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The women of CF: Hellen Dawo

Date:04 May 2021
Hellen Dawo
Hellen Dawo

What are you doing at CF and how did you end up here?
I am a PhD student at Campus Fryslân. My research is an exploration of sustainable entrepreneurship in protected areas. I look at how is it carried out, what are the challenges, and which tools can be adapted to encourage it, for example, business models for sustainability. My research has enabled me to combine my experience in environmental management with innovative concepts in economics, such as sustainable entrepreneurship. Besides this, I am involved in guiding a few Labs for the Master in Sustainable Entrepreneurship, attending project meetings involving the Dutch partners and carrying out Guest Lectures on my research where possible. I was also involved in developing an introductory online course on Climate Adaptation Governance called Making Climate Adaptation Happen. All in day's work at Campus Fryslan :).

I have done a few diverse jobs both in Kenya and in the Netherlands, but always wanted to be in academia. This is because teaching comes easier for me, and coupled with research that would be my ideal job. I had been looking for a relevant PhD position for a year after my master. Leeuwarden is home away from home, so when I came across a position at Campus Fryslân I decided to apply. Luckily, my supervisors liked my answers at the interview (and my experience), so here I am!

What do you like most about your work at CF?
The Campus Fryslân community is literally built on new ideas. This makes it an ideal environment for growth. I like that everyone is friendly, and ready to either corporate or help. I like that people here think about the rest of the world, and how to make it better. I like that with the guidance of my supervisors I can chart my own path. I like a lot of things at Campus Fryslân.

Who inspires you?
My inspiration has always been my mother. She worked hard to give us a comfortable life, get us through university and supported us on the journey to find our first jobs which is extremely difficult in Kenya. When I started talking of doing a master abroad, she actually asked how much the fees and upkeep was, she wanted to take out a loan because she was annoyed at how many scholarship applications were getting rejected. It's extremely competitive out here. We are a family of five children and each day our mother taught us how to be strong in the face of adversity, give even when you didn't have much yourself, love regardless of what your opinion is, keep the faith, and keep fighting till you get what you are dreaming off. I can talk all day about my mother.

What advice would you give to your student self?
Take more chances. I started out as a chemist and really fought to stay in my profession/study area, and let a few opportunities pass me by. There was little chemistry related jobs in Kenya (we need more industries, but that's a whole different story). But during my second master and since, I have followed my instinct and have done my best wherever I landed. This is also driven by the fact that my visa was not going to last forever! Somehow the opportunities follow you, if you are a good fit. So that's why I'll keep going, and let life worry about the rest. I have a dream of my role in academia, where I can make a small difference for people I come across, and in my home country. Once I am in a position where I am doing that, then maybe I will stop, but it’s more probable I will have another dream.

How do you deal with being a woman in a man's world/industry? 
Owing to my background I have been in positions where being a woman was more a novelty than at Campus Fryslân. Then, in places such as on the manufacturing floors in Kenya, it always worked out for my benefit, to be honest. What I did miss was women who could show you how to blaze a trail. There are women in manufacturing in Kenya, but they are very high up, and not easily accessible. In most instances I found that I had to be the leader, and speak out for changes in things such as health and safety (women things! ;) ). I got quite a few nicknames over the years and enjoyed every challenge that came my way. 

At Campus Fryslân I have taken a learning stance for now. There are women here doing amazing stuff both in and out of academia (think UCF Foundation, CF Green Office, designing online learning, Sustainable Health Seminars, establishing the GRL programme, just to name but a few). I learn by watching, and each year I watch Campus Fryslân women work in the background to enable groundbreaking education. I am proud of being a woman at Campus Fryslân, and glad that here, I am spoiled for choice when I look for guidance in my next career move or initiative.

Tags: Women of CF