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5 Minutes with Nav Bhattarai

We sat down for five minutes with Nav Bhattarai, who serves as a Program Associate on USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean Environmental Support Services Contract (LAC ESSC). Here he tells us about childhood wildlife encounters and finding the courage to make a mid-career shift to pursue his passion for conservation.

How would you describe your role?

As a Program Associate, I support the LAC ESSC Program Manager and Project Director in project implementation. A typical day for me involves tracking and managing buy-in budgets and invoices; managing subcontractors and consultants, including procurement and billing; supporting contract-level deliverable production; providing programmatic support to our buy-in technical staff; coordinating international travel; and supporting other contract compliance issues. At the company-level, I also support corporate forecasting, annual planning, and new business development efforts.

What drew you to work at Environmental Incentives?

I grew up in Nepal, where my uncle, Hemanta Mishra, a renowned wildlife conservationist, led a team to establish some of the first national parks with the help of WWF. In 1987, he was awarded the J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize for his work to save the endangered one-horn Indian rhino and tigers. For me as a kid, there was nothing like going safari riding on elephants with a team of scientists searching for rhinos and tigers. Sitting around the campfire at night, I’d listen to leading conservation experts from around the world share their amazing stories. Once I even pet a baby rhino that was roaming around camp after the team rescued it from a tiger attack! Growing up close to this work sparked my deep passion for conservation, which led me to pursue a degree in environmental management.

Still, it felt like more of a dream than a real goal I could pursue and I spent most of my career in other sectors. Eventually, I came to a point in my life where I wanted to shift gears and do something meaningful that made an impact on the world. Coming from Nepal, I always knew that international development and conservation go hand-in-hand, as donor organizations fund much of the on-the-ground work there. Seeing both the good and the bad reinforced that there is so much more we can do to maximize the impact of development work and achieve lasting change. When I read about EI’s story and how we work to improve development programs, it was a no-brainer for me to apply, especially with my background in environmental management and project management. I went for it and here I am two years later.

What is your favorite part about working for EI?

Our culture and the people. I’ve rarely felt that I belong somewhere—and this is not a cliché, it sounds so cheesy, but it really feels like a home to me. At EI, I’m accepted and valued and really have that sense of belonging. I can pursue my passion, love what I’m doing, and work toward a cause with my colleagues. It’s all blended together.

What is your proudest moment at EI?

Lately I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Business Development Team and contribute to a number of our winning proposals. Knowing that I contributed to this effort is important to me because it’s part of our company sustainability, enabling  all of us to continue doing the work that makes a difference in peoples’ lives and for the environment.

Nav and his children on the field at a Baltimore Ravens football game.

What are some of your favorite pastimes?

I love traveling! Growing up, I used to hike a lot, something that I have been trying to get back to doing more. One of my goals in life is to hike the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayas. In my spare time, I play the guitar and watch sports (go Ravens!). A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I am a huge news/political junkie, so I like to read about current events and how they impact the issues I care about. In the last few years, I’ve also picked up gardening as a new hobby. I had a small flower garden and then transitioned to a vegetable garden during the pandemic. I started with a small patch and slowly expanded. I’ve grown cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, broccoli, green beans, strawberries, and various herbs, just to name a few. I even tried corn last year. It was doing so well, but then squirrels came and ate it all. I like to garden because it feels like it gives me an escape from the real world. I can forget about the stresses of life and just be in the zone.

What is one food you can’t live without?

I can’t say just one food, because I’m a foodie and love everything. Something I really miss is a special dumpling from Nepal/Tibet called momo. A couple restaurants nearby have it, but nothing can compare to homemade momo. There are a lot of varieties, but “jhol momo,” which comes in creamy tomato broth, is the best because it has all the flavors.

Nav’s family.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

It was nerve-wracking in the beginning, but I’m proud I had the courage to make a transition later in my career. I left a safe space and went to a completely different field to follow my dreams. I have to thank my family, especially my wife, for their support and for pushing me to do something that would make me happy.

And of course, being a parent. I have two kids. Thinking that I went from caring for them as infants—and now they can walk to school and are almost self-sufficient—is a huge achievement in and of itself.

Any final thoughts or words of wisdom?

I wish more people were aware of the benefits of international development work and what it entails. Development programs impact the lives of people, not just in the countries where the programs are implemented, but also in donor countries—but our work isn’t always well-understood. That’s why sharing success stories and indicators, and making direct connections to show how our work at EI helps improve development programs, is so important.

Thanks for chatting with us, Nav! 


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