S. Mehreen Shahzad
A nerd from the start, Mehreen used to participate keenly in WWF’s Spellathon, an environmental themed spelling competition, in school and is now working as the Head of Programme Development, WWF-Pakistan!
Mehreen’s interest in environmental conservation is a result of nature and nurture; as her parents are both outdoorsy and fond of animals, especially her mother who used to help her and her siblings rescue animals. In 6th grade, when a teacher asked what you want to be when you grow up, her response was a very specific, marine biologist. She shifted to humanities, picking economics as a major after continuously being told that opting for sciences meant that she could either become a doctor or vet, as those were the only viable “good professional” options in Pakistan.
Mehreen ended up completing her undergrad in Economics from the Lahore University of Management Sciences. It was during the summer of 2007 that she was able to force her internship placement programme to get her a spot at WWF-Pakistan, and got to work on building the case against deforestation for the New Murree development.
“I was surrounded by the coolest professionals, zoologists, foresters, water experts and others, and it was exhilarating being able to interact with them every day and work on addressing issues that mattered to me.”
She jelled in so well with the team that even after the end of her internship, she was asked to help with reports that, given her interest and passion for sustainable development aspect of economics, she was more than happy to help with.
After the completion of her degree, her previous supervisor at WWF recommended her to the Programme Development Department at WWF for an impact assessment study on WWF’s ’Thirsty Crops’ project on sustainable cotton production. Thus, as part of her first proper assignment at WWF, she ended up in Faisalabad doing field surveys with her anglicized, Lahori, Punjabi that was quite a source of entertainment for others.
This work experience, clubbed with her interest in the subject, helped her decide to opt for Masters in International Development, with a focus on Environment, from the University of Manchester’s Global Development Institute, UK, in 2011. She found the institution and course to be a hidden gem, based on the faculty and the fact that the degree had a field study component, which led her to research in Uganda.
After completion of her Masters in 2012, she rejoined WWF-Pakistan’s Programme Development Department. In addition, she also had a secondment placement at WWF International, the WWF secretariat in Switzerland, where she led the development of the global WWF Network Analysis for 2013. Mehreen shared that it is the on-ground impact that WWF’s work has that she finds most rewarding. “If it would be on me, I would be in the field all the time, engaging with communities and learning from their wealth of indigenous knowledge”.
When asked about memorable incidents, Mehreen shared how she got stuck in thigh high mud in a mangrove forest and a colleague had to pull her back up, comically, by her backpack. When they finally ended up on stable ground, a stray dog offered raw fish to her, seemingly as consolation.”
Mehreen’s message for those who want to work for WWF-Pakistan: “People who have an inclination towards this field, WWF offers the opportunity to work in various sub-fields related to environment and conservation, and the possibility of field exposure in more than 30 locations throughout Pakistan. For our line of work, this combination is a great plus in itself.
Fatima Arif is Senior Officer Digital Media, WWF-Pakistan.