We sat down for five minutes with Maria Celes Abragan who supports Environmental Incentives’ International Practice. She tells us more about her role, her interest in the Conservation Standards, and the food she can’t live without!
How would you describe your role?
I am an Associate working on the Measuring Impact II (MI2) project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). MI2 aims to help USAID leaders and Mission staff promote evidence-based and adaptive management approaches across USAID’s biodiversity portfolio.
Specifically, I work with MI2’s project management team to provide coordination, operational, and administrative support to implement the project. I also provide technical support to other teams in cross-mission learning groups, enabling conditions working groups, and direct field support. For example, I work with the Wild Meat Cross Mission Learning Group to promote cross-sectoral learning about unsustainable wild meat consumption and how it relates to biodiversity, food security, and global health.
What was your dream job growing up?
I wanted to be a psychiatrist. I was interested in helping children and youth overcome behavioral issues and mental illnesses. But when I went to college, I was exposed to environmental issues including climate change, which I consider one of the biggest existential threats to humanity. I decided to invest my time in this field to address these broader environmental issues.
What drew you to work at Environmental Incentives?
I was drawn to work at Environmental Incentives because of my interest in the Conservation Standards (CS). I learned about CS during college. I really like the approach of having a common language and processes that help practitioners around the world communicate and problem-solve for conservation. EI is one of the few companies that adhere to CS, so I knew it was a great opportunity to work at the company.
What is your favorite part about working for Environmental Incentives?
Environmental Incentives has a very supportive work culture that prioritizes employees’ well-being, satisfaction, and professional growth. I love that EI put a lot of effort into our justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion initiative. As a person of color and a foreign worker from a very diverse background, I deeply appreciate this effort to recognize and dismantle systemic barriers to resources and opportunities and to create an environment that is inclusive and respectful of everyone’s differences.
I also love working in the international development space, especially with USAID. As someone who grew up in the Philippines, I find it meaningful to contribute to USAID’s work, because I am indirectly helping developing countries become more resilient and self-sufficient.
What is your proudest moment at Environmental Incentives?
I am very proud of supporting the MI2 project management team in setting up systems, processes, and tools to efficiently manage the project and work plan tasks. We have made a lot of progress in streamlining and standardizing processes, and it is really exciting to see how it’s helping the team.
Some of my proudest moments at EI have been when I can support my teammates effectively so that operations and processes are seamless. I always feel proud when my team feels supported by me.
What trends do you see emerging in the biodiversity sector?
There is a huge focus on integrating environmental programming into other development sectors. Increasingly, people recognize that development issues cannot be solved through siloed efforts – sectors need to coordinate, integrate, and work together to achieve better development outcomes.
What are your favorite pass-times?
Overall, I love hanging out and spending time with friends chatting or doing activities like playing cards or board games. I love taking pictures and videos. I cook a lot and try to explore different types of cuisines.
I get really obsessed with certain topics I find interesting. For example, recently I’ve been fascinated by the concept of spacetime, and now I’m obsessively watching educational videos, documentaries, and reading about the theory of general relativity in my spare time. I think I will never understand it!
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I would love to learn how to be comfortable with public speaking again. When I was young, I was very good at it. I do not know what happened! Before moving to the US, I first lived in Hong Kong where I had to learn how to communicate in English. Not only did I have to learn how to express myself in a new language, but also to adapt to different cultures and contexts and take on different mannerisms, sense of humor, and perspectives. I think my brain was rewired in the process and now public speaking is very terrifying to me. So I would love to relearn it because I have a lot of things to say about conservation, about the environment, about life, and I want to be able to share my thoughts with people.
What is one food you can’t live without?
Rice! I’m Asian! I can’t live without rice. In the Philippines we eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and we have a saying that a meal is not really a proper meal without rice!
What is your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievement is graduating from college! Until now, I still find it hard to believe that I managed to get a high quality education from a very reputable school. Growing up in the Philippines, I did not have a lot of privileges. I grew up without a biological family, I’ve experienced poverty and adverse childhood trauma, and I was in low socioeconomic status most of my life. The path to getting my education definitely wasn’t an easy road. With a thankful heart, I owe this achievement to all the people and organizations that helped me, especially SOS Children’s Villages Philippines and Li Po Chun United World College.
Also, I have been to 15 countries. That’s another great achievement that I am very proud of!