By Ines Ayostina, a young researcher for Wahana Riset Indonesia Program.

“… Achieving sustainability is one of our goals as environmental engineers, but in order to truly resolve it, you need to be able to work not only with engineers from other fields, but also with lawyers, economists, policy makers, and others outside of our domain. You might need to learn their language or even be one in the course of your career….” A statement from a professor at the environmental impact assessment class back in university has been stuck with me.

Growing up in times when climate change arises and environmental problems such as floods, over-polluted air, and droughts have begun to escalate have propelled me to work in the environment sector, ensuring that the next generation would still be able to have what we have today. Luckily, WRI Indonesia is a perfect workplace for that kind of aspiration.

To wit as a researcher

Being part of the Wahana young researcher program humbles me. My tight knit cohort are all amazing people with diverse background and aspirations! We have a periodical check in, where we share our challenges, preliminary findings, or sometimes just listen to and learn others’ research approach. I was exposed to research on sustainable palm oil, peatland, gender in social forestry, natural capital accounting, and community perception. Beyond work, we like to gather occasionally!

Prior to WRI, I have already been involved in blue carbon issue (a term given to carbon – sequestered, stored, or released – in marine and coastal ecosystems, including mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes), and so I decided to help move the issue forward. . At first, I was too focused leaning on my technical background. Only after my mentor reminded me to really be critical in formulating my research questions, I realized the importance of having one. In fact, solving a problem began from asking the right questions. Thus, my research questions led me to do a 180 degree turn, exploring issues beyond my familiar engineering approach: governance. People may assume that being a researcher is all about having rigorous analytical and academic competencies. While this may be true, there are other important aspects such as articulation and ability to communicate as well as skill to approach policy makers to discuss sensitive issues in a delicate manner. I found that these skills helped a great deal in responding to our research questions. I am still learning, and hope I can get better as time goes by.

Presenting my research in Asia Pacific Climate Week in Oceans Nature-based Solutions Session. Photo credit: Kathryn Bimson/IUCN

Supporting the expansion of the oceans program

It was a beautiful afternoon in early 2019 when the ocean’s team discussed and presented our program to WRI Chief of Staff. Ocean is the latest addition to WRI’s portfolio both globally and nationally. With the size of Indonesian Ocean being almost four times larger than the land, this issue is especially important to Indonesia. Believe me when I say pioneering and building something is not all rainbows. From the discussion, I understand that one way to ease the process of building something is through collaboration.

Field visit to seaweed aquaculture site in East Nusa Tenggara. Photo credit: Ines Ayostina/WRI Indonesia

Through working on oceans and sustainability issues, I realized that many issues are very much interconnected and our experience influence how we perceive one. For example, I have always thought that the major challenge for a long-term practice in aquaculture, i.e. the farming of aquatic animals and plants, is water effluent that comes out of shrimp ponds, resulting in higher vulnerability to disease. This is due to the fact that the majority of Indonesia's traditional shrimp farmers do not have on-site wastewater treatment. Actually, the problem was way broader than that. Spatial planning needs to be considered, especially when there are competing uses for coastal zone. There are various users in the coastal and marine areas for sectors such as aquaculture, marine transportation and tourism. These users have different priorities, need of resources, and values, which often are in direct conflict with each other. Hence, I believe that being exposed to the intersections of issues introduce a new way of thinking. In fact, that is usually when innovation takes place!

While thinking can enable us to ask the right question, there might be another dimension that would be helpful in answering our research questions. Through collaboration and exposing ourselves to various problems and opposing viewpoints, we will be able to gain valuable insights that enable innovation. Such views are crucial in addressing sustainability problems because sustainability is distinguished not by disciplines but rather by challenges that need to be confronted and resolved.

These are some learnings that I also learned outside from all the serious (fun!) stuff at WRI. You know what they say, true learning is a river that flows through us! For fellow youth who want to tackle the most pressing barriers to sustainability, regardless of your background you can always join the force! You might want to look at WRI vacancy in that regard :D