Leadership Fiji – Radhika reflects on journey

Radhika Murti (2nd left) on a trip to the Sovi Basin, Naitasiri. Picture: SUPPLIED

Today, we get to read a personal reflection written by Radhika Murti, LF2007, and director of IUCN’s Global Ecosystem Management Programme.

I was born and brought up in Field 40, Lautoka and attended Lautoka Methodist Primary School and Natabua High School.

My parents ran a logging company then and sometimes, after school, my siblings and I would ride out to the forests with my father along Sigatoka, Nadi and Lautoka, depending on where his staff members were running logging operations.

It was no surprise that I ended up studying Forestry Science for my undergraduate degree in Australia once I completed high school.

However, following my four years of studies and coming back to Fiji to work in the forestry sector, I realised that I knew a lot about Australian forests and nothing about the beautiful tropical forests in my own country!

I was inspired to work with (what was at that time) the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests and my first role was to help develop a training curriculum for the Colo-i-Suva Forestry Training Centre.

While working with dear colleagues at Colo-i-Suva, I found a neat complementarity with their field and Fiji-specific knowledge and my formal qualifications and we did some good work in putting together trainings and courses.

However, along the way, I faced discriminatory situations related to race and gender and whether forestry was the right choice for me.

This challenged me to really reflect on what I could contribute to the protection and sustainable use of our forests, even though I am not iTaukei and despite getting explicitly told that I should not be involved in land-related matters.

These experiences led me to two decisions that changed my life – pursing a Masters degree at the University of the South Pacific on sustainable forest management and joining Leadership Fiji class of 2007.

For my Masters research, I studied land tenure conflict situations and how they could hinder good forest conservation work.

I spent a lot of time with landowner groups of the Sovi Basin in Viti Levu and Drawa in Vanua Levu – mapping the mataqali structures, documenting the concerns and situations and helping strategise on how the deadlocks of land tenure conflicts could be transformed into positive actions for the mataqali communities.

Throughout this process, I also learnt to appreciate the beautiful local and cultural ways the iTaukei looked after their lands in pre-Cession times, such as the philosophy of the qele ni teitei and the sustainability aspects linked to it.

Many of these practices have been eroded and, to some extent, because of people like me who had studied degrees elsewhere and came back with ‘imported’ quick fixes. So, I felt that my Masters studies had finally brought me back home.

Finishing my thesis was also a testament to the value of mentors for young people – I was privileged to have the late Lemeki Lenoa as my thesis adviser and a personal mentor.

He was so generous in sharing his knowledge, passion and understanding of the Fijian land ownership systems and processes.

He taught me all the protocols of going into mataqali communities during my field research.

Following my studies, I was also left convinced that there is additional impetus on those of us who are not iTaukei to make the effort to understand and appreciate the cultural and local systems that have shaped the beautiful paradise we call home – Fiji.

And to make conscious decisions and choices to help protect our paradise home, whether it is through a change of individual behaviour such as reducing the use of plastic or not littering, or whether it is through choosing career paths that help us become better at living more sustainably and more in harmony with the beautiful nature we are blessed with.

It is the least we can do for a country which became home to our ancestors and which we continue to call home today.

While working on forestry-related issues was an emersion in understanding the ecological systems and cultural traditions
of Fiji, Leadership Fiji opened my eyes to socio-economic, political and development issues of Fiji.

It was an incredible opportunity to connect with a network of professionals – fellow Fijians who shared the same passion and commitment for Fiji, be mentored by leaders I looked up to and to discover my own leadership strengths and weaknesses.

The one-year program equipped me to venture out in the world and be where I am in my career today.

Especially considering that my nationality precedes my IUCN profile!

Wherever I go in the world, people are fascinated with my passport and with our country and I can say this again as I have had the privilege to work in many parts of the world.

The Leadership Fiji program equipped me with the knowledge, insights and, importantly, ownership of Fiji’s achievements and challenges as a progressive developing country.

I am a much prouder Fijian, having been through the program.

For the past 13 years, I have been working for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) headquarters in Switzerland. It is the oldest and the largest environmental organisation, having been established in 1948.

We also have a regional office for Oceania, hosted by Fiji,  in Suva.

I am the director of IUCN’s Global Ecosystem Management Programme and my work spans 160 countries within which IUCN operates.

I have the privilege of leading a highly motivated and dynamic team that provides leadership on sustainable ways of living and deriving livelihoods so that both poverty and environment protection can be enabled simultaneously.

We work on projects, capacities and policies of governments and communities on how nature can be used more (and in sustainable ways) to meet our development needs.

Some examples include preserving green spaces in cities to help regulate air pollution, act as natural filtration systems
for water drainage or help regulate temperatures and even heatwaves in cities.

Similarly, recognition and protection of coral reefs, mangroves or mud flats that we take for granted as nature’s way of protecting us from storms, erosion and even sea-level rise.

Nature is our forgotten ally for adapting to climate change impacts as well and my role is to work with countries to bring us
back to it, albeit within the realities of the highly infrastructured and development-oriented global system we live in.

Usually, this work entails dealing with complex socio-economic and political situations as well as working in multicultural
and multilingual settings.

Being brought up in Fiji and my professional life in Suva prepared me for this role in ways that no formal education could.

As I now start mentoring young professionals and conservation actors around the world, I often share my own journey
with them.

It always starts and ends with the work and life experiences I have had in Fiji and a strong sense of identity as a Fijian.

My sincere congratulations to Leadership Fiji on its 20th anniversary and my gratitude to the Leadership Fiji team as well as my class of 2007 for all that I have learnt and gained from them.

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