Michelle Defreese (MIH '11) is a name synonymous with environmental sustainability in Rwanda. For five and a half years, she served as a senior officer at the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) Rwanda, leading the charge towards a greener and more sustainable future. Her unwavering dedication and tireless efforts have not only earned her respect but also made her a role model in the field of environmental conservation. In this exclusive interview, Michelle shares her insights, experiences, and challenges as a sustainability champion.
What inspired you to pursue a career in sustainable development, and how did you become involved with GGGI Rwanda?
I began working on sustainable development issues as an intern in Rome, Italy with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in 2009. It was part of the work experiences I had while a student at the Geneva Graduate Institute. I first heard about the Global Green Growth Institute in 2013. I remember I applied for a position and wasn’t shortlisted, but I kept GGGI in mind as I continued my career. In 2016, I saw an opening for the GGGI Rwanda office. I was completing a fellowship in Morogoro, Tanzania at the time and the role in Rwanda seemed like it would be a good fit. Luckily it was and I joined the GGGI Rwanda country program in 2017. (...)
(...) What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in sustainable development, and what qualities do you think are necessary for success in this field?
I think that sustainable development attracts people for different reasons. It’s important to acknowledge and understand what motivates you the most. When people know what drives them, it helps to make decisions that are aligned with your personal values. There are a lot of different types of organizations and sub-sectors that young people can engage in that are connected to sustainable development. I also see how it has become more difficult for younger people who are just getting started. Being persistent helps. If you know what is really important to you and what drives you, it becomes easier to withstand any challenges and overcome any hurdles you may face.
Looking back on your time at GGGI Rwanda, what are you most proud of, and what do you hope your legacy will be?
I think I’m most proud of the people that I had a role in supporting their professional development. Many of them are now doing fantastic things with the skills and experience they developed during their time with GGGI. There are people who have gone on to pursue doctoral degrees, work for the government, others have been hired by other development partners. For me, this is what makes me the most proud. Some interns come to GGGI Rwanda with really specific skills, but not a focus on sustainable development. Others come to GGGI Rwanda with an interest in sustainable development, but not necessarily specific skills. I like how we were able to work with both types of young professionals. Some of the people we have trained were not initially aware of just how applicable their skills are to sustainability. In my experience, investing in people is always rewarding and a fulfilling endeavor.
Full article here, Copyright Top Africa News, 19 June 2023