Frances Humber | Blue Ventures and greener pastures
After working over 12 years for Blue Ventures, an NGO that focuses on rebuilding tropical fisheries with coastal communities, Frances Humber has dedicated her entire professional career to non-profit and social enterprises and has a wealth of experience in marine conservation. I was fortunate enough to speak with Fran about how she developed from a master’s degree graduate into a Conservation Director, her experiences along the way, and why, just recently, she has decided to start a new chapter in her career…
Fran joined Blue Ventures part way through her master’s degree as an intern after volunteering with other organisations. Fran decided to conduct the research project portion of said degree with the science-led social enterprise; upon completion of her masters she stayed on and began a part time PhD.
Working in Marine Conservation for Blue Ventures
Fran remarked on how she felt fortunate in obtaining her initial position at the organisation and the beginning of her career “I initially started out as an intern at a time when I guess there were more internships available”, going on to say “I think that was quite similar to a lot of peoples experiences starting in this industry […] I was quite lucky that whilst I was volunteering for Blue Ventures, a paid role came up in the organisation and I applied for it and got it – and I’ve been there ever since.”
As with most individuals choosing a career in conservation, Fran has a vested interest and passion for wildlife, specifically the marine. However, when asked what she enjoyed most about her career and the biggest personal take-away whilst working for the social enterprise, her answer might surprise some; “In the work that we do, you’re working with really inspirational communities; people, families and villages. Being part of their world and getting to know what it’s like for them day to day is amazing, and when people are open to working with you to solve problems that’s great. I think working for an organisation where I’ve got that opportunity has been one of my personal reasons why I’ve stayed with Blue Ventures, people have become the centre of the work and that’s something I’ve really enjoyed in this job”.
Working as an Intern vs. the role of a Programme Director
Having worked almost solely for Blue Ventures since finishing her academic studies, Fran described how her responsibilities and the organisation’s work changed over the years “When I started in 2005 we had a few staff and the eco-tourism and expeditions were running, we were a very small hands on team so tasks would’ve been anything from writing a science manual for the eco-toursim volunteer training, to helping to send emails in a text file via satellite phone twice a week because there was no other means of communication then […] Nowadays my role is a lot to do with co-ordination, juggling different issues and talking to lots of people to make sure our activities are working, that they’re having the biggest impact that could be having, making sure we’re spending money wisely, partnering with great people, sharing information and that the team is happy, healthy and safe.”
Conservation Careers Advice
Good technical knowledge of conservation is often an important skill when working for a conservation organisation. When looking for prospective staff Fran emphasised the importance of job seekers making sure they get the fundamentals correct when applying for a job “At the CV stage, I look for somebody who’s changed their CV and cover letter to be relevant to the job they’re applying for!
It sounds so basic but so many people don’t do it. If you’re not in the conservation sector then put into your cover letter why you’re changing direction […] lastly – read the organisation’s website and do some research. A lot of the answers will be there, especially when it comes to the interview stage.”
Despite how important practical experience can be, Fran also highlights how vital transferable skills can be and “A conservation organisation is like any other organisation and you’ll need all those skills to get work done – project management skills, organisational skills and people skills”.
Fran goes on to talk about her own experiences in her own professional development. When asked what she would have done differently over the last 12+ years, she responded with “One thing I do wish I’d done more of though is spent more time working alongside my colleagues at our programme sites. […] I think reconnecting with daily life outside of the headquarters and remembering your passion for working in the field or why you do what you do is important no matter your role.
For those starting out or changing careers, experiencing the daily realities of working in your chosen field is a key piece of experience that you absolutely need. It doesn’t have to even be your typical hands on experience, such as field research. You could be living and working abroad and sitting at a laptop fixing data spreadsheets, but the amount that you will pick up just by living in that environment and being part of a team in the field will be really invaluable.”
Leaving Blue Ventures and beyond
Prior to our discussion Fran had informed me that she was leaving Blue Ventures, and at the time of writing this article she has since left the organisation. When asked about why she decided to leave the organisation at this point in her career, Fran replied “The reason I’m leaving Blue Ventures is to do with what I want to do next and that is to go back to a smaller organisation, to take the experience I have now, take what I’ve learnt, and hopefully find an organisation that’s where Blue Ventures was maybe 7 years ago”. Despite deciding to take her career back to its beginnings in grass roots conservation, Fran will still be a trustee of the NGO and in her own words has “every intention of being a part of their future success”.
Whilst Fran’s story and advice are hopefully inspiring to others wishing to follow a similar career path, if there is one take-away message from our interview it is this; no matter how long you have spent in a role you can always grow, develop and use your skills and experience to move your career in a new direction. This is a message equal parts important for graduates fervently looking for their first job, young professionals seeking to make their own mark within the conservation sector, or those that are looking for a paradigm shift in their current career.