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Working in service of future generations

June 1, 2021

Woman crouching by a bush
Photo courtesy of Glynis Barber

Global Environment Facility Program Assistant Glynis Barber works to enable developing countries – including her native Sierra Leone – prepare for and cope with climate change. In an interview, she shared what she enjoys most about supporting and advancing climate change adaptation projects financed by the GEF-managed Least Developed Countries Fund and Special Climate Change Fund.

What is your role at the Global Environment Facility?

I am part of the GEF’s climate change adaptation team, which provides financing from the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) to enable countries to address their urgent and immediate needs for adaptation to climate change.

My role is to ensure that projects are reviewed, monitored, and tracked throughout the project life cycle. I also support the timely delivery of the twice-yearly work programs that are presented to our member governments at GEF, LDCF, and SCCF Council meetings. I also provide technical and administrative support to the teams focused on Africa and Small Island Developing States.

How did you get into this line of work?

I did my Master’s in International Business at the South Bank University in London and for a number of years enjoyed working in the corporate world. However, after starting a family and rediscovering the world through my children’s eyes, I started thinking more seriously about the fate of the world we live in. This made me question whether chasing the next sales target was the way I wanted to live. So, after much thought, I decided to move to a non-profit organization that focused on the welfare of people.

The Global Environment Facility’s mission and approach resonated with me for several reasons. I was born and raised in Sierra Leone, which like many developing countries lacked the resources for many years to prioritize and invest in environmental issues. I saw the cascading effects of challenges such as inadequate solid waste management as they affected water, sanitation, and human health conditions. Joining the GEF and having the chance to work in service of future generations has been very meaningful for me. The projects we finance through the LDCF and SCCF are making a positive difference for poor and vulnerable communities. I feel a sense of pride knowing that the work I do is helping countries such as Sierra Leone invest in a better tomorrow.

Four women in a group photo at the 57th GEF Council meeting
L-R: Glynis Barber, GEF Secretariat; Asha Bobb Semple, GEF Secretariat; Gillian Guthrie, Council Member, Jamaica; and Aparna Subramani, Council Member, India. Photo: IISD/ENB | Francis Dejon

What is unique about the GEF’s approach?

I have seen through my day-to-day work that the GEF’s approach to climate adaptation and resilience is extremely responsive to different countries’ needs and realities. Our support is targeted specifically to countries and regions that are highly vulnerable to the effects of global climate change. We are also working with different partners to support innovative solutions, many of which originate in developing countries. Climate change experts at the GEF do a lot of listening, in addition to helping educate and share knowledge amongst our government and agency partners. We also work closely with other funds to find ways to scale up and replicate successful projects and programs across countries and regions.

How has COVID-19 impacted these efforts?

The COVID-19 pandemic has required all of us to find ways to be productive and professional in the face of very challenging circumstances. I am very grateful that other than working some extra-long hours during this pandemic, my family and I have been healthy, and I have been able to keep projects moving forward despite some major headwinds. I have also appreciated the fact that virtual formats have afforded me the opportunity to be part of some meetings, communities, and work streams that I would normally not be included in. I am all about learning, improving, and acquiring new skills, so I have relished that aspect, especially these experiences that have also widened my horizons somewhat.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy knowing that the work I do is making a difference in the lives of poor and vulnerable people in developing countries. I feel a sense of pride that the LDCF, SCCF, and GEF are helping countries similar to Sierra Leone make advances in climate change adaptation. This is important to me, having witnessed first-hand the struggle and devastation that can come from erratic, changing weather patterns which cause floods, disrupt the livelihoods of local farmers, and create severe water shortages. I get a sense of purpose and achievement in my work knowing that we are enabling Least Developed Countries to be more intentional about preparing for new and changing environmental conditions and at the same time building food security, creating jobs, and encouraging local entrepreneurship around innovative climate adaptation technologies. It is very satisfying not only when LDCF and SCCF projects are approved, but also when they have a positive impact and are graded highly by the GEF's Independent Evaluation Office.

I have also had the pleasure of working with some inspirational colleagues. I admire people who by working hard have risen through the ranks in their career. When I see female colleagues, especially those with families, holding senior positions it inspires me because I know that at some point in their lives they must have faced certain unconscious biases – be it racism, sexism, or just plain old negativity from peers or superiors – but that did not stop them. This motivates me and inspires me to rise above whatever challenges may come my way and press towards my goals. 

What changes do you hope to observe in the world in the future?

A healthier world for us all. For more people around the globe to take climate change and its adverse impacts more seriously and therefore be more intentional about striving to improve on bad habits and systems that contribute to it.

Nearer term, as we approach the end of the pandemic, I am looking forward to many simple pleasures – things we previously took for granted! Seeing colleagues and friends again in the flesh. Interacting with new friends, colleagues, and neighbors without fear. Travelling, dining out, hugging, sharing jokes, and just being together once more.