Fighting for the planet every day
Yolan Friedmann is CEO of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. She tells Margaret Harris that her work with the organisation began with volunteering because she has always been enthusiastic about worthy causes.
What do you do at work each day?
I am responsible for ensuring that the Endangered Wildlife Trust runs efficiently and professionally, that we implement a sound and effective conservation strategy through our various projects (run in Southern and East Africa), that my staff are happy and productive and that we comply with the highest standards of governance excellence.
I am also responsible for ensuring the financial sustainability of the trust. This means that every day I liaise with staff, donors, partners, the public, our trustees and other stakeholders.
I spend a lot of time behind my computer, unfortunately, but get to meet project staff frequently to plan and strategise and I also occasionally visit projects.
What drew you to this type of work?
My first job was as lecturer at an agricultural college in rural Limpopo, where I also established and ran a community animal health clinic. I was always passionate about good causes and my position allowed me to integrate student development with providing much needed animal health and welfare services to rural people.
Being in a rural setting, I got exposed to the work of the Endangered Wildlife Trust and began volunteering for a project that was running in the area. Filing receipts and writing reports is how it all began.
I have always admired and loved the work the trust does and quickly got caught up in a desire to dedicate my life to reversing the negative trends in biodiversity and environmental sustainability.
My first “real” job with the trust was based on my having to raise my own salary for the first four years. Thereafter I initiated my own projects, which led to my conservation career taking off.
How did your interest in conservation develop?
I have always wanted to protect — or maybe fix — things, so initially it was injured animals and then it was finding solutions to some of the challenges encountered when working in deep rural environments. As I stumbled across conservation, what drew me to it was the need for so much to be done and the challenge that it needed to be done quickly, efficiently, innovatively and meaningfully. My love for nature clinched the deal.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
First a forensic investigator — I like puzzles — then an equine physiotherapist, because I seemed to always own lame horses and I wanted to fix them. I guess I am a natural fixer of things.
What about your job gets you out of bed each day?
My passion for the trust and the work we do, my wonderful staff and colleagues who make each day interesting, exciting and inspirational, and more work to do than I could ever hope to do in another four lifetimes. The positive feedback we get all the time about the work we do and the effect we have keeps us all motivated.
The successful release of a pack of wild dogs into their natural territory, the resighting of the Amatole toad thought to be extinct, or one of our colleagues receiving a big award are examples of regular causes for celebration and motivation.
What about your job keeps you awake at night?
Really two things: the lack of funding in the nongovernmental organisation sector, generally, and the environment. People cannot survive without functioning natural systems and biodiversity and yet it is a constant struggle to get the resources to halt extinction rates and address environmental decline. The other thing is the inability of far too many people to stop doing the things that destroy, harm and maim.
I cannot understand how, in a modern world, so many people still think it is okay to destroy a wetland, poach a rhino, bait bears for sport, shoot canned lions, smuggle millions of wild animals every year and generally engage in such cruelty.
What would you do if you could not do this job?
I would always stay in the environmental sector because it is a calling, not a job, but if I could not, I would probably pursue veterinary science and assist my partner, who owns his own veterinary clinic.
What qualities do you need to do this job?
Passion for the environment and for our wildlife is critical. Strong people skills, for example negotiation, communication and motivation; open-mindedness; strength of character because it can get tough at times; humility; patience; the ability to engage people and get the best out of them; the ability to build and work towards a strong vision; the ability to never stop learning; leadership skills; networking skills; a desire to make a difference and do more than just earn a salary; and a demonstrable commitment to achieving long-term goals.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
Whatever you do, do it brilliantly with passion and fervour, go the extra mile and be innovative. Don’t ever stand for mediocrity and accept only excellence.
My parents raised us with this philosophy.
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