• Q

    Congratulations on becoming Centre Director. You have been in this role for two months – what do you think of it so far?

    A

    I am honoured and excited to be the Centre Director for SEI Africa and to work on issues that I am very passionate about. Over the two months that I have been here, much of my time has been spent learning more about the organisation, getting to know my colleagues and thinking how best we can make the Centre the “go-to” institution for stakeholders addressing environmental and developmental challenges on the continent.

    A lot goes into running the Centre, and no two days are the same. From reviewing programmes and their delivery, to carrying out strategic and policy formulation and management; from addressing staff issues, to meeting with potential partners, my work is multi-faceted and stimulating.

    Overall, I am very excited to have this opportunity to steer the strengthening of the Centre and to position it as a hub of excellence in research and policy engagement.

  • Q

    What was it about SEI that attracted you to join the organisation?

    A

    I’m really interested in environmental policy, governance and development issues, and have long sought to ensure that research informs policy. These interests were given a rigorous academic grounding at Indiana University where I obtained a joint PhD in public policy with majors in environmental policy, political theory and methods, and public policy analysis. While pursuing this degree, I worked closely with the late Elinor Ostrom on issues of natural resource policy and governance. Elinor was my dissertation chair and the first female Nobel Laureate in Economics.

    The fact that SEI is one of the top think tanks working on issues of environment and development, and that the Institute always strives to bridge science and policy, made it a perfect fit for me. I am very excited to be part of the SEI family and working with experts in different parts of the world to generate evidence for better policy making.

  • Q

    What’s in store for the rest of this year and beyond?

    A

    Although I’ve only been Centre Director for a short period, I have four immediate priorities:

    First, stakeholder engagement. Working in partnership is essential if we are to successfully tackle the environmental and development problems facing the people and habitats of Africa. Under my leadership, SEI Africa will listen and learn what is important for our partners and for local and regional decision makers, and be responsive to the needs they highlight.

    Second, fundraising. Our development partners are paying special interest to Africa as the next frontier for innovation that will spur sustainable development. We are confident that SEI Africa can play a key and expanding role here – we have innovative research, good networks with African policy-makers and effective systems to manage delivery.

    Third, to make sure the Centre is ready to support our stakeholders and partners, I am intending to recruit mid- to high-level professionals before the end of this year. This will ensure that we have the capacity to manage anticipated growth in our project portfolio and demand for advice.

    Finally, we are planning to review our strategic focus. We will evaluate the four existing research areas to ensure our work continues to be highly relevant to stakeholders and of the best scientific quality. We will also explore whether we may need to reinforce or add to our research areas. Improving our engagement methods so that African policy-makers can practically apply the best evidence is another area we are looking into.

  • Q

    What are the key challenges that you think you’ll face as Centre Director?

    A

    The SEI Africa Centre is entering a new phase where programmatic growth must be matched with institutional consolidation. We are in the process of setting minimum but fairly ambitious growth benchmarks and targets. Securing more funding and getting more projects in our strategic areas are the biggest of the challenges that I face. And yet I believe that with continued support from our partners and other SEI Centres we can meet these ambitious goals.

    As a Centre we will need to be responsive to change and work to meet the development and environmental needs on the continent.This might entail consideration of new areas where SEI Africa has not yet been very active. The Centre is currently known for its work especially in energy, climate change and sustainable urbanisation. The challenge will be to position the Centre to venture into new areas of work where we feel we can make a meaningful contribution.

  • Q

    What do you see as future research or policy priorities for the African context?

    A

    While there are many priorities fighting for attention, I feel that the topics SEI Africa is already working on (climate change, energy, natural resources, health and urbanisation) are still at the heart of the challenges facing African decision makers. Our research will continue to engage and support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and progress on the African Union’s Agenda 2063. In addition, research into natural resources management and governance will have renewed focus at SEI Africa, given the potential impacts from climate change.

  • Q

    How can SEI Africa improve its impact?

    A

    I believe we can improve our impact by (i) developing a robust, innovative and policy-relevant research agenda; (ii) increasing the usability and influence of SEI Africa’s policy work at all levels of policy-making and across the continent, and (iii) strengthening institutional performance to achieve efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and (iv) working closely with researchers, academia, private sector, policy-making bodies and development organisations in effective partnerships. I believe that effective partnerships should be part and parcel of the SEI Africa Centre’s way of doing business.

  • Q

    Will you be taking SEI Africa in any new directions?

    A

    In addition to our four immediate priorities, the Centre will be working on a longer-term goal of enhancing our engagement processes to better target our support to policy-makers. This will include more capacity building and initiating policy dialogues with diverse groups of decision makers in Africa. I also want to engage with the private sector and learn how our research insights can be applied in a business context. Finally, I want to create new mechanisms for engaging with young Africans so they can be part of creating a sustainable future for Africa.