Good sort: Emily Dowding-Smith
Corporate lawyer, turned explorer, writer, environmental change agent and much more… including, you know, just snorkeling across the Arctic to raise awareness about disappearing sea ice. Emily’s dream is that every New Zealander has healthy food on their table that is better for people, our waterways, soils and oceans.
Through her role at the Sustainable Business Network she’s been helping build up resilient regional food systems and leadership on food, through the National Good Food Network.
She’s a good sort, whose working and living to make this planet a better place.
Job title: Transformation Leader – Restorative (Food)
Organisation: Sustainable Business Network
Tell us a bit about your career to date Em. Have you had any major pivots along the way?
I studied law and science at VUW and started out as a corporate resource management lawyer. After a few years, I turned more sharply towards environmental management and sustainability. The bridge between that was through completing my Master of Science.
I was fortunate to take part in an Erasmus Mundus course in Environmental Science, Policy and Management run through 4 European universities. I studied in Hungary, Greece, and Sweden with 35 people from 27 different countries. That two-year programme was pivotal in launching my career to where it is today. I thoroughly recommend people interested in doing a Masters to look abroad.
I went on to live and work in Europe for quite a while, convening a global forum on climate change adaptation called Resilient Cities and also on resilient urban food systems, in Bonn, Germany. I got to work with some pretty savvy people and now I can bring those ideas home and apply them here.
What are you working on now at SBN?
I run a food project for the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) and also look after around 100 of the 550 business members that are in the network.
The food project works with about 12 organisations across Aotearoa to build up resilient regional food systems and regional leadership on food, it’s called the National Good Food Network. It also works with leading food businesses to be part of the solution. It seeks to solve some of the problems in our food system (unhealthy people, soil, waterways).
How do you manage work-life balance?
I have a pretty good work-life balance. I love my work and am purpose driven so that part is not so hard. But sustainability and working for not-for-profits can be quite all consuming if you’re not careful. There are murky waters between life and work and you really want them filled with mangroves, not bitterness. So I like to put clear boundaries around my work.
Living on Waiheke Island means I have a geographic boundary as well, which helps. To relax I’m an outdoors nut, so hiking, biking, long distance ocean swimming, diving, anything in nature. At home, I garden, cook and write, that keeps me sane! I’ve just come back from a bike tour around Japan for a month, so that helps restore the balance.
If you could give your 15-year-old self some wise career advice, what would it be?
Keep at it! I have no regrets so would keep working hard. I went to a co-ed, quite under-resourced, public school in rural Taranaki. That has never stopped me doing anything academically or professionally. I firmly believe that anyone can do anything if they set their minds to it, so don’t give up little Em!
How would you recommend others go about getting into your field/charity?
Talk to as many people as you can, go to events, join a network or business association like SBN that connects people. Find people that have jobs you like and ask them if you can have a chat or take them for coffee and see how they got to where they are. If there’s nothing out there solving the problem you see then have a good crack at starting something yourself to fill the gap.
Tell us about someone who has inspired you?
There’s been a few, but I’d say a pivotal person was Dr. Sean Weaver. Back in 2001 taking his class at Victoria University in Wellington changed my life. I switched from Biomedical Science to Environmental Science and have never stopped working and living to make this planet a better place since.
Tell us something about your career that might surprise people?
I snorkelled through the Arctic 2 years ago to raise awareness about climate change. It was freezing and stunning and moved something inside my soul.
Anything other pearls of wisdom you want to share?
Start with your why. Trust your instinct. Be true to yourself and you can do anything! Besides, life’s too short not to do what you love and love what you do. That’s the rocking chair theory when you’re old and in your rocking chair you don’t want any regrets.