Western Indian Ocean Early Career Scientists Network

Celebrating Women in STEM: The Inspirational Success Story of Miss Nancy Iraba, an Outstanding WIO Champion in Ocean Science.

© Nancy Iraba

Meet Nancy Cyprian Iraba, an active member of the Western Indian Ocean Early Career Scientists Network (WIO-ECSN) who wears many notable hats. She is the co-founder and CEO of Healthy Seaweed Co. Limited (Seaweed Cafe); a co-founder and underwater program lead at Aqua-Farms Organization; and an outstanding Women in Marine Science Network (WiMS) member from Tanzania.

She is a recipient of numerous recognitions including the Upcoming Woman in STEM in the field of Marine Sciences in Tanzania of the Next Einstein for African Scientists, which is presented in recognition of women’s achievements in science. Nancy specializes in benthic ecology, coral reef restoration, community engagement, public speaking, and leadership.

She shares some of the highlights from her outstanding journey with us; noting challenges and
opportunities in the field of marine science, while inspiring other girls and women to keep
thriving in the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field.

Challenges and Opportunities in Marine Science

Climate change and ocean acidification, driven by rising temperatures and escalating carbon dioxide levels, stand as formidable challenges in the realm of marine science. These phenomena have instigated profound alterations in marine ecosystems, including coral bleaching, disruptions in vital food chains, and changes in ocean chemistry. The imperative task of mitigating these impacts looms large.

Simultaneously, the field offers abundant opportunities, especially for young marine conservationists, particularly those hailing from the global south. Equipping the next generation with practical skills and fostering the transformation of scientific knowledge into sustainable endeavours represent promising avenues within marine science.

Moreover, we inhabit an era characterized by numerous & positive strides toward securing our oceans & future, spanning from policy initiatives to tangible on-ground execution, collectively furnishing a wealth of opportunities for dedicated individuals in this field.

Nancy leading a coral reef monitoring session in Mnemba, Zanzibar-Tanzania.© Nancy Iraba.

Nancy’s Career Highlights

Nancy’s Career Highlights

One of my proudest career achievements is completing my MSc in Marine Sciences last year and publishing my Masters work in the Western Indian Journal of Marine Science within just three months. I also became a divemaster, showcasing my dedication to acquiring practical skills crucial for underwater research and conservation efforts.

What truly sets my career apart is the initiation of an underwater program at Aqua-Farms Organization, which focuses on capacity-building for early career researchers in the field of marine sciences in Tanzania. This program provides dive certifications and internship opportunities in coral restoration along the southern coast of Dar es Salaam, with a particular emphasis on female participation. Currently, four out of five enrolled participants are women.

Collaborating with the Nature, Environment, Wildlife, and Filmmaking Organization (NEWF) in South Africa has been instrumental in making this endeavour a success. This achievement signifies my belief in creating opportunities for young people in marine science, equipping them with relevant skills, and enabling resource mobilization for the betterment of our marine ecosystems.

And the last one, sitting next to the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Her Excellency, Dr. Samia Suluhu Hassan during a panel discussion where I had the privilege to ask about the government’s commitment to technology, innovation, and data in the sector of blue economy in parallel with empowering young entrepreneurs in the field like me. This was one of the greatest highlights of my career and I am looking forward to more engagements with policymakers in addressing issues of young people with the blue economy.

Nancy in a panel discussion with Her Excellency, Dr. Samia Suluhu Hassan, the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, during the Africa’s Food Systems Forum 2023 Summit. © Ikulu Mawasiliano

Awards Received

© Nancy Iraba

At a very early stage in my career, I am truly honoured and humbled to be acknowledged and to have received several awards including:

  • December 2017: Received an award from Tunza eco generation in Korea for conducting aquatic resources education-based programs in secondary schools.
  • December 2019: Awarded as an upcoming Woman in STEM in the field of Marine Sciences in Tanzania by the Next Einstein for African scientists in recognition of women achievements in science.
  • June 2019: Mentioned as one amongst Top 100 Female Tanzanians making impacts in their fields. This was an honorary mention for coordination of projects in making marine sciences known to the public and a digital campaign under partnership of Launchpad and the Swedish Government, under the slogan of “Let the Girl Child know, it has and can be done” to inspire a young female generation.
  • 2022: “Impact Award Winner” during Go Gettaz Africa Agripreneur competition under Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Kigali, Rwanda.
  • 2022: United States African Development Foundation (USADF) grantee from Tanzania, awarded $25,000 to set up the first seaweed processing plant in Tanzania.
  • 2022: Safe Seaweed Coalition spring grantee from Tanzania, awarded with $50,000.
  • Top 10 business solution ventures working to develop business solutions to ocean-related sustainability challenges during the 2022 Ocean Changemakers Challenge under the Economist’s World Ocean Initiative.
  • 2023: Ocean Innovation Africa Winner Award for start-up pitch competition awarded $15,000 against other 6 startup pitch competition that took place in Cape Town.
  • 2023: Top 50 African Women in Development Award Winner for leading Healthy Seaweed Co. Limited towards impactful and relevant blue economy with strong social impact agenda to women seaweed farmers in Tanzania.
  • 2023: Presidential Award for positive contribution on seaweed farming in Zanzibar during Mwani Day.

Nancy’s quote to live by

Do it afraid” – by Joyce Meyer, a Christian Speaker and Author.

I live by this quote as it translates to “Facing fears even when we feel scared, it urges us to keep going and be adaptable to learn from the mistakes as that’s where true growth lies” and I urge other people especially young people to do so.

Inspiration About the UN Ocean Decade 2021-2030

The UN Ocean Decade from 2021 to 2030 carries ambitious goals that hold the promise of ensuring the thriving of our oceans for future generations. One outcome that particularly inspires me is the vision of fostering an inspiring and engaging ocean community where society comprehends and cherishes the ocean’s significance in the context of human well-being and sustainable development. I firmly believe that this forms the bedrock of realizing the overarching mission of “leaving no one behind.” However, it’s clear that there is still much work to be done, and the key lies in our collective efforts to move forward at the right pace, ensuring that no one is excluded from the journey toward a more sustainable and ocean-friendly future.

How the Youth Can Contribute to the Implementation of the UN Agenda 2030.

Youth can contribute to the implementation of the UN Agenda 2030 by advocating for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), leading youth-driven initiatives addressing specific goals, innovating sustainable technologies, engaging in educational and capacity-building activities, participating in policy making, volunteering in their communities, collaborating with networks, conducting research, expressing cultural and artistic perspectives, and embracing interdisciplinary problem-solving. Our collective efforts, fueled by energy and creativity, are vital in raising awareness, inspiring action, and driving progress towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

Nancy’s Messages to Early-Career Scientists

To all early-career scientists, remember that “your journey is fueled by curiosity and determination”. Embrace the challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth, collaborate widely, and stay open to new ideas.

Seek mentorship, communicate your findings effectively, and never lose sight of the real-world impact your work can have.

Maintain ethical integrity, prioritize self-care, and find joy in the process of discovery.

You are the future of science, and your dedication to advancing knowledge and making a difference in the world is an inspiration to us all. Keep learning, stay resilient, and let your passion be the guiding star on your scientific voyage.

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