lifestyle

13 Australian heroes you haven't heard of: Kathryn Michie – WWF Australia.

Each week we will be running Q&As with Australian women doing vital humanitarian and aid work. Women you may not have heard of.

With that in mind, let us introduce you to Kathryn Michie, the Public Sector Partnership Manager at WWF Australia — an organisation dedicated to protecting endangered animals and their habitats.

1. What does your role entail on a day-to-day basis?

As Public Sector Partnership Manager at WWF-Australia, I manage our relationship with the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT). I’m fortunate to have a flexible, part-time (2 day per week) role that lets me balance rewarding work with spending time with my young family.

My role can really vary, depending on the time of year – I may find myself doing anything from Skyping our teams in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea to preparing project plans or reporting for our sustainable fisheries and women’s economic empowerment projects in those countries. At other times, I may be working with the finance team of WWF-Australia to ensure that we comply with the ACFID (Australian Council for International Development) Code of Conduct. I also need to maintain oversight of all of our international work to be able to account for all the projects with an international development component, so there is a lot of liaising with the project managers for each of those projects.

2. How did you become involved in humanitarian/aid work?

I was working as a Consultant with the accounting firm Ernst & Young when an opportunity to volunteer through the Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD) program arose (this has now been replaced with the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program). During my placements in Fiji and Cambodia, I met numerous inspiring people working in this field and realised that I could combine my passions for international development and sustainability with a career. What was meant to be a year off from my consulting role turned into a complete career change. I returned to Australia to complete my Masters in Environmental Management and Development, then worked for AusAID for several years before being offered my ‘dream job’ with WWF.

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Kathryn Michie of WWF Australia. Image: Supplied.
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3. What are the most rewarding/challenging parts of your job?

I love the way that WWF’s work integrates conservation with sustainable development and that working with the local people who depend on natural resources is such an integral part of our work.

The most challenging part of my work is that no matter how successful a project has been, it feels like there is always more to do – in international development, the issues are so large and complex, it’s impossible to feel like you have completely solved the issues.

4. In general, do you think Australians are generous givers?

Very much so. I am often blown away by the level of generosity I see within our community, both financially as well in terms of people volunteering their time. Whether it is helping a neighbour in need; or donating to an organisation that is supporting someone on the other side of the world, I have seen that Australians are very generous!

5. Do you think that the Australian government is currently meeting its global responsibilities in terms of aid?

We can certainly do more. The amount of aid that Australia provides (currently around 0.25% of Gross National Income (GNI), and set to fall to only 0.22% in 2017-18) is much less than many other developed countries. For example, the UK has increased its aid spend to 0.70% of GNI. Emerging donors such as China and India are also increasing their aid programs, and I hope that Australia will start to grow our aid program again in the near future. I think it is important to remember that providing effective aid is not just the “right” or moral thing to do, but that a secure and prosperous region is in everyone’s interests.

6. What are the most significant humanitarian crises we are facing, both at home and abroad?

This is a tough one – but ultimately, I think climate change is the most significant humanitarian crisis the world is currently facing – and the scary thing is that unless we take drastic action to stop climate change, it is likely to get much, much worse.

Climate change is already affecting people’s livelihoods and food security. We are seeing more severe and frequent weather events, unpredictable weather patterns affecting agriculture, and damage to the ecosystems and natural resources we all depend on.

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And sadly, women are disproportionately affected by climate change. Women in developing countries are more likely to be dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods and face a range of social, economic and political barriers that limit their ability to adapt.

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Kathryn Michie. Image: Supplied.

7. What do you see as the most significant challenges for women in the developed and developing world?

The role of women in society is changing so quickly and it can be very challenging for women everywhere to balance their traditional roles in society with the new opportunities and expectations that are emerging.

Of course, this looks very different depending on the culture you are in – it could be a woman juggling the demands of her career and trying to spend quality time with her family. Or in other contexts, opportunities for women are opening up, such as participating in microfinance projects. However, this can change the power dynamic of the relationships in the household significantly and in some situations, increase the risk of domestic violence.

8. What can everyday Australians do each day to make a difference?

There are so many ways everyone can contribute beyond providing financial donations, without it taking up a huge amount of time or effort:

• Be aware of where and how the things that you buy are made/grown/ manufactured.
• Support companies that have responsible supply chains. For example, unsustainable palm oil can cause deforestation, which can contribute carbon emissions, destruction of habitat for wildlife such as orangutans and displace local communities. But you can choose to support companies that use only certified palm oil (‘RSPO’) that is produced in a much more sustainable way. Similarly, choose sustainably produced seafood that is certified under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) schemes.
• Write a quick letter to companies to encourage them to improve the sustainability of their supply chains.
• Let our elected representatives know how you feel about important issues.
• Be an advocate with your family and friends to help raise awareness of issues you are passionate about.
• Reduce your carbon footprint – taking public transport; switching to renewable energy, offsetting your emissions – you don’t just help save iconic species like polar bears, but by doing your part to help address climate change, you’re also helping reduce the impact of changing weather patterns and extreme weather events on farmers all over the world: The farmers who are producing your food and who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

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9. Do you have any advice for young women who want to do aid work?

My advice would be pretty much the same for both young women and men who want to work in this field.

It can be an incredibly rewarding career, but sometimes quite challenging to get your foot in the door, so don’t be afraid to use your initiative. Volunteering not only provides you with valuable experience but gives you an insight into whether this is really the field for you. It also gives you the opportunity to network and impress potential future employers. You could also consider volunteering overseas through the Australian Government funded volunteer programs such as Australian Volunteers for International Development (managed by Scope Global and Australian Volunteers International) and the Australian Red Cross.

Keeping on top of what is happening in your field is essential, so stay connected with others working in the area; and subscribe to industry newsletters such as the ACFID Sector News Alerts; DevPolicy News, as well as newsletters for your particular sub-specialty or region of interest. These will generally have job listings included. Another source of job opportunities is www.ethicaljobs.com.au, as well as the websites of organisations that you would like to work for. Also look at your skill set and previous experience – you’ll be surprised at how much is transferrable.

A lot of the roles require regular travel and long hours, but there are also flexible, family-friendly roles available in this industry, if that is something that is important to you. I believe that this point is (or at least should be!) applicable to both men and women.

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