Ndoni Mcunu is a climate scientist and social entrepreneur. She works as part of the secretariat development team at South South North for the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) supported by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). Mcunu is the Founder of Black Women in Science which focuses on increasing young African girls’ and women’s awareness of STEM careers through outreach activities and education, while also supporting their mentorship in STEM fields.
Table of Contents
How I got my start in science: My story starts with a love of mathematics. Mathematics was my favorite subject at school. After completing high school, I started doing research at a public university in South Africa but I quickly learned that as a black woman from an underprivileged background there were many hurdles that had to be overcome if one was to achieve their dreams of advancing scientific knowledge for society’s benefit.
National Environment Management Authority
As part of a new strategy to engage young people with climate change issues, South South North for ARA has launched an innovative climate change adaptation project – The Climate Corps Tanzania. Building on ARA’s experience from Malawi, Ghana and Mozambique, where similar initiatives have already been implemented successfully in collaboration with national environmental authorities (NEAs), an idea was proposed to engage young university graduates in NEAs as advocates for adapting to climate change.
Within two years of being founded, ARA has evolved into a global partnership that aims to catalyse effective and integrated adaptation research to support developing countries in addressing climate change. Today we are headquartered in Cape Town with offices in Kumasi (Ghana), Jakarta (Indonesia) and Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea). We also have strong partnerships across all of our member countries. Within each country we work together with government officials, non-governmental organizations, civil society and researchers.
We sat down with Mcunu to talk about her life as a climate scientist, entrepreneur and role model. When asked about what she does for fun in her spare time, she said: I love spending time outdoors—hiking or just walking in nature.
A Sustainable Roadmap to Resilience: Lessons from Limpopo
Limpopo province in South Africa is rich in both biodiversity and human culture. However, over centuries of cultural settlement, farming practices have contributed to severe soil degradation. This has negatively impacted food security for vulnerable communities across South Africa. Through its program PRISMA – People’s Responses to Involuntary Stress through Migratory Adaptation – SAVE (Strategic Adaptation Vulnerability Experiment) seeks to bring people-centered solutions to climate change resilience in Limpopo.
Why should girls study STEM?
According to a report from World Economic Forum only 26% of women work in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) sectors. This is largely because gender stereotyping leads young girls to believe that there are ‘boy jobs’and ‘girl jobs’. In fact a study from Cornell University in 2014 revealed that 75% of 8-10 year old girls said they didn’t like science because they believed it was too difficult for them.
Bridging the gap between research and development
In my role as a social entrepreneur, I am working to bridge a gap between research in climate science on one hand and development on another. There is no point coming up with great solutions to address issues without first understanding how these can be implemented in real life situations. For instance, we are working to provide communities in northern Malawi with solar-powered water-pumping technologies that can potentially help improve their food security through providing more accessible water for crop irrigation.
Winning solutions are based on local knowledge
In Nigeria, women such as environmentalist Adaora Akubo are helping farmers to adapt to climate change. Over here in Britain we have a similar opportunity for adaptation with initiatives like Climate Ready London – where I work for ARA. Adaptation is as much about learning from communities as it is about money or technology. The key ingredient is listening; communities have knowledge of their environment and can provide insight into how they might adapt successfully now and in future. We need to listen to them before it’s too late.
Research needn’t be dry – you can ‘storyify’ it!
It seems that many students in high school are too afraid to ask questions because they fear not knowing what’s going on. If you think back to your own school experience, it might be difficult to remember a time when you were allowed or encouraged to question how something worked. I was lucky to have attended a private boys’ high school in South Africa that encouraged us to actively participate in our learning by asking questions.
You have to be brave to change your life!
If you look at your life now, would you say that it is leading where you want to go? If not; are you scared about what it will take to achieve your dreams? Are you confident enough in yourself to overcome those obstacles? So yes! What makes a successful social entrepreneur or anyone else for that matter is bravery. They make change despite fears and risk.
I’m working hard on my PhD!
After recently graduating with a BSc(Hons) in Environmental Science from Plymouth University, I am now working on my PhD in Climate Change Adaptation. My research focuses on vulnerability to extreme climate events amongst smallholder farmers in Malawi. This is an area that holds personal interest for me as I experienced famine first hand during my early childhood when extreme weather conditions took place across Africa.
We need more young women in STEM fields!
We need more women in science. And that’s not just my feminist agenda talking—our world needs to hear from more female voices when it comes to solving climate change issues. Women account for only 24 percent of senior positions in STEM jobs, according to a U.S.
Q . & A.
I’m a climate scientist and social entrepreneur. I work as part of South South North secretariat team at ARA. That’s an adaptation research partnership between Australia and developing countries supported by Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). I founded Black Women in Science network based in Cape Town to promote careers in science for black women in Africa. Here are some questions answered by Dr Ndoni Mcunu