Member profile: Agnes Astolfi PIEMA
Founder/publisher at SustainableOman
Why did you become an environment and sustainability professional?
My personal interest is in the environment and politics. I find it fascinating and intriguing how laws and policies are intensely influenced by institutions or people in authority.
What was your first job in this field?
In Lagos, after graduating, my mother asked me to join her engineering consulting firm. I was hesitant, but my experience there opened lots of doors.
What does your current role involve?
Primarily, building my new consulting firm and at the same time providing exceptional service to clients.
How has your role progressed over the past few years?
I have moved from being an employee to freelancing while raising a family, and I am now running my own consulting firm. The learning curve can be fast if you are fully determined, or steep, if you factor in other personal circumstances. It is all about how you strike a balance between career goals, family life and personal wellbeing.
What’s the best part of your work?
In one word –evolving. I have worked in four countries, and while the laws are different concerning EIA, the underpinning principles are the same. It’s made my job very interesting. This is where I put my value in – I see the differences and incorporate best practice in the projects I handle. I enjoy meeting people, writing, research and making clients happy.
What’s the hardest part?
Meeting and handling people of different backgrounds and cultures. I have found this the most challenging, yet, at the same time, the most interesting factor of my work. It is an important skill that I want to improve. As a technical person with an academic training, it is easy to inadvertently neglect the importance of the relationships.
What was the last development event you attended?
I attend conferences and exhibits in the region. In the future, I want to attend a course on improving my soft skills.
What did you bring back to your job?
Aside from new contacts, I see what is currently being offered in the market and align it with the services I am offering. This prepares my firm to diversify services in the future.
What are the most important skill(s) for your job?
Technical background and competence. It is very important in my field that I am professionally adept and to understand that all projects are unique. There is no ‘copy and paste’ in the work I do, otherwise, it would be monotonous and unfulfilling. Other important skills include strategic planning, project management and systems thinking.
Where do you see the profession going?
The field of environment and sustainability will always be evolving. The profession should not just sell ‘green’ or ‘sustainability’ labels, it must learn to sell strategic value creation to a much broader clientele, both private and public. There are several drivers of market change that have already made an impact on business. Now, in my career, change management skills and soft skills such as communication, facilitation and networking are key. I would also like to see the outcomes of my consulting engagement. I want to measure that change in the projects I have handled.
Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
Expanding my company with full-time employees, and hopefully to grow further in the Middle East, where I work.
What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?
To expose themselves to a variety of subjects and disciplines as far as environment and sustainability is concerned and to make time to carve out space for things that interest them. This will help them realise which area they want to specialise in and to build on that. Interest should always be at the core of everything we do. It is good to have a mentor and champion in your career, so make the most of it if you’re lucky enough to work with someone you admire. And of course, as Steve Jobs said, “stay foolish, stay hungry”.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Positively quixotic, thoughtful and an achiever.
What motivates you?
My ambition is to make an impact, however trivial, both for my industry and personally.
What would be your personal motto?
Do what matters.
Greatest risk you have ever taken?
Starting my own firm.
If you could go back in history, who would you like to meet?
Steve Jobs, for being a visionary, and Mahatma Gandhi for his self-discipline.