20 Oct 2020

TEM Stories – Nigeria’s nature raised me, now I raise my game for nature

Zuma Rock
TEM   |   Carbon Offsets   |   Climate Change   |   TEM Stories

I was captivated by the sights, sounds and smells of the natural resource-rich land I was born into: Nigeria. My childhood was filled with free-roaming hide-and-seek games in our backyard-banana-plantation combined with the leisurely enjoyment of juicy, ripe mangoes devoured with a view from the treetops. I don’t recall exactly when, but from a very early age, I vividly remember falling absolutely in love with nature and being engrossed in the vast wildness of it.

“Africa is not for the sissies”, they said, and it really sums up the sense of adventure required to not only survive but truly thrive in the land. My expat parents decided to remain in the African plains but relocated our family from the western to the southern part of the continent, South Africa just before it became a democracy. This move delivered many challenges: culture, ethnicity, girl-child, race, skin-colour…. but one thing endured. Nature was as wild as ever and remained the same welcoming, enticing, intriguing and ever-present reprieve from the great divides of the world.

Life carried on from an Agricultural High School influenced by the English to a predominantly Afrikaans University well-known for its engineering school. Post this male-dominated engineering school, I traversed onto my first job and subsequently to the second, at an energy service company where my ears and eyes were opened to the perils of climate change and how the then novel Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) programme was envisioned to address it. Making the business case to my peers and managers to pursue CDM project development seemed like a huge undertaking, but I pursued it with passion and turned it into a service offering with the support of a team.

Thus started my journey to be actively part of the solution for a cleaner and more equitable future for one and all. This saw me move to an international environmental and sustainability consulting firm before the start of the 2008 GFC. As conversations about redundancy started, I was requested to take up a short term secondment to China – the role was to audit CDM projects. This opened up a whole new world of cultural intricacies and challenges, but the benefits of the CDM projects were powerful. My time consisted of site visits during the week and China-trotting over the weekends, opening my world-view to East Asia. A story of note was my hot-air ballooning trip to the Xingping area famous for being home to the mountains presented on the Chinese 20 RMB yuan note. At the end of this uncannily beautiful sunrise trip, the pilot instructed us to jump out at about six metres above the ground just before the balloon crashed into the mountain. We all lived to tell the story.  Not only did we jump with little injury, we also dragged the deflated balloon down the mountainside to the main road.

The short-term secondment to China actively encouraged me to seek a long-term transfer to Jakarta where life carried on with the same adventure: carbon development and sustainability projects combined with travels across APAC. Though immensely fun, the long working days spent living out of a suitcase and making hotel rooms or airplanes home was not as novel as it seemed in the beginning. Therein started the next phase of my career where I sought out and was offered a role that made me extend my expat journey to the far-away south land down under. Fourteen months after moving to Jakarta, I set foot in Sydney for the first time to join a management consulting firm specialising in energy and climate change. The Carbon Tax had been approved, changing the  Australian environmental landscape and opening it up to the world of carbon markets and offsets. The years following comprised of getting to know domestic businesses, markets and schemes whilst helping clients mitigate their risks and acquit carbon liability.

The Carbon Tax was subsequently repealed and after spending a few more years in climate change consulting, I decided to take a sabbatical which took me up to north-east Queensland to do a personal development course. We spent part of the course in Papua New Guinea on a shipping trawler turned medical ship on the East Sepik Province, along the Sepik River. The time I spent with the grass roots communities on the Sepik River gave me a deep insight into the impacts of climate change on livelihoods – one that we don’t experience in a developed country like Australia. Those six months provided me great insight into where to position my career going forward – it dawned on me more than ever that if I wanted to see real change happen in the climate change arena, I needed to find a way to be part of the solution that bridged the gap between the corporate world and carbon offset projects that provide real and credible benefits to grassroots communities. This encouraged me to return to the business world back in Sydney and seek out opportunities that aligned with that goal.

However what lay ahead was almost four years of further exploring the energy and sustainability spheres as well as other sectors. I learnt through the many opportunities that came my way to expand my skills and network, navigate the fine balance between speech and action, and manage stakeholders. Twenty-twenty hit with a bang and navigating unemployment through COVID-19 also became part of my learning experience. As a result I explored more opportunities beyond the borders of Australia and outside the carbon markets and sustainability sectors, but I also applied for the role at TEM with no inkling that it would be where my purpose aligned with their core values of Trust, Excellence and Mindfulness (TEM).

In a nutshell: TEM is where I landed as I pursued my passion and purpose to be an integral part of real and impactful climate change action that connects the business world to life-changing carbon offset projects.

My two cents to anyone still pursuing their purpose and not yet found it, is to never give up. Just keep doing the next right thing and at the right time, you will find your place and there you will work out your purpose fuelled with passion.

Elizabeth Mathew is TEM’s Carbon Solutions Manager; a polyglot with an enviable number of stamps in her passport, passionate about the life-changing impacts of carbon offset projects, loves to read (and can do it in seven languages!).