Emelie Öhlander wants to make a difference, where it really matters. She has always had a strong desire to work politically with the challenges of climate change and the people who are affected by these changes in their daily lives. Since she was little, her dream has been to work for the UN – and to sit at the table when the major political decisions are made. She now works as a consultant for NIRAS. Here, she is part of managing projects which, among other things, help small coffee producers and local populations in Africa – at a level she would not have believed possible in a consultancy company like NIRAS.
Emelie grew up in the small Swedish town of Karlstad but moved to Stockholm at the age of 17. When she received her Bachelor’s degree in Geoscience from Stockholm University, Emelie made a big decision. To fulfil her dream of working on climate and environment on the international arena, Emelie packed her suitcase and moved 650 kilometers south to Copenhagen, to study for a MSc in Climate Change. During her graduate studies, Emelie interned with NIRAS, and later worked as a research assistant while writing her thesis in cooperation with NIRAS. She is now a full-time employee working on international projects, with the whole world as her workplace.
What are your tasks at NIRAS?
I am a project manager and work on development projects on the international market, focusing primarily on energy and climate. I work with both donors and customers, but we also make applications in cooperation with our local partners around the world thereby developing new projects. This gives us the freedom to develop our own ideas for projects, where we see there is a need. But as a new graduate, I do not have a resumé that would allow me to win project on the international market alone. However, I am very fortunate to be working in a small team where I have a lot of responsibility. My colleagues and I work closely on all projects, so I often function as a sort of project manager on many assignments.
What is the most exciting project you have worked on?
That would be my Uganda project, which I won in cooperation with our local partners in Uganda. Coffee production in the country is threatened by rising temperatures, caused by climate change. This has many repercussions for the living conditions of Ugandans, as approx. 1.6 million Ugandan farmers live on coffee production. Through this project, we will therefore create a sustainable coffee value chain, where we will help farmers to continue earning money on their coffee while also helping them with the challenges associated with climate change. This is really exciting, especially since I have been part of bringing the project to life – and it is also a project where I can truly see the value of the work we do.
What do you gain from working on development aid projects?
It was not always in the cards that I would work with development aid, but I have always wanted a position where I can help make a difference through political decisions. If I had been asked some years ago, I would never have believed that I would end up working as a consultant in an engineering consultancy company. Not in my wildest dreams had I believed that I would make such a difference as a consultant, as I now am making through my work. I am not part of major political decisions, but our work influences the political agenda. I especially experienced this when I worked on a climate project with several African countries. Here I had the opportunity to participate in Conference of the Parties (COP). This is the annual international climate conference for the countries behind the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement, where politicians from all over world meet to negotiate the global climate agreement.
Besides affecting the political agenda, my work contributes to helping ordinary people, who would normally be overlooked – and that means a lot to me. Moreover, I love to travel and meet people from different cultures and backgrounds. My work at NIRAS has given me the possibility to visit countries I would otherwise never have visited. I have worked on projects in Mozambique, Uganda and Georgia – and more will follow.
Why is NIRAS a good organization to work for?
It has a very horizontal organizational structure, which means that one will quickly be given responsibility – even as a young, new graduate. My work at NIRAS has given me belief in myself. As with many other new graduates, who have just entered the job market, I have been very unsure of what I can and would like to work with. But at NIRAS one is quickly given a lot of responsibility, and if you have an idea, it will almost always be heard. This has given me the opportunity to work on tasks which I do not think I would be allowed to work on in many other workplaces. The responsibility I have been given through my work by traveling and having the opportunity to manage projects, happened much faster than I expected. The trust that NIRAS shows by saying they believe in you is priceless. That means a lot to me. And then of course there is the social aspect – and the cafeteria! This is very unique compared to Sweden.