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Advancing graduate and mid-career green skills in South Africa

Graduate internships and mid-career advancement are a national imperative for South Africa. In the environmental and sustainability sector, the WWF Nedbank Green Trust Graduate Development Programme is a leader in the field, with 128 Honours and Master’s graduates from South African universities placed in internship programmes since 2011.

Graduate internships and mid-career advancement are a national imperative for South Africa. In the environmental and sustainability sector, the WWF Nedbank Green Trust Graduate Development Programme is a leader in the field, with 128 Honours and Master’s graduates from South African universities placed in internship programmes since 2011.
Of these, the Green Affinity-funded WWF Nedbank Green Trust has supported 86 interns to date, with other partners supporting 42. This year, the programme has 50 Honours and Master’s graduates doing their internships in a wide range of conservation and sustainability organisations.
“The WWF Nedbank Green Trust funding has had a catalytic impact on this programme, and the quality of Honours and Master’s graduates the programme attracts never ceases to amaze me,” says the founder and Senior Manager of the WWF-SA Environmental Leaders Programme, Dr Glenda Raven.
Dr Raven and her team recruited the 128 interns from all 26 South African universities and at the start of the programme six years ago, there were just short of 100 applications; for this year’s internship they received 779 applications.
The internship graduates are from a wide range of disciplines, including marine and maritime science, chemical engineering, environmental science, agricultural science, conservation biology, water science, sustainable development, law, commerce and economics.
‘The internship bridges the gap between the academic and work environments; it is all about enabling postgraduate students to take up fulltime employment in this sector,’ says Yvonne Verrall, Marketing Manager for the Nedbank Green Affinity.
‘This programme personifies Nedbank’s ethos of money experts who do good and who see money differently, as the investment in South Africa’s graduates is an investment in their and our country’s future. Through the internship they can contribute meaningfully to conservation and sustainability leadership in South Africa while gaining the experience that employers are seeking.’
The programme has a 75% black South African transformation target. The interns are placed in a diverse range of organisations and businesses that partner with WWF-SA. These include national and provincial government organisations, non-governmental organisations and the private sector:
Ongoing partners include Nedbank, The Green House, the SPAR Group, Nature’s Valley Trust, the Grootbos Foundation and Emanti Design and Development. New partners include: Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA), Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), Living Lands, Pick n Pay, the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA), Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), the USAID funded South African Low Emissions Development (SA-LED) Programme, South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Two Oceans Aquarium and Wildlands Conservation Trust.
Interns are mentored by their host organisation and they receive a salary of R10 000 per month for a Master’s intern and R8750 per month for an Honours intern. They also receive a development budget for attending courses, conferences and workshops related to their professional and career development.
In previous years, the internship has been 18 months, while the current 2017/18 internship is 12 months. ‘For the first time since the programme’s inception the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) National Skills Fund has contributed funding for a 12-month internship,’ Dr Raven explains. She has put in enormous effort towards securing the support of the National Skills Fund. ‘This is a major step forward in our ultimate vision to expand our programme and learnings into the national system of environmental skills development,' says Dr Raven. 
‘We feel that 18 months instead of 12 is the ideal placement period to support the interns’ career development and we recently made this case at a project meeting with DHET, and they responded favourably as work integrated learning is a national priority and the DHET is the highest authority for skills development in South Africa. We have also submitted a case study of this internship programme to the Research Bulletin of the DHET to further make the case for quality internships, which would also require more funding 
Intern Anna Ras on the 2017 programme has a Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Pretoria and is doing her Master’s in Sustainable Energy Engineering through the University of Cape Town, at the same time as she is doing her internship with the USAID South Africa Low Emissions Development Programme.
The programme works with local government and municipalities to build capacity and develop innovative low emissions projects in waste management, transport, renewable energy and energy efficiency. It responds to climate change and supports South Africa’s transition to a green economy. 
“An example of the work we do is to look at current energy use and how we can improve the efficiency, from energy efficient lighting to renewable energy at all levels,” says Ras who says she is committed to this area of work because ‘I want to do something that improves a lot of peoples lives and that makes me feel good about what I am doing’.
Intern Babalwa Matutu on the 2017 programme has an Honours degree in Maritime Studies from Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. She came first in her Honours class and was given an award for her achievement. She is currently on an internship with WWF-SA’s Marine Programme, based at the Cape Town headquarters.
‘I’m working with WWF-SA’s seafood industry liaison officer, Junaid Francis, to expand understanding of the fish, seafood and marine environment and how to manage it sustainably,’ she explains. ‘This includes training for South Africa’s large fisheries companies, which are part of the Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA) and for small-scale fishers’.
She says: ‘The internship is invaluable in exposing me to all aspects of the work environment and creating a network and platform for me to get into the industry’.
Intern Luyanda Luthuli has an Honours degree in Agricultural Extension from the University of Fort Hare and is doing his internship with Living Lands. ‘I heard about the internship from my Honours lecturer and I applied to gain more experience. Getting a job these day without solid experience is hard and you never fully understand what kind of a job you will do after completing your studies until you actually do it,’ he explains.
‘I am interested in working with people who want to farm but lack the skills or knowledge on how to get started and make the venture a success. With this internship I have gained additional understanding that farming should not just be about getting as much produce as possible from the land; it is so important that we use the land sustainably so that future generation can also be able to utilise the same land.’
Many of the interns have secured permanent posts through their internships. The programme has also set up a tracer study in order to keep in contact and track the career development of the graduates who have participated in the internship programme.
The second tier of skills development is the 12-month WWF Nedbank Green Trust Emerging Leaders Fellowship Awards, managed by GreenMatter.
GreenMatter is a national network of partner organisations that implement the 20-year Biodiversity Human Capital Development Strategy, jointly led by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Lewis Foundation.
‘GreenMatter’s aim is to advance opportunities for transformation and the development of suitably skilled biodiversity specialists, researchers and leaders to optimally implement South Africa’s expanding and increasingly complex biodiversity policies and strategies,’ says GreenMatter Programme Manager, Janavi Da Silva.
‘The fellowship supports the career advancement of established, mid-career professionals in the biodiversity environment. They remain in their posts and attend workshops to improve their personal effectiveness as leaders, as well receive input from appointed mentors,’ adds Dr Raven who is part of the project management team. ‘Transformation in the environmental sector has been slow and the aim of this fellowship is to feed the leadership pipeline and promote the development of the next tier of environmental leaders.’
This includes:
  • Strengthening their technical competence, in keeping with the national ‘scarce and critical skills’ outlined in the Biodiversity Human Capital Development Strategy;
  • Developing management and leadership skills that are required for success in the environmental sector in South Africa; and
  • Connecting the emerging leaders to a network of peers, mentors and role models at sectorial and national levels.
In April 2015, at the close of the first round of recruitment, a total of 27 applications were received from individuals from a variety of backgrounds including government departments, private consulting companies and non-governmental organisations.
Six leaders in the biodiversity sector - from private consulting companies, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) – formed the selection panel for these awards.
On 18 June 2015, the panel convened at the GreenMatter Offices in Joburg to make a decision on the final 10 candidates. Following assessment, the final 10 were made offers and all the nominees accepted the award offers. Each year the same process is repeated.
The following individuals comprise the first cohort of the WWF Nedbank GreenTrust Emerging Leaders Fellowship:
  • Ashwell Glasson: Head: Academic Policy & Sector Advancement Southern African Wildlife College;
  • Ayanda Cele: WWF-SA, Coordinator: Biodiversity Stewardship Programme;
  • Boaz Tsebe: Endangered Wildlife Trust, Urban Conservation Manager/ Reserve Manager;
  • Jimmy Khanyile: Department of Environmental Affairs: Oceans and Coasts, Scientist Manager / Deputy Director;
  • Louise Bryson: Aurecon, Environmental Practitioner;
  • Musa Mlambo: Albany Museum, Candidate Scientist and Assistant Curator;
  • Najma Mohamed: Development Bank of South Africa, Policy Advisor;
  • Sebataolo Rahlao: South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Director – Invasives Monitoring and Reporting;
  • Vathiswa Zikishe: South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Coordinator: Red list and species assessment;
  • Wendy Engel: WWF-SA, Lead Researcher.
During the first professional development workshop, fellows or ‘emerging leaders’ as they are called, decide on individual development projects (IDPs) to help them develop key leadership skills and competencies as professionals.
They also come up with a group project that addresses a social or environmental problem they would like to solve. One area they selected was to create greater awareness of the diverse careers that can be pursued in biodiversity by writing media articles, organising career fairs and presenting to university students.
During the second workshop they identified key areas of growth needed by emerging leaders working towards advancing the conservation and management of South Africa’s biological resources. They also participated in a range of projects, such as increasing the engagement of learners in biodiversity projects.
Evaluations from the workshops reveal that the participants really value the professional development workshops and the mentoring they receive. They feel the fellowship positively contributes to their growth and their capacity to advance in their careers.
From Intern to High Court Attorney
Thobeka Gumede was an intern with the WWF Nedbank Green Trust Graduate Development Programme in 2015.
She was recently admitted as an attorney of the High Court. Thobeka has been with the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) for two years and served her articles of clerkship in our Mining Programme. As an admitted attorney, she will continue her important work in the fight for environmental justice on behalf of SA’s mining affected communities. We wish her everything of the best, knowing that she will inspire many other young South Africans to aim high in the public interest environmental law sector.
Nedbank Green Affinity Programme
With the Nedbank Green Affinity Programme every time a client uses a current, savings and/or investment account, and/or short-term insurance that is linked to the Nedbank Green Affinity, Nedbank donates money to the WWF Nedbank Green Trust, at no cost to the client. Since its inception in 1990 Nedbank has donated more than R235 million to the WWF Nedbank Green Trust in support of over 200 environmental and sustainability projects. For more information please visit:
2017 Graduates

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