Author: marit

Handing in my resignation to USAID


And now life speeds up.

My partner and I are moving out to the Bay Area in July, and I am leaving USAID early July (he quit at the end of May). This decision was one of the heart, a decision to move on to a place where we both want to settle into for the long haul. Timing was much quicker than anticipated (heck, I started a new position within USAID only six months ago!) but rapidly sped up due to social and political changes, external and internal to the Agency and the field, that have made it clear to us that now is the time for this move. A larger landscape was revealed by the recent election and all that is roiling about throughout the last eight months. We want to be right there in the middle of that renewed momentum toward connection, compassion, and sustained positive change in our home country. Keep in touch as I move back out West!

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June ’17: Digging in


With the new administration, new Global Food Security Strategy, and a newly established climate-smart ag (CSA) team in the Agency, it’s time to dig into strategy. So that’s what I, the newest member to the team, am focused on this month. CSA might get rebranded (true story) but whatever the name, the focus on holistic agriculture that effectively incorporates the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation while enabling farmers, pastoralists, and fisherfolk to survive and thrive doesn’t go away. Oh and I’m going to go build some yurts in Vermont for a few days too…

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May ’17: Springtime in DC


This month, I put away my official passport and get to finally settle into this new gig in the Bureau for Food Security at USAID. While I’ve technically been in this position for almost five months, I have spent half of my time on leave or on work trips that have taken me away from the home office. I’m working on reviewing documents and getting used to the norms of this new Bureau. And yes, it definitely has its own character just as the Africa Bureau did. I’m more directly connected to leadership but the technical folks feel pretty spread across multiple sectors. Food security is no simple thing! In addition, I get to enjoy springtime in DC and finally start bending my mind toward ICCB 2017 in Cartagena. I’m organizing a symposium, a knowledge cafe, and of course, facilitating SCB Chapter grassroots leaders throughout!

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March ’17 Deep dive into Malawi


This month and into April is entirely dedicated to Malawi. I’m on a non-stop month-long review for the two flagship Food For Peace programs in Malawi, both of which span five years and together cover five districts in the densely-populated, hard-hit south. Each day holds a quiet revelation, about the dedicated but strapped organizations running these development programs, about the nature of the Malawian government’s support for agriculture, community development, and health, or about the needs and motivations of the village residents and leaders. Deep questions keep arising. Does one prioritize and focus or attempt to reach all? How do you support the frontline gov’t staff when the central gov’t doesn’t? How can an impoverished, agriculturally-dependent society transform itself when also faced with continual droughts, floods, and all the impacts of a changing climate?

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Jan ’17: A time of change


As a federal employee based in DC, to say that this month brings change is an understatement. For myself, I started officially a new position within USAID as a Climate Smart Agriculture Specialist within the Bureau for Food Security, a Bureau I’ve been moonlighting in for over two years now. I join a tight, dynamic team of long-serving USAID staff, a Foreign Service Officer accustomed to leading entire offices focused on Economic Growth in Asia and Latin America, a Kenyan-American with deep ecological training and ability to work across the environmental sphere with ease, and myself. Our three-person team will be the front face of the Agency for climate-smart agriculture. All of these shifts against the background of a monumental shift in perspective and priority within the executive branch. It’s an interesting time, to put it mildly.

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July ’16: SCB month


My month started off with taking notes for two days straight as Secretary for the SCB (Society for Conservation Biology) Board of Governors annual meeting. It was a packed and productive meeting where we moved the dial forward on our policy vision and our global Society’s implementation plan. Some very exciting things spinning up in the Society! Now, I’m headed off to NACCB where I was invited to present in a symposium organized by Nick Haddad and Meade Krosby on communicating about landscape connectivity. My month is wonderfully preoccupied with SCB doings and so I’m grateful that my USAID doings are mostly focused on wrapping up projects and general maintenance. But in the back of my mind and in snatches of time here and there, I get to start plotting out the next research initiatives for my climate change team. What do we need to know more about or improve upon for our climate change policy and programming for development in sub-Saharan Africa? More on that in August!

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Mar ’16: Two new countries, dozens of new ideas


I traveled to Malawi & Zambia for work, two new countries I’ve never been to before. These tropical countries nestled in mid-Africa are biodiversity hotspots on land and on water and some of the poorest of the poor countries, a mix of verdant greenery and villages on the brink of disaster. My time was spent familiarizing myself with the environmental and climate-change-attuned agriculture projects of our field offices in country as well as helping organize a USAID learning event on climate-smart agriculture for sub-Saharan Africa. The increasing awareness that the natural environment and economic growth are so inextricably linked…and need to become less tightly linked and/or more flexible was encouraging. But we’ve a long way to go.

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AAAS blog post published!


My first blog submission was published on the AAAS Fellows “Sci on the Fly”! This is a posting I’ve been turning over for many months, every since the Pope’s encyclical came out and spurred that flurry of conversation coming from all sides, political, religious, scientific, and more. And after reading the encyclical itself, I was floored by the sheer beauty of the piece. And that beauty has meaning. The beauty comes from an ability to tell a story, an ability to connect multiple pieces of humanity, religion and science, faith and facts. This blog posting represents the first offering of mine in this realm and is a call to conservation and environmental scientists and science-lovers to start respecting their own multi-faceted story grounded in a swirl of morality and science. And from that point, start acknowledging and then enabling the power and the place of faith-based communities in conservation and environmentalism.

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Nov ’15: Higher gear


Now thoroughly in my 2nd year of the Fellowship, my scope of work at USAID has definitely shifted. I’m leading and managing two projects now, co-organizing for our Africa regional climate change technical officers meeting, and serving as lead writer for project design in Rwanda. In general, my responsibilities have acquired increased weight and my involvement is more central than only supportive. Frankly, I really like this because (a) I do love to organize and manage and (b) it helps me focus. These priorities enable me to (gently) say no to things that are so interesting but not currently essential. Plus, there’s (c) I really do enjoy all the projects I’m leading on! They all test different parts of my skill-sets, from people management to applied conceptual design.

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I’m giving the next SCB policy webinar! (Jan 14, 2015)


I was invited to give the next Society for Conservation Biology policy webinar run by Doug Parsons, North American Policy Coordinator for SCB. This webinar is an extension of a talk I first gave at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology (NACCB) in Missoula, Montana in July 2014. It focused on how small conservation organizations like SCB Chapters can connect and impact the communities in which they are embedded, i.e. making an impact. This talk still will focus a lot on SCB Chapters but the lessons learned through the Chapter network are applicable to other small conservation organizations whether they be bona fide non-profits staffed by professionals or more informal clubs run by students. I will also draw in literature and best practices drawn from conservation research and organizations all over the world. Register now!

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