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Woman Made: Marianna Vargas

Woman Made: Marianna Vargas

8th Mar 2018

The very definition of a Millenial Girl Boss, Marianna Vargas shares with us her deep love for our country, her passion for climate change and her personal mission to make a difference.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Currently, I manage the Partnerships Unit of the Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management Foundation. The Center is a privately funded research organization committed towards enabling the ability of Filipinos to cope with and adapt to climate change through innovative science and technology.

Climate change is a global issue I feel strongly about because it adversely affects Filipinos in particular. A number of various factors make the Philippines especially vulnerable to climate change and its related impacts, which is why there is a very real urgency to find solutions towards building the resilience of Filipino communities. Part of the work that I do for the Center involves collaborating with researchers, scientists, policy-makers and other crucial actors across different sectors to conceptualize & develop the contextually appropriate solutions for communities to adapt to climate change.

What inspired you to pursue your advocacy?

I grew up immersed in beautiful natural landscapes all over the Philippines—be it the mountains or the oceans. I actually initially wanted to become a marine biologist. However, when I entered university in Australia, I became particularly interested with the sustainable development discourse. I grew fascinated with how it enshrined not only principles of environmental conservation, but also social justice. Its articulation of basic human rights not just within generations, but between them was something I found incredibly compelling.

A continuous path towards these beliefs is what led me to climate change. Essentially, how environmental degradation and devastation undermined the rights of people to live peacefully. All this set against the baffling realization that many of those who have benefited from these devastating activities are apathetic or simply chalk it up to the necessities of progress.

What’s next for you? What is your ultimate career goal?

A few months back I began my MBA and this is perhaps an attempt on my part to gain a more comprehensive perspective. The space I work in is a very exciting one, you get to bring various actors to the table, and enable them to have conversations that could transform the lives of those who are in need. However, to be effective you need to have perspective. Not just from your angle but be able to understand the driving influences and interests of those opposite the table from you. I have always been enthusiastic about collaborative effort, in all its different contexts. In my case now, it is how do you effectively bring all these important voices to the table and create that meaningful change our society so desperately needs?

I have always been a point-A-to-point-B type of person. In the sense that I don’t really have an “ultimate” career goal but have always approached it as, what is the most obvious, as well as exciting next step? I like the anticipation of life unraveling that way.

How do you think championing sustainability can affect our country in the next few years?

I firmly believe that the Philippines is currently at the cusp of meaningful development, but the critical choices we make as to how that development is realized and measured will defend the outcomes of who truly gets to benefit from this development and who doesn’t.

The lens of sustainability must not only be layered on individual choices, but on different levels society. Genuine sustainability takes into consideration “the whole” and not just the sum of various parts. We need to fundamentally transform our societies and rethink the ways in which we want to prosper as a country so that current inequalities are not exacerbated and our environments not destroyed.

What do you think is the best way for the everyday Filipino to contribute to this cause?

The conversation has gone beyond simply buying eco-friendly or local products. This of course remains to be important. However, if we truly want to contribute there needs to be an elemental shift in mindset. Wherein we are conscious of how the daily choices we make impact, not just ourselves, but everything else around us.

We need to view our interactions with our environments and societies as a system that we live in harmoniously, as opposed to against it. And I don’t mean this in a sentimental, romanticized sort of way but if you really think about it, it could be applied in literally everything that we do. It shouldn’t be about feeling good about buying more ethical or responsible products but thinking deeply about why you believe you should be buying them in the first place. To be honest, you may even end up not buying them if you think about it hard enough.

How do you think women are making strides in your industry?

I am fortunate enough to be working in an industry where women’s voices are valued at critical decision-making. I have worked with brilliant female scientists, policy-makers, business leaders and civil society champions who have been instrumental in creating change and effective climate action.

However, as important as it is for the women in my industry to freely assert themselves. I have seen the significance of supportive and “secure” men in the equation. Men who do not just superficially acknowledge the voice of women in the conversation but genuinely value what a person has to say regardless of gender.

What advice can you give women who are aspiring to be pioneers like yourself?

Don’t let societal pressures define what you can and cannot do.

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