Welcome to our interview series where we speak with purpose-driven and sustainability-focused professionals from around the globe. Every few weeks, we’ll dive into their journeys, learn about their wins and challenges, and the resources they couldn’t do without.
Prepare to be inspired and learn something new!
Today’s guest is Roko Vitinaqailevu, regenerative agriculture, environmental and socio-economic research specialist from Fiji.
Please tell us a little bit about who you are, your background, and your current job. What inspired you to start a career in sustainability and what was your journey to where you are now?
I am Rokotamana Vitinaqailevu or simply Roko, an Indigenous Fijian (iTaukei) from the Fiji Islands. I grew up in a traditionally conservative family environment where going to church and farming were the mainstays, typical of Fijian families.
My work experience began as an Intern for the Climate Change Adaptation Program at the University of the South pacific (USP). I completed my Degree in Environmental Science and continue as a Research Assistant for a project focussing on the watershed management program for one of the main islands (Viti levu) largest and most economically important watersheds. I upgraded my qualifications to a Post Grad in Climate Change, to understand the scientific explanations for adverse weather events, its impacts & effects. Additionally I learned that the practical solutions to these challenges embraced by most Pacific Islanders, showed that the traditional knowledge-base was more sustainable and wiser.
I have worked on other projects as a Consultant and data field collector, focussing on ridge-to-reef holistic approach and socio-economic aspects of climate change and sustainable development.
I completed a Masters dissertation on controlling ammonia loss by composting insect infested cocoa pods, as a viable compost option for farmers, at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology. Since then I had been running our family’s semi-commercial farm as a full-time farmer. Understanding the financial obligations and challenges farmers face has been a crucial learning opportunity.
I am currently starting my own Consultancy with a focus on regenerative agriculture, green economy and environmental services. My current tasks at the moment are proposal writing and looking out for funding opportunities.
What’s your day-to-day like?
At the moment it’s quite hectic. Juggling your responsibilities as a single parent and committing to career goals is a huge learning curve. I am at home most of the time and spend it researching and improving my skills in programming, video editing, statistics and graphic design, in preparation for my planned Consultancy work.
What do you like the most about the work you do?
Field work is the best part. Out of the office environment, meeting new people, gathering qualitative & quantitative data, knowing that it will all add to the knowledge-base to preserve an ecosystem.
My philosophy is to protect what sustains you. Whether it is the natural environment, family or other commitments, I remain optimistic.
How does your work address societal and/or environmental issues?
As a farmer, researcher and green economy advocate, I conduct socio-economic surveys to understand the relationship of specific groups of people to their natural surroundings. I have discovered in some cases, the insatiable lure of money and wealth, made worse by climate change, have destroyed the mutual balance between man and nature. Although it is observed and evident on a large scale, with industries, corporations, etc., on a micro scale, in smaller communities, it is no better.
In your experience, what are the main challenges of working with mission-driven and sustainability-focused businesses?
From my experiences with community focussed projects, getting the people involved is a big problem. Projects come and go and it’s the people it serves who are challenged to commit to the long term objectives where, in some unfortunate cases, focus falters.
Another challenge is the need in exchanging baseline data between organizations and government agencies which is often “unavailable” or incomplete, and we’re forced to recreate the wheel, wasting funds and resources.
Is there anything that you do outside of your work that is driven by similar (sustainability) objectives?
I am an aspiring farmer and have been driving the reduction and elimination of chemical uses on the farm. My goal is to transition to a fully organic and regenerative cultivation technique. This is my hobby and a job at the same time.
When I need to go places, I usually walk or cycle, to reduce my carbon footprint.
In your opinion, what are the top skills necessary to be successful at a “green job”?
Authentic, passionate, creative, informative and persuasive. One must demonstrate genuine concern for the environment, understand biodiversity, globalization and its devastating impacts on society and natural resources. You must be able to successfully persuade and personally engage with communities using historical information and predictions.
What green careers/sectors do you see growing the fastest right now and/or will become mainstream within the next 10 years?
I would like to think that a Conservation planner would be a mainstream green career in the next 10years. The industrial boom compounded by scientific re-engineering of natural systems have disturbed the natural balance. So ultimately most sectors of the economy will need some sort of action against environmental degradation.
What are the most common mistakes or misperceptions you have seen when it comes to green careers?
That it is not financially rewarding or it is a waste of investment to be a real job or qualification.
You have a diverse background and experience working on environmental and socio-economic projects. Could you highlight some of the key differences and potential green career paths within industries/sectors you’ve worked with?
The differences make it more challenging and rewarding. One of the main differences is the information gap and the will to implement sound data into policies and maintain it. This also plays an important role in the purposes for which the data is acquired. While one sector will need data to encourage infrastructure development with the least environmental damage, the other maintains data to reduce natural imbalance and encourage the natural ecosystem to thrive without anthropogenic disturbances.
In my opinion, a potential green career path across all sectors would be an Environment specialist.
Any “lessons learned” or advice you can share with others looking to succeed in their purpose-driven career?
All successful people have one thing in common, they’ve failed once, twice or many times. Never be afraid to pick yourself up, re-evaluate, and re-plan. Pursue your goal with passion and always think of those who look up to you.
What inspires you every day to wake up and keep going?
I am inspired by my hardworking parents. Setting a positive example for my community and family keeps me going. I am an aspiring farmer, and it is becoming a passion and going green and organic need more influencers.
Roko has a Masters degree in Agriculture focussed on controlling ammonia loss using chemical additives on composting cocoa pods infested with the Cocoa-pod-borer. He is an aspiring farmer hoping to inspire others into regenerative agroforestry techniques. Within this mission is his intention to start his Consultancy business. He has more than 5 years of experience in socio-economic research and community focussed climate change projects. He loves the outdoors and enjoys nature and taking his almost 2years old daughter out for a walk. He hopes she will grow to be an avid environment conservation champion.