Stephen Doso Jnr graduated from NRI in 2013 after taking a Master's Degree in Sustainable Environmental Management (now Global Environmental Change). Studying at the University of Greenwich brought him to Europe for the first time and while it wasn’t all plain sailing, he persevered and ended up gaining a Distinction. Stephen took five minutes out of his day in Ghana to have a Skype call with NRI Communications Officer, Linden Kemkaran and talk about how NRI made him “up his game” and how this now stands him in good stead for his career.
“I took my first degree in Natural Resources Management, at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana. After graduating with a first, I started working, but I simultaneously started the process of looking for good universities, particularly international institutions, because I really wanted to study for a second degree outside of Africa.
Europe was a top destination for me; I looked at Sweden, Germany, Norway and also the UK. My main criteria were schools that ranked highly, and offered a programme in environmental management. Scholarships were also crucial as I couldn’t afford the full fees, and they had to be welcoming to international students, of course.
A good friend of mine told me about the University of Greenwich, but it wasn’t the first time I had heard about it. I had a family friend who was lecturing at Greenwich who had flagged up to me the programmes here and the opportunities for international students at NRI in particular. I did my own research and found NRI’s MSc in Sustainable Environmental Management programme - which is now known as Global Environmental Change - and there was a full scholarship available under the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship scheme. I applied for both and was successful.
NRI’s reputation stood out for me. It’s a top research and development institution and a lot of its work is done in Africa. That African connection felt really important to me. My lecturers had all been involved in field work in Africa and that was reflected in the programme. I found I learnt a lot from the other students on the programme who were from many other cultural backgrounds.
I remember the first piece of coursework we did, my mark was not too great, and it came as a shock. There was a difference in the learning and writing style in the UK compared to Ghana, and also in how to present the work. One of my main lecturers, Claire Coote, Principal Economist and NRI’s Teaching and Learning Leader, supervised me through my thesis and worked closely with me on a number of courses.
I found her lectures to be very interactive, she’d make us analyse topical issues, including sustainability initiatives and she encouraged us to think deeply within our programmes. I was constantly challenged to be my best. Claire helped shape and improve my writing skills and from starting with low marks, I graduated with a distinction for my MSc. She really improved my critical thinking and analysis skills too. Basically, she made me up my game!
The great thing about studying at NRI was that I was introduced to external professional organisations like the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management which I joined and which has proved incredibly helpful to my career.
I graduated from NRI in 2013, and began the search for a job. I returned to Ghana to do some volunteer work and landed a job as Technical Operations Manager in an environmental consultancy firm. My role involved leading the technical operations and conducting various levels of environmental impact assessments – one of the areas I specialised in for my Master’s. Shortly after, I joined another environmental consultancy firm, SAL Consult Limited. At SAL also, I conducted various environmental assessments and provided consultancy services to many national and international organisations. In fact, all the skills I learnt at NRI contributed to me doing well in these roles.
In early 2019 I started my current job at Proforest, an international organisation that supports the sustainable production and sourcing of natural resources and agricultural commodities. I’m based in the Africa Regional Office in Accra, Ghana, and we work across west and central Africa. I’m mainly involved in capacity building, training and working for clients. I’m currently supporting the uptake of the Accountability Framework initiative by oil palm and rubber companies in Ghana and Liberia, and supporting two companies in Cameroon towards certification and preparing an Environmental and Social Management Plan. The skills I learnt during my Master’s at NRI translate directly into this role and have a direct impact on what I do now.
The main challenge for Ghana and indeed most parts of Africa today is that the agricultural industry is dominated by smallholders who make up the majority of the sector. That makes regulating them quite difficult and it’s a challenge to have a large-scale impact in terms of sustainability. We have a few big organisations that are trying to do things right, to operate responsibly by employing certification schemes and other sustainability initiatives. However, it’s difficult to get the smallholders to commit to any of these schemes and initiatives.
At the beginning of 2020 I was promoted to Senior Project Manager at Proforest and in the next few years I’d like to a PhD, possibly back at NRI, as I would enjoy returning there to study. I see my future very much with Proforest and helping to bring about real environmental change on the ground here in Africa.”
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