Insider Insight: Sini Eräjää

BirdLife Europe's EU bioenergy policy officer Sini Eräjää,What has helped you get where you are in your career?

Even if many non-profit organisations operate in very professional ways, nowadays most of them also still have their foundations in voluntary work and volunteer engagement. Having personal experience and an idea of NGO-life in the outside-world, such professional context provides important insight to working within civil society. I had been a trustee, a volunteer and an activist in various environmental NGOs before working for one of them.

I also had earlier experience working for NGOs before BirdLife Europe which is always much appreciated in the sector – even if not a requirement per se.

Do you have any tips for people about to embark in your field on how to make a success out of their careers?

Personal commitment, interest and dedication to the topic you are working on will be crucial to keep you motivated and is also desired by NGOs which are recruiting. You also need to show that you are interested in what matters to the organisation and that you’re not just looking for any old job.

Work in NGOs is often very varied so the skills which are needed and appreciated are very varied. You don’t necessarily need to be an academic expert on a certain topic to be able to work in an NGO. On top of knowing the issues, communication skills, strategic thinking, writing, fundraising, media work etc., are very desirable skills.

Most NGOs have a flat hierarchy and are guided rather by members and supporters than bosses. This means that the tasks of individuals are very versatile and require many skills and flexibility.

Resistance to stress, good communication skills, self-initiative and leadership, quick analytical skills and intensive team work are needed in most jobs – on top of the expertise on specific areas of policy or work area.

Who do you most respect within the sector?

People working in NGOs and in the civil society are usually immensely dedicated and hard-working people, driven by the cause of their work rather than bonuses or status. I’ve got a lot of respect for their dedication and persistence, but also for the creativity of the people in the sector. Sharing similar kinds of values and views of the world with your colleagues is a privilege. Most of the time you feel like the job is a bit more than “just a job” for yourself as well for others around you.

What stages of your career have been the most challenging & the most rewarding?

If you’re passionate to help change the world around you but worried about the direction of development in society, it can often be daunting to see how slowly things move forwards. It’s easy to get cynical and tired or feel swamped by powers bigger than yourself, but that shows you really care for you work.

I’ve been working hard for many political changes that in the end have not taken the form I would have wanted to see them take. In these moments it’s important to take stock of the smaller impacts your work has made in the world around you. Even if policies didn’t change, public perceptions or direction of investments etc. might be changing. Even if the leap needed was not taken, a small step in the right direction will have been made.   

Could you sum up, in one sentence, what has changed in the industry since you first began your job?

In my specific area of work which is bioenergy as a renewable energy source the whole public perception on the benefits of bioenergy has truly started to change and even flipped around in many cases - this is down to research, science and raising awareness.

Bioenergy was once thought to be part of our dream for a “clean and low carbon future” but as time has shown this is always not the case... changing perceptions can be painful but it is inspiring to see that it can be possible.

What does the future have in store for your sector – choppy waters ahead or a fruitful and secure future?

There is a need for advocates pushing for a more just society or for better environmental protection, which is not going to change any time soon – there is more work to be done. The ways and formats in which societal change takes place however keeps on changing all the time, and the role that NGOs play in this change is in constant flux. So civil society is, and needs be, in constant evaluation of their own working strategies and approaches to deliver what is expected from them.