Starting a new job amid a pandemic can be seen as a stroke of luck considering that millions of people around the world are losing their employment and livelihoods. It feels even more special since the job has nothing to do with health care. Nevertheless, my new position does relate to a contemporary crisis, the most urgent and complex one we face: Climate change.
On March 16 2020, I started a position as project coordinator at the Frankfurt School-UNEP Centre. Exactly at that time, the German government was discussing how to proceed with measures against the spread of the coronavirus (COVID 19) while the first steps towards social distancing were already in place. Hence, I found myself in an almost empty office on my first day. My supervisor greeted me with a brief introduction and then left because the daycare centers, kindergartens, and schools were closed and she needed to be at home with her child. These circumstances did not discourage me, on the contrary, I was excited and grateful for the opportunity to jump into meaningful tasks and projects, with a multidisciplinary team and in a new city, even if it was from home. In these days of uncertainty, it helps to have something to strive for and focus on, which in my case is my job.
Although current efforts to tackle climate change are not enough, they are certainly numerous and diverse in terms of locations, topics, stakeholders, scopes, and requirements. Therefore, they demand a considerable amount of knowledge, work and energy from those who carry them out in an international setting. Normally, it takes some time to comprehend how an organization operates before going directly into the specific projects. However, working from home makes difficult to follow the step-by-step approach for introducing new employees. By honoring the health crisis and the need of support, I was thus busy right away. For instance, the first thing I did was supporting the preparation of a proposal to develop a climate change strategic framework for a multilateral development bank. I now understand what “learning by doing” means.
Soon after, it was time to join the implementation of a new project, which was more closely related to my experience: A gap analysis and action plan formulation of four Ecuadorian entities pursuing the Green Climate Fund accreditation. This six-month project was planned to include on-site visits, which had to be cancelled, so now we are implementing it on a purely virtual basis. This is not the first time the FS-UNEP Centre leads an assignment of this dimension remotely. One key element of success is to ensure everybody is committed to supporting online activities. So far, we have had several online workshops with more than 30 people and the feedback has been good. We had to learn how to navigate the world of web conferencing and adjust our schedules to match availabilities of a different time zone. Fortunately, the engagement of our country counterparts has allowed a smooth implementation. This experience shows that many business trips can be avoided, which in the light of climate change action makes total sense. In this way, scarce financial resources can be allocated more effectively and the carbon footprint significantly reduced (i.e. less flights, less GHG emissions). Balancing both the importance of in-person meetings and the advantages of technology, I hope future travel decision will be made more mindfully.
Naturally, starting this new job from home can be challenging, but certainly never boring or trivial. I have not felt alone and have received the warmest support digital tools can offer. I look forward to meeting the majority of my team members in person as the work at the office is resuming. For the time being, let’s keep learning from the current challenges, working to solve our critical problems, and taking care of life.