Meet 7 inspiring women working in environmental science

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Fewer than 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women, reflecting gaps in educational and professional opportunities that are holding back both gender equality and sustainable development goals.

On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the Global Environment Facility is highlighting seven women scientists from across our partnership who play essential roles in addressing our planet’s most pressing environmental challenges.

Rosina Bierbaum, GEF STAP

Rosina Bierbaum is chair of the Scientific and Advisory Panel of the Global Environmental Facility.

Rosina Bierbaum is chair of the Scientific and Advisory Panel of the Global Environmental Facility. Throughout her career, Rosina Bierbaum has advocated for improvements in the curriculum that educates students in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She has also worked to advance policy in areas including antibiotic resistance, clean energy, and agriculture. She is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors in the scientific field. When she reflected on her election to the National Academy of Sciences, Rosina Bierbaum emphasized that she would not be in that position without “a lot of science fairs, and many, many patient mentors along the way.” She addressed her unusual career path from serving on President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to heading back to university to mentor the next generation of environmental leaders.

Aulani Wilhelm, Conservation International

Aulani Wilhelm, Senior Vice President of Oceans at Conservation International. Photo: Conservation International

Aulani Wilhelm, Senior Vice President of Oceans at Conservation International, is engaging in work that is essential to the future of ocean health. As leader of the Center for Oceans, Conservation International’s global coastal and marine program, her work aims to protect coastal ecosystems and improve ocean management and governance. Despite not having what she calls a specific ‘aha!’ moment that inspired her career path, Aulani Wilhelm believes her core values as a Hawaiin islander from an indiginous community underpin everything she tries to do. When reflecting on her career journey, Aulani claims, “The best successes and rewards that I have ever experienced have manifested where people and institutions were challenged to not only do better, but to work differently to get there.”

Doreen Robinson, UNEP

Doreen Robinson, the Chief for Wildlife at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Photo: Nicholas Greenfield/UNEP

Doreen Robinson, the Chief for Wildlife at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), cannot remember a time when she did not feel passionate about conserving wildlife and natural ecosystems. She began her studies with the intention of becoming a wildlife veterinarian, but her direction shifted toward the interconnections between people and the environment during her time at Cornell University. Currently, Doreen Robinson is the coordinator of a new GEF Congo Basin Sustainable Landscapes Impact Program, a six-country initiative working to protect the biodiversity of the Congo Basin. The forests of the basin include more than fifteen percent of the world’s remaining tropical forests and are home to over 250 different ethnic groups. The ultimate goal of this project is to maintain the forests and protect the millions of species living within them — including endangered gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos. In a 2020 interview, she shares a similar message about the need for diversity within the field of science and environmental change. When asked about lessons learned throughout her career, she said, “This is complex, planet saving work, and with it I have learned that deep humility is needed. We need to seek out others and other perspectives to get the job done.”

Clara Baringo Fonseca, SiBBr

Clara Baringo Fonseca is a biologist and Senior Analyst of the GEF-supported Brazilian Biodiversity Information System. Photo: UNEP/Aidan Dockery.

Clara Baringo Fonseca is a biologist and Senior Analyst of the GEF-supported Brazilian Biodiversity Information System. She initially found interest in global environmental issues while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Barcelona. After completing a five-year program that covered a wide range of environmental issues, Clara decided to focus on climate modelling in order to better understand the impacts of climate change on conservation and management of natural resources. The GEF-supported project she is currently working on aims to understand and catalogue Brazil’s biodiversity in order to promote sustainable use of the nation’s natural resources.The project is now in its final phase and has launched a National Biodiversity Database to compile more than 200 biological collections and 15 million records on Brazillian biodiversity. When asked to reflect on what she’s learned about the success of managing conservation and environmental issues, Clara emphasized the importance of inclusion. She said, “We need to include all types of societies, minorities and communities, with dialogue as one of the most fundamental tools to improve the wellbeing of all.”

Rocío Cóndor, FAO

Climbing the Ventasso Mountain and collecting high altitude plant flowers in the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme (MAP) Reserve Appennino Tosco-Emiliano, Emilia Romagna Region, Italy. Photo courtesy of Rocío Cóndor.

Rocío Cóndor works at the Food and Agriculture Organization where she supports GEF-funded projects related to the Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency, an initiative that aids developing countries in tracking their progress toward meeting the Paris Agreement. She obtained her Ph.D. in Forest Ecology at the Universitá degli Studi della Tuscia in Viterbo, Italy twenty years ago. In those twenty years she has remained in the field of environmental science, tackling issues related to renewable energy, sustainable transportation, and wastewater projects. Her current work focuses on improving the transparency of forest data through improved collection, analysis, and means of data sharing. It is her hope that more accurate and sustainable forest management will ultimately prevent and reduce land degradation. When asked what makes her optimistic about the future of the global environment, Rocío Cóndor stated the importance of all perspectives in addressing environmental challenges: “If each of us shares our own talents we will be able to make a difference.”

Milena Gonzalez Vasquez, World Bank

Photo courtesy of Milena Gonzalez Vasquez.

Milena Gonzalez Vasquez, a Climate Change Specialist at the World Bank, began her career path by first studying chemical engineering at Stanford University. It wasn’t until a summer engineering program that she became interested in global energy and climate challenges. As an engineer, Milena is interested in shedding light on challenging problems and as a global citizen she is moved by the urgency and scale of the climate crisis. While working for the GEF, Milena Gonzales Vasquez took on many different roles. She was a program manager for climate change mitigation projects in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Small Island Developing States. She was also a part of a team working to help shift countries toward low-emission development pathways in line with the Paris Agreement. While taking on many roles at GEF, Milena had found that “a diversity of backgrounds, interests, and experiences is invaluable to any team.”

Ornela Çuçi, Government of Albania

Ornela Çuçi participating in a bird census at Kune-Vain Lagoon in Lezhe, Albania. Photo courtesy of Ornela Çuçi.

Ornela Çuçi is Albania’s Deputy Minister of Tourism and Environment and her country’s Political Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility. She represents a constituency of twelve countries at the GEF council. Prior to her career in government, she received a Ph.D. in environmental science and technology and specialized primarily in integrated waste management. She uses her background in environmental science to aid in her decision-making and implementation of environmental legislation. She works in close cooperation with local governments and with civil society to determine priority areas of environmental engagement and investment. Ornela Çuçi believes that her time in public service has taught about the gravity of political decisions on the lives of people. She claimed, “Even though politics may not have a very good reputation, it is an essential instrument to improve the life of a society, if it is exercised with responsibility and love.”

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