Emmanuel Taiwo left Nigeria in 2013 and boarded a plane for the very first time, to come to the UK and study at NRI. His first impression was that the UK was cold in temperature, but warm in welcome. Emmanuel took five minutes out of his day to Skype with NRI Communication’s Officer, Linden Kemkaran, about his experience.
After finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Geography in Lagos, Nigeria, I joined something we call the National Youth Service Scheme – a mandatory year for every new graduate where you serve your country and receive a modest stipend. I was sent to a southeastern state of Nigeria where I spent a very pleasant year teaching Geography.
During this year, I had a lot of free time to reflect on what would be next. I knew I wanted to study for a Master’s and I wanted more choice than what was on offer in Nigeria. But money was a problem; I couldn’t afford to pay to study abroad, and my family couldn’t help either, so I researched the Commonwealth prospectus and focused on universities that were offering scholarships.
I applied to NRI and to a couple of others and eventually was offered fully-funded places at three of them, including NRI, so I faced a dilemma. But there was just something about NRI’s Master’s programme in Sustainable Environmental Management – now called Global Environmental Change – that really caught my eye, as its focus was on carbon footprints and corporate responsibility.
As an undergrad, I’d spent some research time monitoring air quality indicators in parts of Lagos and I’d found that there was more pollution around industrial areas, so when I saw that NRI offered a module on corporate social responsibility it was unique, and made it a ‘no-brainer’ for me to turn down the other offers and come to NRI.
It was my first time out of Nigeria, my first time on a plane to be honest – it was quite significant! I was very excited but my goodness when I arrived in the UK it was cold! I’d describe it as a pleasantly strange feeling, meeting my new classmates, us all trying to find our way around the Medway campus – something I’ll never forget. I just wanted to soak it all up like a sponge.
My main lecturers were Dr Peter Burt and Claire Coote, both were so good, and of course Professor John Morton, my research supervisor, who is something of a legend, and with whom I explored pathways through which climate scientists could better communicate climate change to the public in an era of distrust and uncertainty. Everyone at NRI was so lovely and helpful, including the support staff, especially Caroline Troy. Despite being really busy, Caroline would always take time to help me with the most basic of tasks – like even getting something from the photocopier – I really appreciated it!
In Nigeria I had been used to scoring 80–85% for an essay, but my first piece of work graded by Peter Burt got only 53% – a bit of a shock. It showed me that a higher level of work was now expected and I received some great feedback and tuition from Peter on how to get it right. I haven’t learned that anywhere else, that high level of academic writing, and even to this day people comment on my writing; it is usually regarded as being concise and clear – I owe that to NRI.
I knew that my success was based on receiving that constructive feedback, however critical, and I got lots more help on campus. I remember going to group meetings at the Drill Hall Library in Medway, where I received really useful tips in a very kind and supportive atmosphere. I got to know the chaplain Lynne Martin well, she used to organize a weekly table talk, every Tuesday night for international students. We’d get together for drinks and cakes, it was so nice and she also organized trips around the country to places like Brighton and Cambridge, to introduce us to the UK.
I graduated in 2014, coming top in my class, and I was obliged by the rules of the Commonwealth Scholarship to return to my home country, but that was always my plan anyway. I reached out to people in Nigeria who were working in the environmental world, contacting them on LinkedIn etc. One of them came back to me and said ‘ok, let’s have a chat’ so we spoke on the phone and I went to Lagos to see him as soon as I got home, and he offered me a job as an environmental consultant!
I stayed in that job for about 18 months, advising commercial banks and private equity clients on environmental risks and sustainable finance, and then moved into other professional endeavors in policy advocacy, working with civil society stakeholders, encouraging the Nigerian government to enhance its commitments to a sustainable national energy plan until late 2017, before coming back to the UK to study for another Master’s, this time at Oxford University, in Public Policy.
I then did some work in London with the CDC Group and in Nairobi with UNEP, before coming back to Nigeria in March 2019 to take up my current role at DFID – the Department for International Development – as a climate and environment adviser. My job is to reach out to Nigerians where there is a lack of access to renewable energy and generally to advise DFID Nigeria on climate and environmental issues for development projects. Currently, I lead a project which provides access to clean, climate friendly solar energy technologies to millions of Nigerians – it’s really rewarding.
I received such a good grounding in technical, writing and communication skills from NRI which helped me get a job I love. I’ve no special plans for the future but I’m open to many possibilities, as long as I can make an impact that will lead to a more sustainable world. I’m happy to contribute to people’s lives as much as possible, and make an impact, while also applying the skills that I’ve got – either in government or in international development or even advising industry in the private sector.
It’s funny as I was never an especially outdoorsy kid, and my interest in the natural world came from studying Geography at secondary school. I originally had dreams of becoming a medical doctor, but the more I became exposed to environmental studies through geography, the more I wanted to do that. That’s my philosophy for life; pursue what I enjoy and am naturally good at, and happiness will follow.