Byron Pakula graduated from our MIDEA program (now part of the Masters of Sustainability) in 2005. He is currently based in Jordan as Country Director for ACTED (a French NGO) to help with the Syrian refugee crisis. He recently worked on food security in South Sudan. Before that, he spent two years in Kyrgyzstan working on programs in agricultural development, disaster risk reduction, and natural resource management. We recently caught up with him, and asked him some questions about his career and educational path.
Why did you choose your current career path?
I have had a love for agricultural and natural resource management for many years, while my wife has been oriented towards humanitarian disputes. By following this career path of international development and humanitarian work, we have both been able to contribute to goals we believe in, while also discovering amazing new parts of the world.
What did you major in before you decided to pursue your Masters, and why did you choose the Monash MIDEA program?
Hah, I’m a failed economist! But I still believe in the principles of economics, and the fact that the market system can be used quite effectively to support agricultural development as well as environmental management.
When did you finish your Masters and what have you been doing since?
I finished the M.IDEA program in 2005, and chose to do it part time so I could continue working while studying. As part of MIDEA, I went to Bangladesh as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development, where I did research in one of the most amazing places in the world – the Sundarbans, a wetland on the border with India. I wrote this up as my research paper, and afterwards continued to travel and work throughout Sri Lanka with the Red Cross as part of the Tsunami response team. I went to Kyrgyzstan with ACTED – a French NGO – where we worked on agricultural development, natural resource management, disaster risk reduction, and other development and humanitarian projects. Now I am the Country Director for ACTED Jordan, where our team is supporting the Syrian Refugees both in the refugee camps and hosted by the Jordanian community.
What are the most valuable professional skills you’ve gained from MIDEA?
I was very fortunate in the MIDEA that I was able to pick up so many skills and undertake so many subjects that I had not been exposed to before. However, I think the most valuable skill I gained was how to link different pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle together. For understanding poverty and the environment which I spend much of my days doing, this is really important.
What advice would you give students wanting to pursue careers in International Development and Environmental Analysis?
Just go for it! I think a lot of people get shy about it because it is hard to enter the industry with so many young, smart and dedicated people trying to start a career in International Development. So it’s important to be willing to volunteer for long periods of time just to learn how the international development works, and build up networks with the right people in the right places.
Based on your experience, what are the emerging opportunities and challenges in this professional field of work, and what new skills should our students require?
The international development and environmental sectors continue to evolve, with new theories and practices being adopted really quickly. It’s important to keep up to date with all the new trends out there, and to understand how to put this in to practice.
Tell us about the most rewarding experience in your career since MIDEA
ACTED has a really good internship program for people trying to start a career in international development. Through my time with ACTED, I have seen around 15 young dedicated people from around the world spend six months in some really challenging work and living environments. Without a doubt, the most rewarding experience I have is after their six month intern, sitting down and talking to them to understand how they have developed personally and professionally as a result.
And the weirdest one…
Kyrgyzstan has some amazing mountains. Absolutely beautiful snow-capped peaks with yurts and communities scattered throughout the valleys, with herds of cattle feeding on the pastures. Seeing a horse festival between villages in some of these remote places definitely conjures up some weird experiences – like seeing a horse race start, everyone turning around and wrestling with each other, only for one hour later to see the horse race coming over a mountain from a completely different angle. There are some strange and wonderful traditions…