Responsibly sourcing commodities: sustainable development in action

Our #EdEcoCareers blog series continues with University of Edinburgh alumnus, Yana Doncheva who provides a great insight into her career path and current role as sustainability consultant with Proforest.

Hi all, my name is Yana, University of Edinburgh MA Sustainable Development (with Social anthropology) alumni, graduated in 2016. Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria, currently based in Oxford, UK.

Ever since graduating from Edinburgh I have followed the sustainability path, starting with an MSc in food chains and sustainable development in agriculture (studying in Cork and Copenhagen as part of the Agris Mundus programme).  The culmination of this program was the field research for my project which took place in Sabah, Malaysia. I spent 3 months on the island of Borneo, talking to palm oil smallholders about their livelihoods, struggles and the new opportunities offered by one of the sustainable palm oil certification systems. However, during this time my research was utilising skills gained at the University of Edinburgh, and more precisely the knowledge of qualitative research, participant observation and semi-structured interviews gained from studying anthropology.

Following from these experiences I’m now working as a sustainability consultant for a company called Proforest. What I work on is the responsible sourcing of commodities grown in mostly tropical agricultural areas; my focus is (unsurprisingly!) palm oil. However, we also have projects on sugarcane, soy, cocoa, rubber, timber, and beef.

This sector requires very specific knowledge and experience. In order to get into this field it would be good to have an interest in agriculture, including the social and environmental impacts of its development, as well as related topics like deforestation, conversion and respectively conservation of valuable ecosystems, human rights in agriculture, labour and land rights. It is an inter-disciplinary field which requires both an open mind and well-structured knowledge, as well as a brain trained in critical thinking – all qualities which can be gained through university experience.

As with most things in life, in order to be satisfied with your job you also need to be passionate about it. My advice would be, when you are still at university, be curious, expand your knowledge beyond a fixed field and be open to ideas which are coming not necessarily from your school of thoughts. You never know where you might find it applicable and inspirational. The field of social studies gives you a great basis for keeping your curiosity level as high as possible. Make the most of your time and remember that the real learning process happens way beyond the lecture hall and tutorial room.

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