Chris has a really interesting job developing public policy solutions to environmental challenges. He also cycled from Namibia to Kenya in 2008.
I work for the http://www.globeinternational.org/" rel="nofollow">Global Legislators Organisation, or GLOBE, which is an inter-parliamentary organisation that brings together legislators from around the world to develop public policy solutions to environmental issues.
I am part of the GLOBE International Secretariat and coordinate one of GLOBE’s International Commissions. This consists of twenty parliamentarians from both developed and developing countries and a group of expert scientists and economists. The Commission develops and politically-tests policy frameworks that address ecosystem degradation, including deforestation, over-fishing and biodiversity loss.
The interesting part of my job is writing the policy briefs for an international group of parliamentarians to discuss and further develop. This involves researching specific environmental topics and coordinating the Commission’s scientific and economic advisers to feed into this process. In addition, working with GLOBE includes navigating numerous parliaments of the world to find legislators with an interest in our issues or with the right political influence to further our policies.
Understanding which environmental issues are of interest to legislators from a wide range of countries is fascinating and developing policy proposals that all the Commissioners can support can be quite a challenge. The less enjoyable, but equally important, side of my job is arranging the Commission meetings that take place once every few months.
Coordinating the logistics for a meeting with about 40 parliamentarians and experts in a distant location (recent meetings have been in Nairobi, Pittsburgh and Copenhagen) can be a painstaking process, and often leaves limited time for the more interesting side of the job. However, the opportunity to travel to all the meetings and to discuss these critical issues with the Commission is well worth the effort.
Before joining GLOBE I worked for two and a half years at a carbon finance advisory firm called http://www.ideacarbon.com/" rel="nofollow">IDEAcarbon. Prior to this, I was a graduate structural engineer at http://www.atkinsglobal.com/" rel="nofollow">Atkins Global, one of Europe’s largest engineering consultancies, but lasted for less than a year before I fancied a more challenging and interesting role. Although I enjoyed my time at IDEAcarbon, I jumped at the opportunity to apply for a job with GLOBE.
I heard of this opportunity from a colleague who had heard me speak at the http://www.rgs.org/HomePage.htm" rel="nofollow">Royal Geographical Society about a charity cycling expedition that I had recently completed (more on this below). Upon being asked what I planned to do after this adventure, I explained how I was keen to expand my focus from purely climate change and carbon finance, to address a broader suite of environmental and developmental issues. Within a few months of uttering these words I had started work with GLOBE and this ambition had truly been fulfilled.
I must confess to knowing very little about GLOBE’s work before the opportunity with them arose!
However, the charity bike ride that I participated in, the http://www.cycleoflife2008.com/" rel="nofollow">Cycle of Life, fulfilled a lifelong dream of experiencing an amazing adventure in sub-Saharan Africa and making a significant contribution to a number of outstanding community-based conservation projects. This 8,000 km cycling expedition across seven countries from Namibia to Kenya, included visiting over 20 projects supported by UK-based conservation charity http://www.tusk.org/" rel="nofollow">Tusk Trust.
In addition, due to the shared royal patronage of Prince William, this became a joint venture with UK homeless charity http://www.centrepoint.org.uk" rel="nofollow">Centrepoint and we were joined by two formerly homeless young people and their key worker for the first leg of the journey.
The main inspiration has to be my friend and co-cyclist Barty who dreamt up the concept of the Cycle of Life.
In January 2008, three months short of when we had hoped to fly to Namibia, I was plucking up the courage to tell Barty that I was going to have to pull out of the team due to the continued uncertainty over the trip’s viability. However, this all changed when Barty and Tusk’s legendary CEO, Charlie Mayhew, managed to persuade http://www.artemisonline.co.uk/" rel="nofollow">Artemis, a leading UK fund manager and long-time supporter of Tusk, to underwrite the expedition by redirecting some of an existing donation. This was effectively a gamble that we would raise more than their contribution. This bet (along with Charlie and Artemis’ faith in the Cycle of Life) paid off spectacularly, with the expedition raising over £160,000 for Tusk’s projects, over eight times the contribution from Artemis, and giving two young people from Centrepoint a once in a lifetime experience.
Another inspiration that lead to get involved with the Cycle of Life is my family’s long-standing connection to Africa. I was born in Blantyre, in Southern Malawi, and despite only staying there for 6 months as a child, I’ve always been fascinated by the continent and been back seven times in as many years.
Once we had been given the green light by Artemis, our preparations dramatically scaled up. Two of my main responsibilities were 1) equipment and bike maintenance and 2) Centrepoint relationship management.
The first role included trying to source all the kit that a team of eight cyclists would need to survive in rural Africa (with no support vehicle) and becoming knowledgeable in ways of bike fixing (from a very limited starting point). We were extremely fortunate that Tusk had an existing contact in the cycling world in the shape of Mark Shimidzu, an unbelievably kind and generous bike guru from Perthshire. Without Mark’s fantastic contribution, we would not have had bikes to cycle nor known how to attach their pedals.
The second task was a steep learning curve in inter-charity relationships. Beyond sharing a member of the royal family, Tusk and Centrepoint don’t have much in common. However, Barty, Jess (the third permanent member of our team) and I suddenly found ourselves balancing the needs of two charities with very different structures, ambitions and approaches. While Tusk had much to gain from the Cycle of Life (we were raising money for their projects and reporting back on parts of Africa their small team could rarely visit), Centrepoint had much to lose.
I can imagine the bigwigs in Centrepoint HQ weighing up the positives - nice photo of Prince William waving off a Centrepoint cyclist from Clarence House - and the negatives – intense media attention if something went wrong out in Africa - and finding it difficult to justify the risk. Fortunately, we managed to walk the fine line between the two charities’ demands with enough success for both that Barty is now coordinating future collaborations between them. Good luck to him!
I covered my own costs for the entire expedition by investing most of my bonus from the previous year. This £2,000 was less than the total cost of participation thanks to generous donations in kind from Mark Shimidzu, http://www.ridgeback.co.uk/" rel="nofollow">Ridgeback Cycles and Kenya Airways, amongst others.
The occasional hardships of the actual bike ride pale in comparison to the rollercoaster of emotions that we experienced before we left the runway in London. My hardest choice, which seems rather ridiculous now, was actually making the decision about whether to take part in the Cycle of Life.
The risk of taking 5 months off work to go on a long bike ride seemed massive and I was struggling to justify the gap on my CV (having already had a gap year and changed careers once). However, Barty said to me, with stunning prescience, “anyone that you would want to work for will understand your decision to do this”.
Visiting so many different conservation projects supported by Tusk was an amazing experience and meeting the people who commit their lives to making them a success was fascinating.
However, some of the most inspirational moments came from the more unexpected stops on route. From the http://www.capricorn-foundation.com/html/bana_ba_letsatsi.html" rel="nofollow">Bana Ba Letsatsi orphanage in Maun (Botswana), via the permaculture schools around Karonga (Malawi) to Neema Crafts in Iringa (Tanzania) that gives jobs and hope to the physically disabled, it was the smaller projects where we could see the immediate impact on peoples’ lives that really stick in my mind.
Fortunately we were able to make small but significant contributions to each of these projects to support their work which overlapped with Tusk’s environmental and educational objectives.
“You only regret the things that you don’t do”.
I am not sure if this entirely true, but I think that the message is right.
Also, don’t put your iPod, phone and camera in the pannier pocket under the leaky water bag.