Alumnus profile: Dr Kiruben Naicker

Posted on November 02, 2020

“COVID-19 is just the tip of the iceberg. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has revealed that 1.7 million viruses are on their way with even more devastating impacts on humanity projected. More collaboration locally, regionally and internationally is needed to improve the evidence base that would support decision making globally and in the areas of conservation and protection of biodiversity as well as the sustainable use of nature, which will affect international trade and economies alike,” cautions Dr Kiruben Naicker, highly acclaimed for his long-standing strategic role in the Biodiversity sector for the SA Government. Despite everything he has achieved thus far in his illustrious career, going forward he hopes to play an even bigger role, internationally. His life’s journey makes for stimulating reading…

Q: Briefly summarise your career since graduating from UP, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.

A: My PhD is a fairly recent achievement though my pursuit and ambition to do this has been for a long time. My reputation, experience, past academic achievements and long-standing strategic role in the Biodiversity sector for the South African Government, earned me access and acceptance to the UP doctoral programme, which is of a globally comparable, if not superior academic standard.

As an outcome of my research, I have developed a co-creation model in Leadership for the biodiversity and natural capital agenda. This innovative model, which highlights the "soft skills" against the hard skills needed for transformative change in South Africa, can be applied across sectors and in all walks of life. The research is yet to be accepted and published in a reputable journal. I have, however, hosted and led the sector discussion on Trade and Zoonosis as a consequence of the impact of the coronavirus and have since been requested to lead the biodiversity sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success? 

A: I presently lead the science policy agenda for the Biodiversity sector in South Africa, having introduced and championed key concepts of evidence- based decision making, natural capital, ecological infrastructure, business and biodiversity and mainstreaming.

My doctoral research has enhanced my credibility, both locally and internationally, as my research had a local, regional and international scope. As the National focal point of the IPBES, I can now engage on an equal footing with discipline experts from around the world, notwithstanding my two Master of Science degrees from the University of Kent, United Kingdom and the University of Witwatersrand.

My doctoral studies have pushed the boundaries in terms of my thinking, raising the bar on innovation and creativity to reconcile multi-disciplines in search of the nexus or “sweet spot” of the research. Having a strong academic background in the natural sciences, I am now officially an expert in the biodiversity and environmental sciences, but more so, effective in seeing the bigger picture and making the linkages and synergies with cross-cutting issues, particularly in the social and management sciences. 

Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?

A: Postgraduate studies, particularly for a PhD, are an elaborate and arduous journey. It is undoubtedly a journey of self-discovery where you will be faced with many challenges of a personal nature, coupled with other life challenges, depending at which stage of life you yourself are in.

My advice would be that perseverance and commitment pay off. Also finding the right supervisor for your research is key to your success. When working with multidisciplinary research, as was the case with my research, dual supervision is recommended, but undertaken with caution as you can be pulled in different directions to follow differing schools of thought.

And when it comes to one's own school of thought, my personal and secret advice would be to keep the explicit expression of your thoughts whilst your thinking is evolving to after you have attained and passed your degree. 

Working consistently, according to a predefined schedule of activities that is reflective of other life needs is fundamental to advancing and progressing towards the finish line. In the famous words of the great leader of our time Nelson Mandela... “It always seems impossible until it is done.”        

Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?

A: The way a particular business or organisation is institutionally set up, can move it upwards towards success or away from success. As my research has shown: co-creation, co-production amidst relational dynamics is important to reach success.

At the end of the day, it is about relationships, partnerships co-creating throughout the value chain for added creativity, innovation, uptake and ownership. As they say, no man or woman is an island. I think hierarchical, single-handedly led and driven businesses have limited sustainability. An entire organisation needs to be fully engaged in a transparent manner embracing the humanitarian approach. Profit maximisation and shareholder return on investment should be superseded by overall sustainability and social upliftment. 

Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc.) do you enjoy reading?

A: I will admit that over the last five years, attending to the needs of a new born and a 3-year-old, and at the same time undertaking a PhD, I have had little to no time to read any articles outside my area of research. Though, if I did have the time, I would love to read the latest developments on Science, Economics, Agriculture, Natural Capital and Nature.   

Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?

A: My two boys, Khaiuren and Thashar, are my biggest motivators. Family is extremely important to me and upholding the legacy of the Naicker family and that of my grandfather the late TM Naicker is fundamental to my existence. My dad, who owned his own garden service business, sparked a connection within me to nature and the Earth and hence I was inspired from a very early age to pursue a career on the environment.  

I strongly believe that each successive generation should be more successful than the previous one. My achievements will hopefully inspire my sons to reach their full potential and do far better than I would have done in this lifetime. This would be considered my success.  

Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person - in any domain - who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?

A: Who immediately comes to mind is Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand, who was recently re-elected for a second term. She is truly one of the world's most inspiring and courageous leaders. I have personally grown up amongst strong women: my grandmother, mother, three sisters and now my wife, Raymila, and I can clearly identify with the challenges and hardships that women in society have to face, even in the present day. 

Jacinda has been one of the few leaders who has successfully managed a volcanic eruption, terrorist attack and currently the COVID pandemic, whilst raising a kid and running a country. Her presence and her manner have clearly taken a human-centred approach.

My conversation with Jacinda will not be heavy handed but will rather focus on life, love and happiness, and of course I would ask her what the secrets of her success are, which I suspect will centre on the former life aspects anyway.     

Q: Going forward, what are your professional/business/personal goals?

A: I would like to expand my reach using my expertise and experience in Biodiversity and Nature to achieve sustainability and resilience for present and future generations. Ideally, I would like to join the United Nations or an international body to further and complement the humanitarian approach to development and life on Earth. Personally, it is about my kids, my boys and family, empowering them and providing them with the best opportunities to reach their full potential and beyond.    

Q: Lastly, COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. In your opinion, to what extent is the pandemic likely to impact globalisation/international trade?

A: Clearly the pandemic has highlighted our vulnerability, our limited knowledge and our interconnectedness with nature and the environment. If we are lucky enough to survive the pandemic, we have to heed to the call of nature to do things differently, especially when it comes to what traditionally underpins our economies, trade, business, consumption and exploitation of our natural resources and environment.

COVID-19 is just the tip of the iceberg. The IPBES has revealed that 1.7 million viruses are on their way with even more devastating impacts on humanity projected. More collaboration locally, regionally and internationally is needed to improve the evidence base that would support decision making globally and in the areas of conservation and protection of biodiversity as well as the sustainable use of nature, which will affect international trade and economies alike.

Increased climate change – which is as a result of increased globalisation and international trade – is projected to be more impactful than the emerging viruses. Joint policies and approaches for both exporting and importing countries would need to be aligned and work together in order to be effective.

More work on the legal and illegal wildlife trade will have to take place through collaboration and further investment in research and scientific advancements. It does come down to a question of leadership, within each one of us, to change our thinking and take the necessary actions each and every day.          

- Author Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences
Published by Nonkululeko Kubeka Moyo

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