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FEATURE: Meet the new CDKN Director, Shehnaaz Moosa

CDKN’s new Director, Shehnaaz Moosa, is experienced in delivering complex programmes addressing climate change and development. Shehnaaz joined the CDKN team in 2011 as the Africa Research Coordinator. She then went on to manage the CDKN Africa programme from 2013 to 2017. Shehnaaz is a Director at SouthSouthNorth (SSN), the organisation now leading the CDKN alliance from South Africa. She sat down with Emma Baker to share her experiences and hopes for the new phase of CDKN.

Congratulations on becoming the new Director of CDKN. Tell me about how you got to where you are today?

It started many moons ago, as a young woman growing up on the Cape Flats. “The Flats”, as the area is more commonly known, is a vast expanse on the outskirts of Cape Town to where people of colour were forcibly relocated under apartheid. It’s one of the more dangerous places in Cape Town with high levels of poverty, but also has a rich history in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Navigating the unrest and anti-apartheid movement, I was always driven by a passion to make a difference and serve. I had a love for Maths and this steered me to study Chemical Engineering. On completing my degree I decided to study further and undertook an MSc and PhD focusing on water treatment. I was the first woman of colour to be awarded a PhD in Chemical Engineering in South Africa.

Having studied the water sector in depth, and being exposed to the inequality in the delivery of water to communities, led me to the climate change space and CDKN. As coordinator for the Africa programme, I was inspired by the difference CDKN’s work can make for the most vulnerable. The next phase of CDKN has a strong focus on shifting the leadership of climate actions to the Global South, something that is close to my heart, so here I am, Director of CDKN.

What have your most formative influences been?

It sounds clichéd, but my mother. She was always very clear that as women in a traditional Muslim household, we were equal to any other person, male or female, and that we had a responsibility to ensure that our actions aligned with that value base. Growing up under apartheid, there was a strong sense of community and service, so whatever vocation you chose had to help others and promote equity.

What perspective will your professional training and background give you as CDKN Director?

My engineering background has given me a good sense of problem solving and systems thinking, which I believe are essential to solving the climate challenge we are facing. In addition, being part of a minority group during my studies has made me more resilient than most. 

You’ve been part of CDKN since 2011. What did you learn from CDKN’s previous programme that you would like to apply in your new role?

I have learned that we need to listen to vulnerable groups and the solutions they propose, and to respond in a manner that empowers them. Often, those most affected by climate change are not heard. I also saw that each community, country and region has its own challenges and so it is important to consider the context – one size does not fit all.

What are you looking forward to most in the next phase of CDKN?

The shift in leadership of CDKN to the Global South is particularly exciting for me, as it makes sense for the regions most affected by climate change to lead actions and implement solutions to tackle it. I am also looking forward to working with research programmes and decision-makers to ensure knowledge is informing climate decisions around action and not only ending up as academic papers. Ultimately, I would love to see our work making a real impact in the lives of the most vulnerable, especially around equitable access to services, such as water and energy.


Photo: Shehnaaz Moosa at the CDKN launch event in Cape Town, June 2018

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