International Association for Impact Assessment


  • Hear from Kamau Ndirangu, winner of the 2024 Young Professional Award.


    IAIA CEO Gary Baker recently chatted with Kamau Ndirangu, the recipient of IAIA’s 2024 Young Professional Award.  Watch the video now, and find the full transcript of the conversation below.

    Gary Baker, IAIA CEO: I'm delighted to have the opportunity to introduce our 2024 IAIA Young Professional Award winner, Kamau Ndirangu. This is a chance for us to get to know Kamau in a little bit more detail. Fascinating global background, education-wise and experience-wise. Welcome, Kamau. Please tell us a little bit about how you started on this environmental journey through water expertise.

    Kamau Ndirangu: Thanks so much, Gary, for having me and making space for this conversation. I'm really excited as well. My journey, let me see where to start. I was born and raised in a small town just outside Nairobi -- Kikuyu Town. When you grow up in Kenya, the aspects of environment and water are very close to you. These are aspects that surrounded me. I used to be a member of the wildlife organization in primary school, so that really was my first encounter with the environment space. One thing that I remember growing up is that water has always been a challenge in my community, where my parents came from, my grandparents. It's always been one of those aspects that is right in your face, especially considering this is in the early 90s. This was my immediate way of thinking about what I could do to help or to change the situation. That’s where my love and my joy for working in the field of water and environment started.

    Gary: You then had that opportunity to go to university. Was it in Delft at that point, or did that come later? What was the journey once you left Kenya?

    Kamau: In the last year of my high school education in Kenya, I was very fortunate to get a full scholarship. I attended New York University in Abu Dhabi for my undergraduate education. I was in the first graduating class on the Abu Dhabi campus. I did chemical and biological engineering. My thesis was looking at low-cost desalination. In the Gulf countries, when I first moved there, I became very attuned to the water scarcity and the water stress in that region in a way that I hadn't seen in Kenya. Then my push towards looking at environment and how that intersects with water availability and use. I ended up doing some research in developing low-cost desalination technologies for communities that use aquifers and groundwater abstraction. Later on, I continued working in Qatar. I was with an oil and gas company, but in the clean water sector. I worked for around two years as a field engineer. I looked at groundwater abstraction and development of good aquifer system understanding to enable the country to tap into its groundwater resources in a sustainable manner. I did that for around two years and thereafter, that's when I got a full scholarship to attend IHE Delft. This was an Erasmus Mundus scholarship in Groundwater and Global Change, Impacts, and Adaptations. That was the name of the master's program. When I attended, part of it was in ISD in Lisbon, IHE in Delft, and TU Dresden in Germany. I focused more on groundwater and the impacts that climate change is having on groundwater and how groundwater can be used as a means of adaptation to the impacts. I would say that all that intersects with my work on environment as well in terms of understanding what are the environmental impacts if you continue abstracting too much groundwater, or what are the ways in which groundwater can be used as a way to preserve the environment. That was my initial journey in the field of water management and environmental assessment.

    Gary: One of the questions I often get from young professionals starting off in career or developing, is how much of your journey was planned out in advance? Is it a case of just making one decision, opportunities arise, then make another decision? Where's that balance?

    Kamau: That's a good question. I would say in my case, it's a mix of luck, of following intuition, and of what opportunities are available. Those three don't always come at the same time. Sometimes you're passionate about something, but then you don't find any opportunities around you or you have opportunities, but you don't really know how to make use of them. That's where mentorship comes into play. I'll say in my case it's been guided by the opportunities that are available to me. Then, seeing how I can turn those opportunities into something that is joyful to me, that makes a positive difference to the people around me and to the larger community. I think that's how I would look at that. I understand it can be very difficult, it can be very stressful and very daunting at times. It can be difficult to have the heart to continue and to have a journey you've chosen. I think having those mentors in place and trying to seek out opportunities that really resonate with what you want to do is what I'd say really kept me going.

    Gary: One of the key things that came through in the recommendations that went into this award was your real determination and keenness to share your knowledge and spread that more widely and teach and make sure that you're passing that information on. Is that something that you feel very strongly about?

    Kamau: For sure, Gary.  I would say I'm very fortunate right now to be working at the World Bank.  I'm currently based in Washington, D.C., and I work as an environmental specialist. One of the biggest joys of my current work is that the reach of the World Bank is so wide, and we are able to convene different groups and partners together and to achieve impact at scale. I've been able to work with my colleagues, my peers, and also my mentors, and being able to deliver, for example, trainings on key issues in the environment. For instance, biodiversity conservation has been a big topic, especially when you work on large infrastructure projects, hydropower, large highways, and linear infrastructure. My work and role has really entailed looking at how we can work with our counterparts, the countries that we work in, to ensure that not only this particular project is done in an environmentally sustainable manner, but that the countries also have the professional capacity, human resources, and financing to be able to take this forth at their own level. This is where I'd say a lot of the capacity development interest has emanated from. The joy of this is that it's not just an impact in one activity. It is ensuring that whether it's the Ministry of Water, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environment, they have the internal knowledge capacity to continue this work.  I think training has been one aspect that I've really been keen on. The other is looking at and conducting assessments or analytical work on what are some best practices or good practices in particular countries, EIA systems, and how we can draw out those lessons to provide them to other developing countries to really understand what are those unique ways that we can use to protect our own nature, to make value out of it, to conserve it. I think the role of training and capacity development and this kind of analytical work on EIA systems has also helped me have a wider reach than I would have in a particular project activity.

    Gary: What would be your advice to young professionals at this point? These are the things to bear in mind for someone setting off and starting to have a career within environmental social impact assessment.

    Kamau: I'll say the first thing is that it's very tough growing up today where there are so many anxieties, so many issues around us, especially around climate change and the impacts it's already having in many of our countries. I would say to young people or people looking to work in the environment space that there is a lot of hope, and there's a lot of opportunity. There's a lot of innovation going on.  I think it's a very amazing space to be. It's very interesting; very exciting. At the same time, I think it's very important to believe in yourself and find mentors that can help you move in the right opportunities, who can also advocate for you and help you figure out what are the best opportunities to access. Opportunities are not always available, but you want to make your own opportunities in the areas that you are passionate in. I'd say it's important to seek out mentors who can support you in that journey, who can help you navigate challenges and find out what are the opportunities that you can scale. Lastly, I would say just believe in yourself. I know it's one of those cliché terms that are thrown around everywhere, but if you keep doing something long enough, hard enough, then you'll see the results come around.  I think that would be my general advice, looking back at my own journey and what I'd want to share with other young people, either in the environment space or even broader.

    Gary: That's great. Fine words and well said. Thank you very much. A very worthy recipient of our Young Professional Award. Very good to chat with you.

    Kamau: Thank you, Gary. It's been a pleasure.

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