TFD Welcomes Women Leadership on its 20th Anniversary

July 1, 2020

Sara Santiago (M.F. ‘19)

For 20 years now, The Forests Dialogue (TFD) has sought to capture the voices of different sectors, peoples, and priorities within a forestry space that has been historically male dominated. Housed at the Yale School of the Environment (YSE), TFD has developed its model of multi-stakeholder dialogue – once a relatively unknown practice – into international engagement initiatives on forest issues as controversial as illegal logging, land tenure and land use, gender dynamics, and certification. And now, for the first time in its history, both Co-Leaders of The Forests Dialogue are women from the global south – Ivone Namikawa and Milagre Nuvunga.

These two Co-Leaders are both trained foresters with impressive careers in the forestry sector. Namikawa is a senior forestry sustainability consultant for the Brazilian paper producer Klabin, where she started as a tree breeding specialist and has built her career for over 25 years. Nuvunga was trained in and served Mozambique’s forest service, has worked for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Ford Foundation, and founded the MICAIA Foundation, which supports sustainable community enterprises in Mozambique.

As TFD celebrates its new leadership and 20th anniversary, I caught up with Namikawa and Nuvunga to discover more about their careers and their goals for leading TFD into the new decade.

Namikawa, born in an agricultural area outside of São Paolo, Brazil to Japanese parents, studied to become a forest engineer at São Paolo University. She was attracted to the idea of linking production “to conservation and being aware of the environmental values of the forest” through this field of study.

“As a woman, 35 years ago in a school of forestry, I needed to be trained in something that a company would hire me for, so I decided to work in tree improvement,” she says. Entering a male-dominated industry was challenging, Namikawa says: “It made me stronger, and I think I learned about leadership. One of the things I learned is that all of your success or failure depends on how you do things. It’s not about your knowledge, it’s not about your capacity, it’s how well you do things.” 

Namikawa found a natural home with Klabin because she believes the company has worked “with respect of nature and people” throughout its long history. “This is one of the important things that has made my career so long in the company – where I could have my vision of life align with the vision of the company.”

Nuvunga, who trained in Mozambique and Australia, graduated with her first degree as Mozambique became an independent, non-aligned socialist country. Mozambique placed its young professionals into “the lines of work that required immediate attention,” and for Nuvunga, that was agronomy. After two years, she was able to switch to forestry and became one of Mozambique’s first professional foresters, along with three men and two other women. “That gave me, as a woman, a great start!” she says and equal footing in her home country.

As foresters from the colonial period left Mozambique, Nuvunga’s cohort were tutored by experienced professionals from aligned countries before they took on more responsibility. From this, Nuvunga was exposed to forestry practices around the world, preparing her to become the National Director for Forestry and Wildlife in the Ministry of Agriculture and work for the UNDP and Ford Foundation.

The Ford Foundation in particular provided opportunities to learn from “colleagues doing similar work elsewhere in the world facing different types of challenges. That is how I came to recognize the power of dialogue, as many of the communities with which we worked had to navigate complex spaces and issues, deal with private sector and the government, often pursuing different objectives.” 

The importance of dialogue

The Co-Leaders were attracted to TFD’s model of facilitated dialogue to foster positive change in the forestry sector. At Klabin, Namikawa says, “we always work in collaboration with clients, suppliers, with communities, and different organizations. It’s about listening to what we have all around us, and The Forests Dialogue is totally aligned with this kind of vision.”

In fact, Brazil has its own chapter of TFD – The Brazilian Forests Dialogue – because of the immense importance of forestry in the country. TFD is also bringing its landscape dialogue model to Belem, close to the Amazon in northern Brazil, to discuss deforestation and its drivers. The ultimate goal, Namikawa explains, is to “work with the government to establish a new way of doing things, because we know that sustainable management of this tropical forest is possible.”

Nuvunga is also enthusiastic about dialogue leading to collaboration and action. “The fact that TFD was using dialogue as its central tool in the various landscapes where fracture lines presented themselves was a huge draw for me,” she says. “It not only allowed me to join efforts with colleagues in the Steering Committee but also enabled me to learn from stakeholders involved in the different countries that hosted field dialogues. Different situations, different approaches, great learning opportunities, doing something I truly believed in.” Nuvunga has also been able to use TFD methodologies at the MICAIA Foundation.

Women in leadership as a norm

While forestry may still be male-dominated in many spaces and places, neither Namikawa nor Nuvunga focus on the challenges this may pose. Namikawa is looking forward to being a Co-Leader with Nuvunga: “It is nice when you have a position like we have now and this position makes us think a little bit more and makes the men think a little bit more about the role that women have in different organizations, in different positions.”

Nuvunga’s advice for women in the forest sector is simple: “Be the best you can be! Do not concentrate too much on the fact that you are a woman – you are first a human being and a professional! Your field will recognize your knowledge and your worth. Above all, do what you do best with love and dedication.”

“We can be challenged by different things depending where we are,” she adds. “If we look at everything we do through that lens, we will feel handicapped all the time and won’t be able to face those challenges.”

Future plans for TFD

Namikawa and Nuvunga both speak of the honor of leading TFD through its 20th anniversary year, though the timing of the coronavirus pandemic poses a challenge. While continuing to develop existing initiatives, the leadership will be introducing new ideas under the umbrella of forests and climate issues. Planning is also underway to celebrate the anniversary – with plans B, C, and D just in case, according to Namikawa. Nuvunga is confident that she and Namikawa can lead TFD in adapting to these challenges ahead.

The Co-Leaders are also looking forward to opportunities to engage with Yale Forestry students during upcoming annual steering committee meetings, which take place on campus in New Haven. Namikawa, who started with TFD in 2014, says she appreciates being engaged with youth, which makes her feel younger and engaged on new ideas that she can incorporate in her own work. Nuvunga shares a similar perspective, reflecting on the ability to continue learning, especially as students prompt questions she may not have asked herself.

With Namikawa and Nuvunga at the helm, this learning will continue through dialogues and engagement between professionals and students. Stay tuned for 2020 TFD events – whether virtual or in person!