By Rosanele Romero
Completely unsure of the future, shoulders heavy with doubt, and feeling empty-handed, I stepped onto the pedestrian crossroads looking back at the first and last office building in the Philippines where I’d been employed. It was numbing, yet my mind was racing with big plans of what I was going to do next. Volunteer. Learn. Pay it forward. Make an impact.
Unleashed, I was free to find the intersectionality of petroleum exploration and sustainable development. My background in decision-based project framing and risk and uncertainty analysis held me in good stead throughout my international upstream experience. I could now strive to apply my technical competencies to social innovation projects full-time and willfully put my priorities in order: planet, people, and profit.
Back in 2001, I was very fortunate to have started my career as a young geologist in the Malampaya Gas-to-Power Project. The following year raised the bar on what I expected from an upstream exploration company when the project won a prestigious international sustainable development award based on how the proponents engaged early with the communities prior to project execution to properly address the socio-economic challenges through the life cycle of the oil and gas field. The multi-awarded and multi-billion dollar project harnessed natural gas in the Malampaya field, offshore Palawan, the Philippines, to provide energy to rural and urban communities—and to support economic growth on the island of Luzon. Despite this experience, I blushed at the thought of wanting to go into sustainable development because I did not have the resources and the reputation to do so. Doors had been shut before, and I was told by sustainability professionals to “leave it to us. Just stick to what you do.” How could I, as a technical professional, sweet-spot sustainability in the geosciences and earn my seat at the table?
My personal circumstances whittled down my choices to finding opportunities in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Between odd consultancy jobs and online UN volunteer work, it was a LinkedIn advertisement for the online course on Environmental Security and Sustaining Peace that first drew me to the SDG Academy.
Although I was following the geopolitical issues in the West Philippine Sea, I did not see how peace and conflict were directly related to the accords and struggles to access natural resource wealth. In other words, pick any location on a map, and where there is something that grows or that can be extracted, you name it, and this would be a root cause of any permutation of global, political, economic, social and environmental problems that we face.
In the Environmental Security and Sustaining Peace course, the use of story maps was a brilliant way to follow the narratives, images, maps and videos through the timeline from conflict to the paths to peace. The course instructors were all exceptional and held well-balanced views. It was up to the learners to draw the key teachable moments from every case study, and the discussions allowed the learners to contribute from their own experiences. I was overjoyed that, finally, I had found the right breadcrumbs to follow!
I felt empowered. It was the invitation that I was waiting for to be part of the conversation. The materials, the discussions, and the assessments helped me build my sustainable development muscle—to be able to carry my weight in discussions, online and offline. I learned to keep a blog to collect references, write my reflections, and deliver prose which I hope one day will guide younger geoscientists and sustainable development practitioners. I hope that more people will be convinced that solutions sit in our common interests rather than in our opposing views.
While juggling shuttling kids to school and activities as well as taking on tutorial jobs, it took me two attempts before I finally completed the course and received the certification. How many times I did it did not matter at all. What I am most proud of is how much I learned on both occasions.
As a tip to future learners, the SDG Academy Alumni Facebook group was a huge help. I am very thankful that although my interactions with other alumni were brief, we all encouraged each other to take a new course, celebrated the courses completed, and reverberated our nuggets of learning to the communities we serve. The wheels are set in motion and the only mistake we could ever make is if we stop trying.
Finally, I was again at the crossroads—meeting people from all walks of life who are doing good, who are offering help, and who are giving hope. Each one a teacher, each one a learner, passing on stories from places where we come from, bidding each other well wishes, carrying on our journey—until hopefully, our next encounter in the foreseeable sustainable future.
Rosanele Romero is a Filipina geologist in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She obtained her MSc Petroleum Geoscience degree from Imperial College London. She has 20 years of international experience in new venture exploration and greenfield development, resource assessment, decision-based project framing, and design thinking. In her day job, she does geology research. She is passionate about sustainable geoscience and contributes to narrow the communication gap between technical and layman’s terms. She is a lifetime member of the Geological Society of the Philippines and is serving as an Asia-Pacific Region delegate for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists for 2020-2023.