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Earth Today | Danielle Nembhard: Headed to the end of the world

Published:Thursday | January 9, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Nembhard conducts research on coral reefs in the Philippines.
Danielle Nembhard

DANIELLE NEMHARD is headed to the end of the world, and her love of science and commitment to influencing how the planet fares in its struggle with climate change are the catalysts.

The Jamaican, who only a couple of years ago took the deep dive back into environmental science, is one of two Caribbean women selected for the global leadership initiative, Homeward Bound, that is to take them to Antarctica this year.

Homeward Bound targets women with a background in the field of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) and aims to enhance their influence and impact in decision-making for a healthier planet and a sustainable future for all.

Its transdisciplinary team supports participants through a year-long programme covering leadership, strategy, visibility and science, and culminating in a voyage to Antarctica. There, each participant sets her plan for visible leadership into the future while forging lasting relationships with other women leaders.

“To be honest, it still feels unreal, especially because I almost didn’t apply in the first place. I sent in my application on the very last day and actually missed the original deadline as I confused the time zones. Luckily, they extended the deadline and I was able to submit. I got the acceptance email at 3:30 a.m. in the morning, read it, thought it was a dream, then went back to sleep,” said Nembhard, who holds a master’s degree in marine biology and ecology from James Cook University in Australia and a bachelor’s degree in zoology and botany from the University of the West Indies, Mona.

“When I awoke properly, I read it again and my mouth literally flopped open. I felt a literal roller coaster of emotions: apprehension, utter shock, elation, honoured, mostly proud of myself and ready to work towards becoming a better leader,” she added.

It is especially gratifying, since her return to science had not been without a little self-doubt.

“For me, the programme represents something deeply personal and affirming. I transitioned from a nine-year career in telecommunications back to science and felt the weight of imposter syndrome and this pressure, to others and myself, that I made the right call. I was essentially starting over in a country I hadn’t lived in for almost a decade,” revealed Nembhard, who previously worked in Honduras and Panama.

“When I moved back to Jamaica in 2017, I spent the first year unemployed and feeling immensely defeated. In a moment of vulnerability, and a little desperation, I published my CV on Twitter, which amazingly and fortunately led to me landing my current job at Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL). Now, with my acceptance to Homeward Bound, it affirms that I’m on the right path, that I have a place in this field,” she added.

Beyond that, it represents the chance to make her mark as a Jamaican and Caribbean woman, and in a field for which she has had an abiding love.

“I’m representing Jamaica, the Caribbean, women, minorities and so many other things that the world has used to define me and people like me, and my capabilities as a person, a professional and a leader. I think my participation represents a chance to re-examine what makes an effective leader and what qualities they should possess, and to further encourage diversity in leadership,” said Nembhard, environmental analyst and marine ecologist at ESL.

ESL boss Eleanor Jones had high praise for her.

“She is forward-thinking and committed to making a difference. She brought her academic training in ecology and her experience in the corporate space to ESL and she has been asset to our company, which prides itself in blazing new trails for the continuous journey towards development that is sustainable,” she said.

“STEMM is the way forward for development globally, regionally and nationally, and it is great kudos to Danielle, to Jamaica and to ESL that she has been selected from a wide and large field of applicants to participate in this pioneering initiative for women’s leadership,” Jones added.