By Josephine Ashipala, Integrated Environmental Consultants Namibia
In 2006 I was like many young graduates. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Biology and Geography from the University of Namibia in hand, I needed experience, training and, most importantly, an opportunity to test my hard-earned skills. With the little experience gained from an internship with UNDP Namibia and as Office Assistant with the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Institute at the Polytechnic of Namibia, I wanted firsthand experience in project management.
Fortunately, Integrated Environmental Consultants Namibia (IECN), a Namibia-based company specialising in technical and advisory work in the field of natural resource management, land-use planning, environmental assessments, implementation of environmental conventions and capacity building offered me a position as a consultant. As part of the IECN’s capacity-building programmes for young Namibians, I immediately became involved in some challenging projects. I’m now co-ordinating the General Facilitation team for the White Paper process of the Namibian Coast Conservation and Management (NACOMA) project, assisting in the participatory development of an integrated coastal zone policy. In the process, I’m honing my co-ordination, management and organisational skills.
The IECN is one of the few Namibian businesses applying capacity building of young professionals as a key purpose. Whilst the environmental consulting field can be largely inaccessible to formerly disadvantaged groups in the region, the IECN attempts to provide professional working and career-building opportunities to young Namibians. Since it was founded in 2001, most of the IECN’s work focuses on biodiversity conservation, the implementation of the Rio Conventions in practical terms, and the design and implementation of poverty-reduction projects. Much of the work is carried out in close collaboration with or by rural communities and the public at large.
The IECN’s Director and co-founder, Dr Juliane Zeidler, stressed the importance of capacity building: “I believe that you can catalyse the full power in people if you give them the opportunity to prove themselves. It is important that private businesses take on capacity building as a responsibility. Incentives need to be set to aid overcoming perceived capacity bottlenecks with minimal financial requirements, especially in developing countries.” Capacity building has been identified worldwide as a key shortcoming for effective poverty alleviation and environmental management in developing countries. Still, it is surprising how few businesses and private initiatives are committed to creating capacity-building opportunities. For recent graduates, opportunities to gain firsthand practical work experience are limited and most entry-level personnel are not mentored to become more fully established professionals. There is a real need to strengthen private-sector commitment to offering training and career opportunities to generate a critical mass of practitioners and professionals who can plan and carry out poverty reduction and environmental programmes in a meaningful way.
The IECN has a three-pronged approach to capacity building: the Young Professional Programme, the Internship/Trainee Programme, and creating partnerships with students and tertiary training institutions. Since the company’s establishment, the IECN’s Young Professional Programme (YPP) has hosted many enthusiastic participants, and a remark-able number of interns and students have been formally associated with the institution. Over the past two years alone, five YPP staff members, five formal interns, four MSc-level students, and three Diploma students have carried out work with the IECN.
The Young Professionals Programme
It is the IECN’s policy to hire young professional Namibians and provide them with opportunities to gain experience and develop skills and knowledge so that they may become strong development and biodiversity managers and decision makers in the Namibian and Southern African arena. Young professionals with ‘new’ Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees or diplomas are encouraged to apply. Formal employment as a ‘consultant’ is granted while on-the-job professional development and further studies are encouraged.
The IECN has established a formal internship programme with the Polytechnic of Namibia and the University of Namibia. Students from the School of Natural Resources Management and Tourism at the Polytechnic of Namibia and those studying for their MSc in Biodiversity Management and Research at the University of Namibia carry out their formally required internships with the small company. Internships range from several months to a year, including research for the final year projects for Diploma students from the Polytechnic of Namibia.
To date, six individuals have participated in this programme, and most have gone on to complete their studies and find challenging work in their chosen fields. This is capacity building in action.
Students and Partnerships with Tertiary Training Institutions
This exciting programme links IECN senior staff with students from the Polytechnic of Namibia and the universities of Namibia, Witwatersrand and Western Cape in a mentoring programme whereby students are encouraged to carry out their research in relation to ongoing projects at IECN. These opportunities not only have a direct and positive impact on the individuals involved, but also contribute to the wellbeing of their families. Additionally, many former IECN consultants have taken up positions in Government and other institutions where they apply poverty reduction as a focus of policy development and implementation. One former MSc student has, for example, organised a photographic exhibition on the environment and how environment runs through all of the Millennium Development Goals exemplified for Namibia. This exhibition was launched by high-level government officials and contributed significantly to raising awareness on poverty reduction and the biodiversity and environment linkages.
Against this background of capacity building and training of young professionals, UNDP Namibia nominated IECN for the prestigious Equator Prize during 2006. Awarded biennially, the Equator Prize honours outstanding community projects that effectively reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and pays tribute to grassroots efforts to promote sustainable economic development and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Considering the importance that is internationally and nationally attributed to capacity building, UNDP Namibia wanted to acknowledge and honour the work done by a small Namibian company, requesting major personal efforts and dedication. There are other exemplary organisations in Namibia, yet having a small private business taking such a dedicated stance towards creating professional experience for Namibians is rare, and should serve as inspiration and role model. We need more such activities in our country!
This article appeared in the 2007/8 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.