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Biodiversity Champion: Dr. Caroly Shumway

by FRAME Administrator last modified Apr 03, 2017 11:05 AM
Contributors: BRIDGE
The USAID BRIDGE project and FAB staff sat down with USAID’s former Senior Science Advisor to the Administrator and former Director of USAID’s Center for Development Research, Dr. Caroly Shumway, to learn about what inspired her to be a scientist and her thoughts on the importance biodiversity for development.

Dr. Shumway, a third generation scientist, attributes her early appreciation for and interest in science to her father and grandfather, and childhood experiences. “My grandfather, Roger Revelle, was an oceanographer and chief scientist for the U.S. Department of Interior, and I also grew up on a farm in California where I was always outside and with nature,” she said. “All of these things instilled a lifelong curiosity in me. I wanted to either grow up to be an astronaut or oceanographer.” She chose the latter and earned her Ph.D. in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Recently, Dr. Shumway had the honor of the title Senior Advisor to the Administrator. How did it feel to be called Senior Advisor to the Administrator? “Awesome,” she said with a laugh. Even so, her humility is evident as she shared both successes and lessons-learned during her more than 25-year career.

As the conversation shifted to the importance of biodiversity for development, Dr. Shumway acknowledged that “scientists in all of the Agency’s sectors appreciate the value of biodiversity integration in achieving their objectives.” However, if there are any barriers to integration, it would be institutional ones that are not insurmountable by any means. “[Integration] makes sense,” she said. “Approaching development through integration is a wise use of our investment because it’s cost-effective. If you do development work in isolation within a single sector, you will find that you need to come around and address the biodiversity issues after the fact if the interconnections are not identified early on.”

Despite the evidence, making the rationale for biodiversity protection resonate in the minds of many Americans is not easy. “It is hugely challenging to convey what biodiversity means to people’s everyday lives,” she said. She recounted a time when she helped make the case for the importance of biodiversity in the exhibit living links at the New England Aquarium. “We assembled a typical lunch box and were able to tell the story of how each item originated from a healthy biodiverse system.” Indeed, 70% of food consumed by people can be linked back to a natural pollinator.  And, when natural pollinators thrive in their environment, then food quality and production increases.

Getting the message to resonate requires more than information and education, she added. “I personally try to build understanding for individuals to recognize how their individual choices make a difference. We have to do a better job at this.” By improving communications, outreach and engagement with broad audiences, such as indigenous peoples and faith communities, scientists can help to build broad support for global development that integrates biodiversity across all sector-related objectives and goals.

Dr. Shumway believes that future generations of scientists are key to this endeavor. USAID is contributing through activities such as the Higher Education Solutions Network, which was launched in 2012 with seven world-class universities to do more to encourage students to go into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions. USAID also sponsors programs like Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research, which funds scientists and engineers in developing countries who partner with U.S. government-funded researchers to address knowledge gaps. Part of the benefit of this partnership is that it allows local researchers to bring in students to address local challenges that impact their communities.

While she is hopeful about the future of science knowing that more and more youth are taking an interest in science and technology, she also noted the importance of looking up from social media and taking an interest in one’s own backyard. Just as important as the education in science and technology are the soft skills, emotional intelligence and empathy needed to improve life on earth for human well-being, she added.

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