Graduate gaining valuable experience at the United Nations in Rome

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Olive Zgambo graduated with a Master of Philosophy in Sustainable Development Planning and Management from Stellenbosch University in March this year. Before that, she was part of the 2016 group of Postgraduate Diploma students in Sustainable Development, presented at the Institute. In a bold step she applied for an internship at the United Nations’ food and agricultural organisation, and we were so proud when she shared the news that she was accepted! This is a wonderful achievement and opportunity Olive! She shared her story with us here.

“My Masters research drew from both social and environmental sciences, and focused on the food system as a complex adaptive system (CAS). It was an attempt to contribute to the gap in the body of knowledge on sustainable transition studies especially in the global South. I was involved in coordinating Transformation lab (T-lab) processes that brought together diverse actors from the alternative food system within the Cape Town area, i.e. those that are actively engaged in changing current ways of producing, consuming, processing and disposing of food. The T-labs were designed to serve as an intervention in the current food system and aid transformation towards more ecologically sustainable, socially just and economically viable food trajectories. The study involved mutual learning and joint problem solving with the T-lab participants, who also played a crucial role in framing the research process and outcomes.

I am currently doing a 6-month internship in the Office of Evaluation (OED) at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Headquarters in Rome, Italy. Sometime in August/September of 2017, my dear friend forwarded to me a call of applications for internships across FAO locations worldwide and suggested I apply. I did, and it was a whole 6 months before I heard anything back from them, but here we are! Among other responsibilities, I support communications activities for FAO project and programme evaluations. This involves promoting the evaluation function as a primary tool for accountability and learning both within the Organization, with Member Countries, partners and other audiences. We use various means to do so, including stakeholder workshops, and evaluation products such as reports, videos, and outreach campaigns. The work is intense but exciting, and there are many opportunities for capacity development from online courses, trainings, seminars, and workshops available to staff.

The people in Rome are friendly and easy-going, and are very proud of their city – as they should be, it is a beautiful city. It is also quite easy to explore most parts of the city and neighbouring towns by public transport, which I do whenever I can. Food is a big part of the culture, currently it is summer so the weather is ideal for eating out and having copious amounts of gelato. I also live right opposite a farmer’s market and pizzeria so it is easy to get fresh fruit, nuts and pulses, vegetables and a variety of delicious homemade pizza, pasta and lasagne dishes.

So far, the biggest culture shock has been how many of the people I meet outside of work only speak (or are only willing to speak) Italian. Case in point, two of my housemates only speak Italian, and they are both Master’s students! They do make perfect Italian tutors though, and in exchange, I teach them English. Our goal is to no longer use hand signals and Google Translate to communicate by the end of July!”

Congratulations again to Olive on participating in such a wonderful opportunity.