A typical working day starts by checking my to-do list, generously colour-coded for importance and urgency. This will be followed by discussions with team members on work progress, challenges, milestones to be achieved, and so on, peppered with chit-chat about the weekend plans. Then, I will be on calls with vendors discussing payment terms, getting bills approved by the accounts, reviewing documents, arguing with technical people about why their ideas won’t work, or attending the Nth strategy meeting of that week. None of these will seem out of the ordinary for a trained manager like me, unless I tell you that I work for a well-known wildlife conservation NGO.
Beyond the scientist
Environmental conservation is often seen as a job for trained scientists, who are out and about in forests or on ice sheets, collecting data, painstakingly analysing it and informing the public of its implications. But, the conservation sector has come a long way in the last decade. The urgency of environmental issues has forced the sector to think beyond such narrow roles. Today, it demands lawyers, economists and analysts, as much as it does, ecologists. We need managers who can deliver projects efficiently on the ground, chemical engineers who can safely treat and dispose industrial waste, entrepreneurs who can scale up innovative climate solutions, highway engineers who can design safe passageways for wildlife, communicators who can run smart environmental campaigns, and financial managers who can design instruments such as green and blue bonds to fund conservation. Every profession has an application in conservation; if not today, then, in the near future. The complexity of the environmental challenges increasingly requires a multidisciplinary approach, with mixed teams and individuals who are able to transcend the boundaries of their profession.
Admittedly, making such a career shift will not be as easy as it sounds, especially for fresh graduates and early career professionals. Despite large commitments by the governments and private sector for climate change mitigation and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the sector still doesn’t pay as well as corporate jobs. But, this is likely to change quickly. Many large international NGOs and multilateral agencies offer competitive salaries now. Most large companies, in sectors such as Manufacturing, Energy, Consulting and even Banking, have sustainability or climate change practices, with roles as lucrative as conventional jobs.
Another option would be to shift to the conservation sector later in one’s career, once individual financial goals have been met, while building relevant conservation skills in parallel. One can also explore “softer” options such as volunteering, pro-bono projects and secondments before making a more significant shift. The key, perhaps, is to maintain a reasonably minimalist lifestyle, allowing one to explore such unconventional career opportunities.
So, is the conservation job just like any other job? What’s the upside? There is the fulfilment that comes from working towards something that you are passionate about. There are, of course, movements of frustration with every new onslaught on Nature, but that is what makes these jobs more critical and challenging. You may or may not save the planet, but what you are trying to achieve is definitely more meaningful than empty financial numbers. In my case, the bills I am settling are for field shoes for the frontline forest guards, the document I am reviewing is the annual plan of a grassroots tribal NGO that we helped seed, the technical arguments are about the plans to remove a highly invasive plant from forests, and the nth strategy meeting I have this week is on better protection of the elephant movement corridors in the country. This, I feel, is what makes the conservation jobs different and exciting.
A monthly column from WWF-India
The writer is the Head of Strategy, Design and Impact, WWF-India.