This month marks our fourth careers blog, 'Take a leaf out of my book', where we ask people who work in an environmental area to write about their career journey to date: highs and any low points, challenges and accomplishments.
Our fourth post is from Sofia Poni who heads up the Evidence team for International Climate Finance (ICF) at Defra. An economist by background, Sofia's portfolio ranges from sustainable mangrove management in Madagascar to avoiding deforestation in Brazil - she talks about joining the environment sector from a technical perspective, and gives advice to those wanting to pursue an environmental civil service career.
I head up the Evidence team for Defra’s International Climate Finance (ICF). ICF is part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance: we fund and support climate change mitigation and adaptation projects in low and middle income countries, with a focus on nature. From community-based sustainable mangrove management in Madagascar to avoiding deforestation in Brazil, it’s a very exciting portfolio!
I’m an economist by background, but this is a varied role with a big, multi-disciplinary team. We cover three strands of work: value for money / appraisal, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) and Strategic evidence.
What initially sparked your interest in the environmental sector?
I’ll be honest: my understanding of the environmental sector was very vague before taking
this job, so I think it’s the job itself that sparked my interest! Having a deep understanding of
the global evidence base on the combined climate and environment emergency is both
terrifying and highly motivating!
How did your previous career and/or experience help you achieve your current role?
All my roles have been very different - I really believe that the skills of an economist (and
other specialist professions) can be applied to a variety of roles without a huge amount of
background in the specifics.
I did find coming into the environment sector challenging from a technical perspective: there
is so much to know, so much new evidence being generated all the time. At the same time,
it’s so interesting that new information really sticks and I’ve been surrounded by the very
passionate and expert Defra ICF team who have made it easy to get settled!
What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue an environmental Civil Service career?
There are many different kinds of environment-related jobs! Don’t be afraid to try different
roles in different departments because each will offer learning that you couldn’t get
anywhere else. The Civil Service is really amazing for giving us the opportunity to have such
varied careers and we should be making the most of it.
How important has networking been in finding suitable roles?
The Civil Service is very good at transparent recruitment, and I’m all for that! So for me,
networking is more a way to succeed in a role. I am proud to say I have a wide and very
supportive network from which I can gather pearls of wisdom in challenging times.
I will say though when applying for a job I definitely recommend chatting with the post-
holder and recruiting manager. It’s a chance to understand whether it’s really a role you
want, plus you’ll be less nervous at interview!
How do you connect with nature?
I’ve lived in a few different places growing up and I travel a lot. The common thread between
where I feel most connected with nature is water. Whether it’s the bustling seaside in my
hometown in Greece, the flawless surface of Lake Geneva or the sparkling waves of