The first Green Antilles interview of 2019 is with John “Ricky” Wilson, a sustainable development professional who works mainly in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. Ricky’s extensive experience in the fields of environment and disaster risk reduction includes project management, advocacy, negotiation, and conflict resolution. In all his work, he aims to makes a difference in people’s lives by applying a sustainable development ethos.
What first sparked your interest in working with the environment?
As far as I can remember I was always interested in the marine environment. In primary school I dreamt of being an “aquanaut” living and working under the sea. I am a certified scuba diver, and I pursued my marine interests academically with a BSc in Biology from the University of the West Indies and then a MSc in Fisheries from Bangor University, before entering the real world and the job market.
Please tell Green Antilles readers a little about your environmental career.
My entire professional career has always been natural resource based in one form or another. I started with the government of Barbados in the Town and Country Planning Development Planning Office, where I was the first “true scientist” hired. There I facilitated the foundation for greater consideration of natural protected areas in the development approval process, as well as laying the foundations for what was to become in later years the environmental impact assessment process.
My next assignment was at the Ministry of the Environment in the Environmental Unit where we did some pioneering work on behalf of the Government of Barbados and the Caribbean Community. Those were exciting days; the international community was now seeing the nexus between environment and development as seen in 1992 at the UN Conference on Environment and Development and again in 1994 at the UN Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, which was held in Barbados.
After becoming Senior Environmental Officer and head of the Environmental Unit, I sought new professional challenges. I entered the development world and worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) managing environmental projects in the region. This journey allowed me the opportunity to learn about disaster risk reduction up-close and personal, and to engage in multi-island project management as one of the leads in USAID’s Hurricane Ivan recovery efforts. I have also worked in The Bahamas, Grenada, Dominica, and St Lucia. Subsequent periods of freelancing were interspersed with assignments to the United Nations Development Programme, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, and other agencies.
My public sector experience has served me well in managing projects throughout the islands on behalf of clients as that experience allows for greater understanding and bridge building between all parties to accomplish the final objective.
What do you find most satisfying about your environment-related work?
Seeing the tangible difference in people’s lives as a result of my interactions with them through a project or some activity that I am engaged with. Compared to the macro level impact of national policy legislation, I believe the “personal touch” has a longer, more sustainable impact, and for me it brings a greater “feel good” feeling. In addition, I have made many lifelong contacts and friends across the islands and in various agencies.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges these days for the protection and sustainable management of the environment in the Caribbean?
Getting people to understand that their actions or inactions can make a difference and that we need to ensure that future generations do not pay the price for our actions/inactions.
What do you think are some of the bright spots and opportunities for the Caribbean when it comes to the environment?
The embrace of renewable energy, greater awareness of the dangers of plastic, transformation of waste (e.g. sargassum to usable products), and growth in the Slow Food movement. Plus, the power of the people in taking a stand and making change happen at the local level cannot be underestimated.
What message would you like to leave with Green Antilles readers about why and how everyday people should help to protect the environment in the Caribbean?
We only have this one Earth and its our responsibility to leave it in as good or even better condition than we found it.
Thanks to Ricky for the interview!
[Interview responses have been edited lightly. Images courtesy of Ricky Wilson.]