Career advice: 'You can make a difference in any field'
Kaiwan Ahmed Taqdees is a United Arab Emirates-based sustainable education advisor and sustainable supply chain expert who works to educate and engage young people about climate change. In an interview ahead of the GEF Assembly, he shared his passion for raising awareness about the many career paths available to young people who want to make a difference for the environment.
You are studying civil engineering and are experienced in sustainable supply chains and procurement. How does this work relate to your interest in climate change?
Civil engineering for me acts as a bridge into being able to work and contribute to the climate field. It encapsulates a broad range of practices, including the development of sustainable cities and climate-resilient infrastructure. A key thing to understand is that humans are inseparable from climate change. I feel that civil engineering helps me contribute to a sustainable society and amass the technical knowledge needed to understand and assess the feasibility of various climate policies.
As for sustainable supply chains and procurement, it is something fundamentally interlocked with sustainable civil engineering. This field involves working to reduce the impacts of carbon-heavy material procurement and transport practices key to engineering projects; selecting the inherent material required to produce minimal-impact projects; promoting the circular economy related to the reusability of construction materials; advising on regulatory practices associated with a more sustainable approach to supply chain management; and much more.
Of course, just tacking the word “sustainable” in front of a practice does not mean something on its own. But sustainability is truly versatile, and my interest in climate change really extends itself across all of these fields.
What is your message to a young person who is interested in climate change, and may not know what career path to choose?
Many people think that the only way to contribute to a greener world is by being advocates, protesters, or policymakers. And if that is what you want to do as well – more power to you. However, if you aren’t sure if your competencies align, or if you won’t be able to support your futures or families with these pathways, or perhaps such career directions aren’t even available to you – just know that everything you do can contribute. No matter the field, the focus, or the paygrade, you can always make a change. Engineers can develop sustainable cities, artists can inspire with their works, economists can contribute to the circular economy, teachers can create the next generation of sustainable youths – the list goes on.
Being pragmatic is not something you should feel bad about, but learning how to turn that into something beneficial is what truly matters.
What does meaningful dialogue with the private sector mean for you?
Meaningful dialogue with the private sector really starts with the recognition of how and where the private sector can contribute. It is easy to simply play the blame game where the responsibility for climate change is pushed on the private sector, and that the only way to fix the issue is through public sector and international response. However, let’s not forget where the majority of the world is employed, and in turn where the most positive and effective dialogue can take place.
The promotion and creation of green jobs, the sustainable practices that can save our future, the sponsoring of innovative ideas to prevent stagnation – these all are things the private sector has and can contribute to the world. Mutually beneficial solutions are the best path.
How did you get involved in international environmental work?
I always had an interest in environmentalism, and I was in the fortunate position to actualize my ambitions when I was invited to be a speaker at events related to youth participation in the field. One such event was organized by the UAE Minister of Climate Change, where I was able to share my thoughts on how young people can contribute to the climate field – that regardless of their career choices, they can make a difference especially when their parents, teachers, and adults in their lives can facilitate that. And beyond this, that schools, governments, and companies all have a role in making these paths a reality.
I later became a member of YOUNGO and began to volunteer with the Action for Climate Empowerment to support youth climate empowerment. I also became a member of an advisory board for a youth environmental education non-profit, My Zalu – where I am currently working with UAE-based organizations and a local school, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, to create an Emirati youth-made children’s environmental conservation book to be published by COP28.
If you could say one thing to today’s political or business leaders, what would it be?
“A favorite phrase of yours is ’the future is in the hands of the youth’ and yet it is rare to see any opportunities for young people to realize that truth. As young people are indeed the future, they must be present in discussions about the state of the planet, and their participation must be prioritized with adequate funding.”
What are your other interests or hobbies?
The boring answer would be reading and art, but honestly, I’m lucky to say that the work I do is an interest and hobby in and of itself.
What are you looking forward to at the GEF Assembly?
My biggest gripe tends to be the lack of opportunities for young people to engage on environmental issues. So being invited to the GEF Assembly means a lot to me. I am glad to see the Assembly’s youth centered programs and the overall opportunity for young people to join, participate in, and build capacity at this gathering.
It is imperative that young people be central to international environmental discussions such as these. It’s one thing to be a topic of discussion, and another to be able to discuss it ourselves. I truly look forward to the chance to do exactly this.