What interested you in joining SEI?
I was always interested in working in the broad field of environment and development and after having finished an undergraduate degree in politics and Chinese, I wanted to do something relating to China. The only thing I could think of at first was to do an internship at the foreign ministry here in Stockholm. I got the internship, but at the interview stage it was clear to me that while it was an exciting opportunity, the ministry is quite a rigid organization and opportunities given to interns are limited.
I thought that there must be something more exciting in Stockholm, and after some time searching on Google I found SEI. Back then we had a China‑focused research program and I joined that program as an intern in 2008.
What positions have you had since then?
I started in a joint capacity as intern and paid research assistant for ten months. After that I went on leave to do a master’s degree. I came back in August 2010, formally employed as a Research Associate. A year and a half later I decided to go on a leave of absence to work for the Swedish Energy Agency on international climate policy. I came back again in the autumn of 2013, promoted to a Research Fellow. During my time in that role I also left to have two children. Since September 2018, I have the title of Operations Director.
What do you do as Head of Operations and Donor Relations?
I work for what’s called SEI HQ, where we steer and coordinate the wider operations of SEI globally. I’m responsible for implementing SEI’s guidelines and policies that fall outside the scope of finance, communications and human resources. This includes, for instance, having a uniform project delivery module, our SEI wide environmental policy, and our processes and systems for monitoring, evaluation and learning. For the part of my role relating to donor relations, I am mostly involved with managing our relations with Sida, the main provider of SEI’s core funding.
What do you enjoy most about working at SEI?
I think the main reason that I’ve been with SEI for so long, and the main reason why I’ve kept coming back, is that SEI consists of so many great people, which makes working here very meaningful. The guiding principle for me when working at SEI has not been sticking to a specific area of study – which may be perceived as odd in a research organization – but about finding the right people to work, engage and do projects with.
It’s been an environment where I’ve been able to develop and grow and thrive as a professional, but also where at times I’ve felt very challenged by all the opportunities. On the one hand it’s exciting and meaningful to do that type of work, but all those opportunities can be quite intimidating.
Could you share one of the highlights of your work here?
In one of my first big research projects we were commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers to do a study on Brazil, India, China and South Africa and their behaviours in international climate change negotiations. Massive interest from Nordic climate negotiators meant there was a lot of demand to present our findings early on. I had just rejoined SEI in 2010 after completing my master’s degree, and was soon giving presentations in the Finnish parliament; speaking in the Swedish parliament; briefing committees; presenting to Sweden’s climate ambassador; and other high-level activities that I never thought I’d have access to as an early-career researcher. But through SEI and our project and the faith put in me by colleagues, I had access to these opportunities and was trusted to deliver. It was very cool, but also scary, and these early-career memories have stayed with me.
What was it like to take parental leave?
Becoming a parent is a life-changing journey. It’s fantastic to live in a country with a state-funded system that allows you to take almost as much leave as you want from your job, to be with your family, and then have a guaranteed place when you come back. It’s an extremely generous system and I wish everyone had the opportunity to make use of it.
While I was on leave, I stayed in touch with both my line manager in a formal sense and with colleagues informally. Both times, coming back to work, I found it to be a relatively smooth transition, which is partly due to the fact that when I’ve made the transition back to work, my partner has been at home with our kids. So I haven’t had to immediately juggle the work-life balance puzzle.
What advice would you give someone interested in working at SEI?
For researchers and research interns, it really helps to come here with a research topic in mind. It also helps if you identify a couple of individual researchers who do interesting work that you’d like to be a part of. If you’re not able to draw on the diversity of SEI’s resources, you’re really missing out.
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