Friday, September 16, 2016

Interview with Lisa Maddison, the deputy executive officer of IMBER.

We open our new series of interviews with Lisa Maddison, who is the deputy executive officer of IMBER – Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research. For us, she is much more than that, she is the soul of IMBER and the one who made it possible for us to host it in Natal in August 2016 the ClimEco 5 – Towards more resilient oceans: predicting and projecting future changes in the ocean and their impacts on human societies. She was happy to help us understand a little bit more about this organization and this summer course. We were more than happy to spend a few more minutes chatting with this amazing and exciting person. 

On the left, Ana Helen, member of the FEME and on the right Lisa Maddison.

FEME: How did you migrate from science to consultancy?

Lisa: I worked for an environmental consultant; these are people that are not governmental and not the university, it is a business. They have lots of scientists who work for them and they apply to projects to different levels of government: local, regional, and national. In our case, we also applied for some international projects, which brought a lot of scientists in the company working on different issues.

FEME: Was IMBER your fist big project?

Lisa: No, when I worked for this consultancy, The Common Ground, I worked on a lot of projects there. In fact, the biggest project I worked on involved writing a coastal management policy for South Africa. It is really good policy, and I helped to write the paper. We, all different people in the company, did different sections. I was involved with writing the state of art for the whole coast of South Africa. We divided it up into nine regions, and then talked with the local people there, the fishermen, people from the local communities, and government people. We talked about how fish stocks were like, how biodiversity had changed, and some issues that the local people had. It was a very exciting project because it was right after the end of the Apartheid, it was the first time when everybody was asked for their opinion: black, write, pink, green, it didn’t matter. It was the first time most of the people in South Africa had a voice. We did this big public policy, with lots of workshops and other things with local communities, for them to see the issues that they raised being put into the policy. That was my biggest project. IMBER is different because it is a big international project, we work with people all around the world.

FEME: When did you start to work for IMBER? How many events did you make for IMBER?

Lisa: I started in IMBER in 2009, so I have been there for eight years. IMBER has 8 working groups that work on different projects, and we also got 4 regional programs. One of them is all about fisheries, it is called CLIOTOP, Climate Impacts on Top Ocean Predators, it deals with all the big fish, dolphins, whales, seals, all the top predators. That one is completely international, completely around the world. It is really interesting. I do not manage this program, but I help with any logistical organization. For instance, if they have a meeting, I help to arrange the meeting, usually with the local host.
I have done 5 Summer Schools and 4 IMBIZOs in alternated years. IMBIZO is like a small symposium, for about 120-150 people, and the next one, IMBIZO 5, will happen in 2017 in Woodshole in the USA. We also organize a big open science conference for about 500 people; we have done that twice.

FEME: What is the most difficult aspect of this job? And what are the gratifications?

Lisa: To get money, money is always the problem! There are some things that you can raise funds for quite easily, although it depends on where it is. But there are many projects that are working on global change and the oceans, but there is only a limited amount of money, so we all have to share it. There is always a lot of competition and when a call comes out, every project applies. That means that you have to write very good proposals, you got to be very focused. Then you get a little bit money here, a little bit money there and that is the frustrating part, because you want to bring people. That is hard!

But we are very fortunate, many of the scientists volunteer their time and often they pay for themselves, just so we can fund more students. You always have to give and take.

Also some of the funding comes with restrictions. For example, if we get money from American foundations, which is normally for people from developing countries, they have to fly an American airline, because it is tax payers’ money, so the US must benefit, which is understandable. But very often these tickets are double the price of the local airlines. I understand it but it is frustrating, you could be funding three students, but you end up funding one because they have to go on the expensive airlines.

The most rewarding thing for me is to bring people together. The Summer School is a perfect example: we bring some big scientists to interact with students. This is an amazing opportunity for you to learn from them. But there is more. I just talked to the lecturers and one of them told me how to be able to connect people, put people together, is already some achievement! In all the meetings we do, there are amazing links that happen.

IMBER is international, we try to bring people from all around the word, and we try to get the genders balanced too, making sure the women are represented. Linking the world together is fantastic for me! The people we meet are fantastic, we find out that there is amazing work going on, and that is really interesting. There are always wonderful local people helping in the organization.

FEME: How could we convince more of those big companies to fund environmental projects?

LISA: I think just by communicating more! Actually, sometimes by bringing them to meetings, if you can get somebody. I went on a research cruise recently and we had somebody from the Norwegian research council and somebody from the biggest oil company in Norway. They had sponsored a project with an ROV – remotely operated vehicle, and they were invited on the cruise to come and see how their money had been spent. Maybe they will help more If they can see the product, the output, and interact with the scientists, even if it is one person at a time.

We need to improve our marketing and communication with people. Communicating is essential! The scientist knows the issues, but as Rashid was saying: nobody is going to read the whole poster or paper. We need something short and shocking that will really attract the attention of a businessman. If you can just click on the right thing that can make they think, something that they can see visually, we can connect more. Again, there is never enough money to have a graphic designer or funding to print things. But I think with the social media we can do better.

FEME: Which changes would you like to see in the scientific community?

Lisa: Communication! It is all very well to write papers and to tell the other scientists what you’ve done, and they can use your work. But I think we need that science to filter down to communities, to funders, and to businesses. The scientist is the one who can do it, because they understand the subjects, the basics. I think we could improve their communication at that level, not just writing scientific papers. But like writing blogs!

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