Innovative minds

Freeland Foundation founder Steve Galster, left and IBM Corporate Initiatives Analyst Chris Brown take a quick break May 27 at a Freeland fund-raiser in Chicago. submitted photo

by Joe Schulz

Green Lake native and Freeland Foundation founder Steven Galster is an environmental and human rights investigator, as well as globetrotter, going from Bangkok, Thailand one day to Aspen, Colo. the next.

His Freeland Foundation is starting a program called “Restitution Collaborative for Victims to Enable Recovery,” or RECOVER, which will be unveiled at the Freeland Film Festival and will bring some new faces to the Green Lake area.

The program attacks traffickers where it hurts, their bank accounts, by finding their assets and redistributing them to community, wildlife and ecosystem recovery projects.

“The money’s there, they’ve already invested it,” Galster said. “It’s money laundering under most government laws.”

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Claudine Schneider, a woman who was fighting for a cleaner environment long before the Green New Deal, will be speaking in a panel during the festival.

“She was especially interested when she found out that this area was largely Republican,” Galster said. “Because she’s like, ‘That’s what I do. I speak to Republicans; I try to get everybody on the same side with saving the Earth.’”

Schneider connected with Freeland at an event in Aspen, Colo. She approached Galster after he had pitched RECOVER.

“[She] said she liked the ideas,” Galster said. “[We] chatted and I said, ‘By the way, we’re in Green Lake, Wisconsin [and I would] love to have you over there for our annual film festival, where we talk about this stuff and show films.’ She accepted.”

The festival will display the Freeland Foundation’s partnership with IBM as the technology company will be involved in unveiling RECOVER.

“They’re giving us artificial intelligence tools to help stop trafficking of wildlife,” Galster said. “… We use those tools to find needles in the haystack of syndicates.”

The artificial intelligence tools Freeland uses are similar to tools used by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to do analytics on drug trafficking syndicates. Freeland got involved with IBM through a recent hire who used to work for the DEA.

“When I hired this guy, I showed him what we were doing; he’s like, ‘I can help introduce you to IBM; you guys are actually catching bad guys,” Galster said,

There also will be an unnamed celebrity in attendance at the festival this year because RECOVER caught her eye.

“[She’s] an actress; she’s a big name,” Galster said. “She’s also an activist on environment and human rights.”

Someone else of note who will be at the festival is Freeland board member Mike Mitchell, one of the organizers of the 1985 concert Live Aid.

After Live Aid, Mitchell was hired to organize a similar event centered around wildlife, which brought him to Russia. It was there he met Galster.

“I was helping to run a Siberian tiger protection program over there,” Galster said. “This was back in the ’90s. But anyway, we met and then became friends and partners.”

Galster was motivated to do his part to make the world a better place after he started traveling and saw a difference in the quality of life in other countries.

“[In] some parts of the world, governance are not so strong, and people are kind of scared of on a daily basis of all kinds of threats,” he said. “I grew up in a place where you don’t even think about human trafficking or poaching or destruction of your ecosystem.”

Galster wishes the rest of the world was a bit more like Green Lake and hopes the film festival can help boost the local economy.

“We know the Heidel House closed; we’re from Green Lake. What we’re trying to do is bring people into Green Lake [and] get eyes on Green Lake,” he said. “We think Green Lake sells itself; it’s unique, it’s beautiful. We’d like to inject some juice into the community.”

The Freeland Film Festival will bring stories to inspire back to Green Lake Friday, Sept. 13 through Sunday, Sept. 15.