Sydney Nilan

Master of Sustainable Development Practice (MDP) Alumna, 2013

January 25, 2018

Sydney Nilan
Regional Program Director at Runa Foundation

Can you tell us about your current position and how it relates to Latin America?

Currently, I am the regional programs director with the Runa Foundation. We work with indigenous communities and producer associations in Peru and Ecuador creating new value for forest products that benefit local people and the forest ecosystem. We live and work here in Latin America, mostly in the Amazon region but we are expanding our geographical focus. Working with the Runa Foundation has expanded my understanding of how development projects work in Latin America and how to interact with the public, private, and civil sectors in the Amazon.

Sydney Nilan 1

What motivated you to pursue a degree in Sustainable Development Practice?

After undergrad, where I had majored in political science and international development with a focus on Latin America, I wanted to see if the things I had learned in books were true in real life. So I bought a one-way ticket and traveled around Latin America for about a year. It was very interesting; I volunteered a lot, worked where I could and just talked to people. One of the things that I realized was that I really did not know very much. I needed to learn more skills in order to be able to work in development within Latin America. The Masters in Development Practice seemed like the perfect program to teach me the skills I was lacking.

What aspect of your career have you enjoyed the most?

What I have enjoyed the most is that I get to do something new and exciting almost every day. It is always a challenge but it is also an adventure. It has been really rewarding in that I get the opportunity to learn something new all of the time and also get the chance to work for causes that I think are valuable.

How did your degree and the Center help you prepare for your career?

Sydney Nilan 2

I would say my degree helped me a lot; I learned so much! What I really enjoyed was the MDP program's multidisciplinary approach. It teaches students so many things such as project management, monitoring evaluation, public health, forestry, and sustainable agriculture. It gave me a broad skill set to be able to adapt to the ever-changing needs of a smaller NGO such Runa Foundation. It also helped me rise up to a management position much more quickly than I think would have, had I not been exposed to so many different areas.

What would you most encourage students to take away from their experience at the Center for Latin American Studies?

What is great about the Center and its affiliated programs, such as Tropical Conservation and Development and the Master of Sustainable Development Practice program, is the wealth of resources and the faculty that students are able to access, take advantage of, and learn from. The main thing I appreciate about the Center is that they don’t just focus on what we do but how we do it. I learned through different professors in the Center concrete skills for working with communities, organizations, and people in general that have made me much more effective as a development professional.

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