How did you begin your career?A
My background is in engineering – I began my career as a civil engineer, working at the interface between natural systems and society. That work involves trying to connect nature with human needs like water supply, protection from risks, and infrastructure.
I became progressively more interested in the natural part of my job, so I began to move in that direction and understand natural systems in more depth rather than just treating them as a boundary condition for human needs. I guess that’s how it began for me.
I first joined SEI in 2013 with an internship opportunity in Davis, California, working with a fantastic group of water scientists. It defined by career in so many ways that I wanted to come back as soon as possible!
What work do you do at SEI today?A
Today I work as a Research Fellow at the new SEI centre in Latin America. Our centre has two main lines of work right now: one is with the Sustainable Development Goals, led by my colleague Ivonne Lobos; the other is about water and sustainability, water systems analysis and basin planning. That’s the line of work I lead here in this office.
So most of my job is to develop the program in a way that makes sense for the Latin American context. We’re finding projects related to basin-level planning that incorporate multiple dimensions of sustainability. We’re also integrating different perspectives of agriculture, energy, and food production into water management. We also try to make very clear the role of freshwater ecosystems in basin planning.
There are a couple of projects in Bolivia that were initially started by SEI US, and now we’re collaborating with them very closely. They are about creating what’s called a director plan for the Río Rocha River Basin in Bolivia – probably one of the most-stressed river basins in the world.
We work with people from the public and private sectors, and multiple scales of stakeholders, from local farmers who make day-to-day decisions on how to manage their water, to those developing large infrastructure projects. So we have to act as facilitators of the dialogue between all these diverse stakeholders, to develop capacity in their decision-making, to engage them in a productive dialogue so we can co-create plans and do research with them.
What do you like about working at SEI?A
I think SEI brings this fresh perspective on something relevant and urgent in modern society – this connection between sustainability and development. We have challenges at every scale, local to global, on meeting expectations and improving well-being for humans in a sustainable way.
I also love how researchers are given the freedom to find ways of tackling these problems and understanding the contexts. You need to really approach the problems with an understanding of the empirical specifics of the places we work with. I think it’s a fantastic place to work.
What would you say to someone interested in joining SEI?A
When it comes to jobs there are usually three questions around responsibility. Sometimes you’re responsible for what you believe; sometimes you’re responsible for society; and sometimes you’re responsible because you’re being paid and need to fill the requirements of who hired you. SEI is the kind of job where you have those three things at the same time. You’re responsible for what you believe; you’re responsible for society; and you’re aligned with what the organisation wants. So it’s a perfect kind of job.