My Roots- Values that Shaped my Perspectives on Environment and Climate Action
I am a proud native of Kom, specifically from a small village called Jinkfuin in the North-Western part of Cameroon. And I have never stopped marvelling at how unique and rich the culture and value system of kom and the entire Cameroon is. The core of this value system is encapsulated in one of my favourite sayings, which is “awu àmi’a ka’kɨ bȗ lӕ kul ibu”, translated to mean that “one hand cannot tie a bundle”. This proverb calls for one thing — unity. Its implications, however, transcend many critical values. It is at the core of selflessness because it entails working together towards a common purpose. It is at the heart of hard work and dedication because joint success calls for each of us to do our best. It is at the core of honesty and fairness because people cannot work together if they are not honest and fair to one another. And you will realize that these values underpin success in anything we do. Therefore, I owe my parents and the entire community structure of Kom and Cameroon immensely for instilling in me timeless values that underpin success.
My upbringing was not unfamiliar to many across Africa today. While loving parents surrounded me, our background was one of scarcity. Scarcity because the assets we had, primarily in agriculture, were highly vulnerable to harsh, variable, and unpredictable climatic patterns — which is what we call climate change nowadays. When you till your land and plant, and then rains fail, and there is no mitigating risk factor, and one is forced to borrow to stay afloat, and this cycle repeats itself over a couple of years, this is how one sinks into poverty and lack. I commend my parents, though, because to shore up our finances, they diversified — my dad would go to the coastal part of the country to look for additional income sources as a labourer. At the same time, my mum would trade in household items through a very innovative credit system built on trust. While she had no capital, her word and reputation earned her community trust through which she would receive advance payments for items and then use that advance as capital to source her stock and supply her buyers. This was social capital at work and is something we need more of in the current times. She was also enrolled in a jangui and used it to get the occasional credit.
These early experiences shaped my passion for driving continental solutions to Environment and Climate Change. At this early age, I knew I would like to develop solutions to the poor yields we were experiencing that had rendered our farm unproductive, as shared in my book “Making Africa Work through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism.
My Academic Career
My first degree was in physics and education. It is an area I found highly enjoyable. However, its abstract and theoretical nature meant that I needed to complement it to align with my interests in addressing the root courses of declining yields on my mother’s farm –climate variability and change. I applied and won a scholarship for a Master’s and PhD programme in Environmental Science, bringing me closer to my area of solutions interest. But most importantly, while our areas of training are essential, what matters most is not what we train for but rather a clarity of vision in the solutions we would like to engage in and touch many lives selflessly. Once this is clear, everything else falls in place as one can realize their inadequacies and seek appropriate training. Second, in this information age, the accessibility of training is vast, and one can enrol on online courses to supplement any knowledge inadequacies. Third, training and knowledge acquisition is a constant & continuous quest, and the availability of online courses and programmes presents endless opportunities to continuously research, retool, and refine our skills to make them more attuned to addressing our chosen areas of solutions delivery. Fourth, we must learn to be persistent and consistent in actioning solutions in our areas of choice.
In most cases, we may apply ourselves thinking we have done well but come up short. Applying for my scholarship was not something I succeeded in on the first try. I applied many times without success before I succeeded on the fifth try. Fifth, academic certificates have long been misconstrued as an entitlement to jobs. Most people who graduate from our schools armed with certificates feel entitled to being given jobs, resulting in many job seekers and disproportionately few job creators. This explains the extremely high employment deficits in Africa. We must know that certificates bequeath upon us the responsibility to be solution providers. Certificates call upon us to be selfless in our quest for solutions focusing on doing that which touches many lives. It is in so doing that we become job creators. Finally, selflessness is irreplaceable. Part of my work life includes stints of skills-based volunteering, where I volunteered without pay in Cameroon. This was among the most important stages of my life because I got to refine my thinking and skills to enhance my work readiness. And wean myself from a “schooling” mindset to real-world solutions delivery, where what matters is not much about the papers you have but rather your ability to deliver solutions competitively. This experience was part of what I used to win the scholarship.
My Entry to work with the United Nations Environment Programme
Unknown to many is the fact that I made nearly one hundred applications — without success before I ever got invited for an interview. And my initial appointment was for a 3-months contract. So, I had to relocate to Kenya, where the UNEP headquarters is, for what one could describe as a temporary job. It was my first time in Kenya, and I knew no one. However, what excited me, was that I had gotten an opportunity to prove myself as a solutions provider. So when I finally got to work, I put in my best and went the extra mile to take additional duties beyond what I had been assigned. I turned myself into a passionate solutions provider. This is what I always encourage people, especially the youth, that regardless of the type of opportunity you have or get, even if it means talking to kindergarten children, ensure to prepare and go the extra mile in giving your best. Aim to exceed expectations. I usually say that doing the ordinary 8–5, Monday- Friday workday will not achieve anything worthwhile. No transformation can be made. One must make extraordinary investments in their time — cut leisure and downtime and invest it in perfecting your chosen area of solutions. That is the only way to deliver transformative solutions that touch many lives and drive much-needed opportunities for many. Cumulatively, when more of us apply ourselves this way, Africa’s long overdue accelerated growth will be actualized. So let us look at our jobs and enterprises as NOT about us, but about touching many lives. This is true for any job or enterprise one engages in.
My Career Stages
There are no shortcuts to the top of the palm tree. In anything you do, always focus on bringing impact they bring to the solutions process. Everyone, regardless of position, owes it to themselves to apply themselves selflessly in devising solutions that touch many lives and, in the process, distinguish themselves. Everyone owes themselves the responsivity of going the extra mile in whatever they do, beyond the ordinary 8–5 and Monday to Friday work programme. This is how one distinguishes themselves; based on this, they have more responsibility added to what they do. So, from the word go — whether in school, employed, or in whatever enterprise one is engaged in, we must focus on delivering solutions that touch many lives selflessly and demonstrate our value. The rest then falls in place. For example, My first assignment at UNEP was as a Project Manager with its Ecosystems Division in 2009. I managed the first UNEP Adaptation Project called Climate Change Adaptation and Development Programme (CCDare), implemented jointly with UNDP. I later worked on Ecosystems Based Adaptation (EBA) for mountains, EBA for Food security, EBA for Coastal ecosystems, low emissions development and Climate action projects.
When I joined the Africa office in April 2012, I pioneered the first UNEP Africa Adaptation Gap report series, which helped galvanize a coherent continental strategic climate policy position resulting in the elevation of adaptation to be at par with mitigation. I spearheaded the conceptualization and creation of the Ecosystem-Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) in 2015, which became Africa’s first ever continental policy framework and implementation platform for adaptation and food security. Through this framework, I developed a tool called Innovative Volunteerism. It engaged all the willing youth across Africa to retool their skills and leverage their passion for turning climate change challenges into climate opportunities.
Before joining the United Nations, I worked as a Research Fellow at Trinity College, University of Dublin, and a Lecturer at Nottingham University. I have participated in various research projects and have published over 500 articles in international peer-reviewed journals and magazines. I am the author of the book– Making Africa work through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism.
So it is not a matter of “climbing” any ladders but offering incremental value in whatever one does. In the process, more responsibilities will be added to validate the incremental value one brings. So, let us not look at “positions’, but rather focus on perfecting our ability to proffer solutions that touch many lives and continually improve such abilities.
My Advice All
The purpose of life is to be useful. And we become useful if we engage in activities that generate value by turning challenges into opportunities for the many. Complaining is a waste of time because what was complained about today without taking action to solve it will remain the same the next day. The only antidote to feeling powerless and distressed about challenges plaguing us is action, and this action starts with you and me. Blaming governments as we sit will not change anything as governments are not a repository of solutions. Yes, governments have a pivotal role but do not always have the solutions. They look up to get answers from the citizens. If the citizens don’t start with what they have, no transformational development will ever occur even if everything was given without the citizens acting to play their part.