Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Perspectives on the course from former students

What are they doing now?

Al Harris

Founder of Blue Ventures, a social enterprise employing 90 staff and over 1,700 volunteers globally.

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Max Edkins

World Bank Climate Change Communications expert.

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Yuyun Ismawati

IPEN Lead on artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

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Sapna Thottathil

Associate Director of Sustainability, University of California, Office of the President

  • ECM year: 2005
  • Nationality: USA

How has ECM helped to shape your career to date?

The ECM courses ignited my interested in sustainable food systems. With the support and encouragement of professors and classmates, I researched consumer perceptions around local and Fair Trade food in England for my dissertation. This grew into a successful PhD project (in Geography) in the United States, and eventually, a book called India’s Organic Farming Revolution.

This research then led to a series of exciting jobs pertaining to sustainable food procurement by institutions, which led to another book (called Institutions as Conscious Food Consumers), and my current position working on sustainable procurement, water, food, health, and other sustainability issues for the University of California, one of the largest public health universities in the United States.

What were the best three things about the course?

One of the best things about this course is the deep friendships I made with people from around the world. I still continue to keep in touch with many of my ECM colleagues!

I also loved the experience of living in Oxford and participating in college life – it enhanced my experience of the course.

And of course, I enjoyed the field trips!

Max Edkins

Climate Change and Communications Expert, World Bank Group

  • ECM year: 2007
  • Nationality: South African
  • First degree subject: Natural Sciences

Max recently joined the World Bank as a Climate and Comunications Expert in its Connect4Climate team in Washington DC. He is part of a team designing innovative climate change solutions for the climate challenge and help support the global movement for climate action.

Why did you choose the ECM course?

Building on my foundation in the natural sciences I wanted a broader understanding of environmental issues with an emphasis on climate change and environmental economics. I was looking for a course that would inspire me to find solutions to our environmental challenges and direct my energy towards implementing these. The ECM course offered exactly that.

How did you get from your MSc to where you are now ?

After the course I researched and advised on South African climate mitigation scenarios, focusing on renewable energy, and taught a masters class at the Energy Research Centre in Cape Town. Then Astrid (also ECM 2007) and I took on and ran the NGO ResourceAfrica UK where we implemented the ClimateConscious Programme working with local communities in Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya on building capacity on community-led adaptation through communication activities. Through our work and global outreach we got into contact with the Connect4Climate team, for whom I now work at the World Bank Group.

Which key environmental question are you dealing with at the moment?

The course allowed me to better understand and work with a broad range of climate issues, from the science, to the impacts, to adaptation and mitigation options, which I now need for my cross-cutting activities at the World Bank.

Listen to Max's reflections on the ECM course

Al Harris

Founder of Blue Ventures

  • ECM year: 2002
  • Nationality: British
  • First degree subject: Zoology

It began as a one-man start-up by an ECM graduate driven by a passion for marine wildlife. Ten years on, Blue Ventures is a "highly commended" (Tusk Conservation Award 2013) social enterprise with 90 staff and 1,700 volunteers working on marine conservation issues all over the world.

Al Harris joined the ECM course in 2002 with an undergraduate degree in zoology and a vision to work in marine conservation and help protect one of the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems. His master thesis on coral reef disturbance in Tanzania directly resulted in the launch of an NGO whose mission was to rebuild small-scale fisheries by helping coastal communities make conservation work for them. The high-impact idea was simple: coastal communities can become powerful partners in marine conservation because they have the greatest interest in sustaining their livelihoods. Provided with the right education and support, they can live from the sea and help protect it at the same time.

Facing the challenge to create meaningful incentives for people to engage in conservation, Blue Ventures have already found plenty of unconventional innovative solutions: be it helping octopus populations recover or establishing the farming of sea cucumbers as a lucrative alternative to fishing.

Interdisciplinarity is a basic principle of Blue Ventures’ work. An example of their holistic approach is the family planning programme "Safidy" (Malagasy for choice), which introduces community-based reproductive health services in remote villages in coastal Madagascar. "Gender empowerment is just as important for conservation", explains Al. Amongst other awards, Al’s work was recognised with the International Excellence in Leadership for Family Planning Award in 2013, and most recently the St Andrew’s Prize for the Environment in 2014.

Yuyun Ismawati

International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) Lead for Mercury Program and ASGM and Senior Advisor of BaliFokus Foundation

  • ECM year: 2010
  • Nationality: Indonesian
  • First degree subject: Environmental Engineering

When Yuyun Ismawati (2010-11) joined our MSc programme as a mature student she had just been awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize - the world’s largest award for grassroots environmentalists.

Yuyun was the recipient of the Gita Wirjawan Graduate Fellowship and came to the ECI off the back of an established career as an environmental engineer and campaigner in her home country, Indonesia.

“I decided to do ECM mid-career to refresh the way I see and define environmental problems and how we can contribute to promoting the solution in this dynamic and fragile world. As an environmental engineer, I see the importance of combining technical knowledge with social and policy approach as well as geographic perspectives in my work. It was like an enlighting and inspiring sabbatical year for me.”

Yuyun established her own NGO, BaliFokus Foundation, in 2000 to promote community-based urban environmental management, later focussing on toxics, especially mercury pollution caused by the Indonesian gold mining industry. “My thesis during the ECM course was on mercury in Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining and its social, economic and health impact. My research provided significant contribution towards the mercury negotiation process. I was able to disseminate my results and use them for policy advocacy at the UN forum.” Today, Yuyun leads the Mercury Program at IPEN, a global network of organisations advocating and promoting a toxics-free future.