Lizzy Whitehead’s first recollection of being drawn to international development is as a ten-year-old watching Live Aid on TV in the 80s. Growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a city embroiled in civil unrest during ‘The Troubles’, she was shocked to learn there were children dying of starvation.
“I think that may have been my awakening. When I was 17 and eager to explore beyond the confines of a country with only 1.5 million people, I went on an expedition alone to Africa and fell in love with Zimbabwe, Lesotho, South Africa and Botswana. That trip inspired me to study Tropical Environmental Sciences at the University of Aberdeen.”
Coming from a working class family – dad was a gardener and mum a further education teacher – Lizzy was the first generation to attend university. She spent a wonderful year working overseas on a sustainable forestry programme in Bolivia and learning Spanish while doing her degree. “My love of forestry and the connections between people and forestry was becoming clear,” Lizzy explains. “Thanks to a scholarship from the UK Government, I was able to pursue a Masters in Forestry, People and Participation.”
Experiencing development from all angles
Lizzy has a unique array of development experience – local, national, international, with and for donors and NGOs. After her Masters at the University of Wolverhampton, she joined DFID in London as a forestry advisor followed by a two-year stint in Nepal as a livelihoods monitoring officer on a forestry programme. She returned to Scotland and worked in a national community forestry programme before taking a position with a local government body to work on environmental strategy. She then spent about six years in a national community health programme working with volunteers in some of the poorest Scottish communities to reduce health inequality gaps. Then it was back to DFID as a livelihoods and climate advisor in the UK and Indonesia and later with NGOs supporting with monitoring, learning and evaluation.
I find NIRAS to be a dynamic and open organisation with a ‘heart’ where our colleagues in international development are passionate about bringing about positive change for all.
A range of roles and connections
Since joining LTS, part of the NIRAS family, Lizzy – like many in a matrixed organisation – juggles multiple roles. In her primary position as Business Development Director on climate, land, agriculture and forestry, she works with talented colleagues to spot business opportunities and drive job satisfaction.
“We are looking for calls that match our way of working, where we can offer something valuable and unique to the client. We take our technical work seriously and have over 300 staff who both deliver technical inputs to our work and bid for new work. Ensuring those technical staff feel connected and have the opportunity to grow is an important part of my role and a strong driver for me personally,” Lizzy says.
Lizzy also supports some of our larger contracts, making sure the client is happy and that the team is delivering high quality work. As it’s important that she too keeps her technical skills sharp, she leads a large evaluation contract on innovations on forestry finance . Having this blend of responsibilities means that every day is different – a big plus for Lizzy.
“I really enjoy the diversity, the challenge. Each new task stretches us all a little further and ignites our brains. I also love connecting with colleagues across the world. We employ some great staff in our country offices, and I really believe they are the best people to bring solutions to development challenges. They know their own country and what will work.”
Lizzy recently relocated to Scotland and is getting to know a new community through volunteer work with foodbanks and a social enterprise. “It helps me meet new people and understand more about where I live in a way that hopefully gives back.” Like many of us she’s coping with juggling work, parenting and home-schooling kids. Good thing Lizzy’s job has prepared her for becoming a queen of multi-tasking in times of COVID.