Yoel Kirschner, a Bren alum from the MESM Class of 2013, has traveled far from his days spent at UCSB, approximately 10,244 miles, to be exact. Currently living in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, in southern Africa, Yoel works for the U.S. Forest Service International Programs as the REDD+ Advisor to the Malawi Department of Forestry, leading the establishment of a national-scale REDD+ program in cooperation with the Malawian government. REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, is a proposed climate change mitigation mechanism through the UNFCCC, and includes a focus on the role of conservation, sustainable forest management, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
This is not the first time Yoel has lived in Malawi; he served in the U.S. Peace Corps in northern Malawi from 2009 to 2011 as a Natural Resource Management Volunteer. Yoel credits his past experience there, in which he was immersed in Malawian culture and language, as a motivation for him to pursue his current position. His Bren School education and past work experience with the U.S. Forest Service prepared him well for the job, especially in regards to operating in an interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder environment.
As the Malawi REDD+ Advisor, Yoel works directly with Malawi’s civil society organizations, Departments and Ministries, and various international development partners with mutual interest in REDD+ and related efforts. Yoel and his colleagues seek to build Malawi’s capacity in GIS and remote sensing, national forest inventory, above and below-ground carbon measurement, strategic communications, and improved governance. “That’s what we’re here to do – assist Malawi’s institutions, scientists and leaders, so that they can take full ownership of the REDD+ program, and as a country, reap the benefits of improved natural resource management, valuation of forest carbon stocks, and maintenance of essential ecosystem services.”
Yoel admits that there are some challenging aspects to the job. “There are the day-to-day challenges of living in sub-saharan Africa and dealing with power outages, water shortages, and transportation issues. These inconveniences can be quite entertaining with the right attitude though. Professionally, sensitizing stakeholders on why REDD+ matters is an on-going process which has led to a lot of interesting conversations. There are a variety of opinions on how forestry should be done here. REDD+ is a novel approach which can be difficult even for environmental professionals to grasp. An even greater challenge will be communicating these ideas to local communities once pilot projects are underway. I try my best to negotiate many moving parts all at once.”
Still, Yoel feels confident in the program’s contribution to Malawian natural resource management. He often refers to his previous experience in Malawi to help him in his current role. “Greeting someone in their own language goes a long way and creates an instant level of familiarity. It’s all about building trust, and then moving forward with the process together”, he explains.
Though his job is quite demanding, requiring long hours and a lot of patience, Yoel feels that the work is rewarding. He explains that it is inspiring to meet people of such a high caliber in the international community, all working to establish something lasting and beneficial for the world at large. “I’ve never worked harder, but it’s all part of a great adventure.”