

Dr. Abigail Abrash Walton [center] with Dissertation Committee Chair, Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts [left], and Dissertation Committee Member, Dr. Carol Baron [right], at her Dissertation Defense, Santa Barbara, May 2016.

Dissertation Committee:

  • Laura Morgan Roberts, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Carol Baron, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Niki Harré, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • James O. Prochaska, Ph.D., External Reader


Alternative Energy, Behavioral Psychology, Behavioral Sciences, Climate Change, Environmental Studies, Ethics, Petroleum Production, Social Research, mission-aligned leadership, climate change, pro-environmental behavior, socially responsible investing, fossil fuel divestment, positive deviance, foundations, conservation psychology, positive organizational scholarship, thematic analysis

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Publication Date



Climate change is one of the most significant dynamics of our time.The predominant contributor to climate change is combustion of fossil fuels by humans.This study deepened understanding of organizational leaders’ role in enacting one approach to addressing climate change:institutional fossil fuel divestment.The study used a qualitative research design to explore U.S.-based foundation leaders’ readiness to pursue fossil fuel divestment by their institutions.The study examined leaders’ motivations and actions in pursuing divestment, while simultaneously exercising their fiduciary duty to steward institutional assets.Research questions focused on the divestment behavior change process and the outcomes of divestment on leaders and their organizations.Data collection and analysis were derived from two datasets:34 foundation divestment commitment statements and semi-structured interviews with 18 foundation leaders.The study highlighted leaders’ intentional actions, outside the norms of the philanthropic sector and corporate governance, to enact their values and beliefs through divestment, as a form of socially responsible investing.Leaders’ pursuit of divestment constituted mission-aligned positive deviance.Findings suggested that leaders of mission-driven institutions can benefit by taking more direct responsibility for institutional investing in ways that are consistent with institutional mission.Doing so, they may unleash new energy that enhances the well-being of the organization and its members and sparks innovation in the financial services sector.They may also experience higher levels of satisfaction, pride, happiness, and engagement with their organizational roles.This study extends scholarship on divestment, foundations as change agents, leadership and positive deviance, psychology of climate change, pro-environmental behavior (PEB), socially responsible investing, and the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (TTM).Implications for theory and practice:(a) develops models of mission-aligned investing and of mission-aligned leadership, (b) builds on Stern’s PEB typology to include investing; (c) extends the TTM to include a change leadership dimension; and (d) provides analysis that can inform practitioner-designed behavior change initiatives and that may inform and inspire other institutional leaders to address climate change through institutional fossil fuel divestment.This dissertation is available in open-access at OhioLink ETD Center, and AURA:Antioch University Repository and Archive,


Abigail Abrash Walton, Ph.D.

ORCID Scholar ID: 000-0003-2611-1465

Abigail is a seasoned mission-aligned change leader, with experience at multiple scales including organizational, municipal, state, federal, and international.

She currently serves as founding Director of Antioch University New England’s Center for Academic Innovation (CAI), co-director of Antioch’s Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience, and as faculty in the Department of Environmental Studies, where she directs the Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability master’s degree concentration. Under her leadership, AUNE has developed and advanced a range of sustainability and social justice initiatives, and innovation programming at Antioch that has yielded a 10-to-1 return on mission-driven investment through the CAI. Abigail is interested in the nexus of environmental, economic, and human rights issues and what conditions and aspects of leadership best support translating values into effective action. Her current research focuses on climate change leadership and pro-environmental behavior. She enjoys the spirit and practice of innovation and has played a central role in piloting AUNE’s Conservation Psychology Institute and Translating Research to Inform Policy workshops and in catalyzing a national-level working group to build the capacity of scientists and researchers to engage with the public policy process. Previously, she served as program director for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and New Hampshire Citizens Alliance, and as a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program.

Abigail has been a commentator for The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, “Democracy Now!” and "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer," among other media outlets. She holds a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University, a M.Sc. in Political Theory from the London School of Economics and Political Science, a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Permaculture Design Certificate from the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.

Selected Publications

Abrash Walton, A. (2010). Conservation through different lenses: Reflection, responsibility and the politics of participation in conservation advocacy. Environmental Management, 45(1), 19–25. doi:10.1007/s00267-008-9175-6

Abrash Walton, A. (2010). The sustainable learning community: One university’s journey to the future. The Northeastern Geographer, 2, 76.

Abrash Walton, A. (24 September, 2008). Lessons learned: Case study regarding the Amungme, Kamoro and Freeport. Hearing on Extracting Natural Resources: Corporate Responsibility and the Rule of Law, Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law of the Senate Judiciary Committee. United States Senate.

Abrash, A. (2007). The Amungme, Kamoro and Freeport: How indigenous Papuans have resisted the world's largest gold and copper mine. In F. J. Lechner & J. Boli (Eds.), The globalization reader (3rd ed.) (pp. 431–436). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Abrash Walton, A. (2004). Mining a sacred land. Human Rights Dialogue: Environmental Rights, Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, 2(11).

Abrash, A. (2003). Let freedom ring: Recharging and consolidating ‘inside the Beltway’ activism. In M.A. Tetreault & R. Teske (Eds.), Partial truths and the politics of community: Feminist approaches to social movements, community, and power (Vol. 2) (pp. 211–229). Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. (2002). Development aggression: Observations on human rights conditions in the PT Freeport Indonesia contract of work areas. Washington, DC: Abigail Abrash.

Abrash, A. (2001, March 6). The victims of Indonesia’s pursuit of progress. invited opinion piece, The New York Times. Retrieved from