Master of Environment and Sustainability graduate Kizzy Tahnin is now Culture Programme Officer at UNESCO Bangladesh.
She’s always been interested in culture and heritage, but it was during her master’s studies at Monash that its full significance came to light for her, igniting her passion to work in this field.
We caught up with Kizzy for an insight into the role of culture in sustainable development and her path from Monash to UNESCO.
So, how did it all begin? Can you tell us a bit about your background prior to studying the Master of Environment and Sustainability at Monash?
I completed my undergraduate and master’s degrees in economics from Dhaka University, known as the ‘Oxford of the East’ because of its early immense contribution to the contemporary history of Bangladesh. After finishing my studies I joined one of Bangladesh’s leading marketing and communications firms, Asiatic MCL, as a social communication executive. There I was involved with some interesting social campaigns, such as a national campaign on ‘Violence against Women’ sponsored by GIZ, Oxfam, and the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs of Bangladesh.
Simultaneously, I had been actively involved with the United Nations Youth Association of Bangladesh, and had developed a short film for them on the power of the youth, ‘Divine Ray’, which was screened in different international United Nations Youth Programs.
What drew you to study this master’s?
I am future-conscious and always keen to learn about sustainable solutions. Although I already had the Master of Economics from Dhaka University, I chose to enrol in the Monash Master of Environment and Sustainability so that I could learn how to evaluate, analyse and collaborate across sectors to influence, motivate and effect positive, sustainable change.
It was the knowledge and skills I learned previously through my academic and professional experiences that made me curious to explore a different genre of life and knowledge that a sustainable future demands.
It was one of my rational decisions to study the master’s at Monash University. This forward thinking interdisciplinary course provided me with the knowledge that’s needed to mitigate and adapt to global changes and to integrate sustainability principles from a social, economic and environmental perspective.
What were the top highlights for you in studying the master’s?
I learned the skill of “how to make things simple” through this degree, and also there was my valuable experience as a ‘Green Stepper’. [Green Step is an extra-curricular program that teaches students how to become leaders as sustainability change agents in their careers and beyond.]
After successfully completing the training at Monash University under Green Step, they provided me with an internship at the not-for-profit organisation Care Connect. There, I successfully developed an organisational policy and procedure for sustainability practice, a non-technical energy audit report with creative examples and recommendations for staff, and energy usage guidelines and recommendations that reduced the energy footprint of the organisation by 5% for one year, just by the behavioral change of staff.
Also, my master’s internship at Telstra was a milestone for my career. As part of my internship, I successfully prepared and implemented the first formal communication and project plan for the ‘Mobile Phone Recycling Campaign’ for Telstra staff in 2010-2011’ along with future recommendations and guidelines for the Telstra Corporate Environment Group.
Do you have any advice for international students?
Being an ‘International Student’ has its own challenges and opportunities. It is up to you, how you will explore the opportunities and minimise the challenges. Everyone has their own way to deal with it.
My advice would be: get to know people, don’t be afraid to ask, surround yourself with positive thoughts, focus on your study, appreciate and respect new cultures and promote yours. Most importantly, follow your dreams.
You are now the Culture Programme Officer at UNESCO Bangladesh, a dream job for many! How did you get there?
I came to know about the online advertisement for this job through a friend and applied. I knew this would be a job where I would be able to utilise the knowledge of my master’s degree, and where I would be able to integrate the concept of culture for sustainable development. Moreover, as an intellectual entity of United Nations, UNESCO and its mandate had always attracted me. I was confident that to be a part of this organisation would add value to my career path.
What does your role involve?
As a Programme Officer of the Culture Unit, I am involved in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating the work plans and activities of the unit in line with UNESCO’s mandate for the development of culture. Also, on behalf of my organisation, I provide technical inputs to the relevant stakeholders, and I engage in raising awareness of, and advocating for, UNESCO Dhaka’s mandates and activities on culture and sustainable development, such as: the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
The interdisciplinary foundation I gained from my master’s study allows me to analyse the interdependence of culture and sustainable development.
What are you working on now?
I have been working on different projects on the Safeguarding and Promoting of Cultural Heritage as per UNESCO’s mandate. One is the on-going project on Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Bangladesh, and another is the Sustainable Development and Community Involvement (SDCI) project for the Terracotta Artisans of the Paharpur World Heritage Site of Bangladesh. The recent Terracotta crafts Fair and Exhibition under the SDCI project has provided a platform for exhibit, promote and marketing and sales to ensure the Artisans continue their practice and improve their livelihood and economic development.
These projects have created a positive impact and mass awareness at a national level, regarding the promotion and safeguarding of cultural heritage, craftsmanship and ensuring the sustainable livelihood for artisans.
Your work has recently been picked up by DFAT and Australian TV?
In early 2016, The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia (DFAT) selected me for their documentary named “Story of My Life”, as an Australian university graduate from Bangladesh who returned from their studies in Australia, and as someone now actively using their skills and knowledge to contribute to the development of Bangladesh.
A team from DFAT in conjunction with the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) came to Bangladesh and filmed the documentary to televise on the Australia Plus network. DFAT’s video and photo stories will hopefully encourage young students and professionals in Bangladesh and Australia.
It was one of the most cherished experiences for me. Thanks again to Monash University for helping me attain such a valuable opportunity and honour.
I would like to thank Monash University for helping me grow professionally and personally. I am proud of being a part of Monash University. And I would like to share one of my favourite quotes from Rabindranath Tagore:
“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.”
All photos courtesy Kizzy Tahnin
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