Niall O’Connor is a Programme Management Advisor of SUMERNET. He brings a wealth of experience to the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), having worked in government, academia and non-government organizations. He became SEI Asia Director in 2016, adding over 20 years of environment and development senior leadership, programme management and academic capacity to the organization.
His commitment to environment and development has strong roots: As an undergraduate Niall interned in Kenya, where he developed his passion for the kind of forestry that integrates with the interests of local communities. He later returned to Africa for his Master’s agroforestry fieldwork in partnership with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).
After a period of advising on farm forestry with the Irish agricultural agency, Teagasc, Niall again returned to Africa to work with the Agroforestry Research Unit for the Government of The Gambia. There, he initiated research programmes to generate agroforestry systems suited to sub-Saharan Africa’s agroecological zones.
This research role offered the challenge of designing and refining practical solutions, but not to implement them. Recognition of the importance of responsible implementation motivated Niall to shift to management of development programmes, where implementation can bring direct and immediate improvements to the lives of people in vulnerable communities.
He then applied this approach for Concern Universal as Country Director in The Gambia, Ghana and Senegal, where he oversaw multiple programmes, including the development of the global award-winning agricultural business Gambia is Good, working in partnerships with communities, and with local businesses and industry.
Later, Niall worked for seven years with the World Wide Fund for Nature in various senior management positions across Africa. First, he served as the Regional Representative of WWF Madagascar & West Indian Ocean, and next he accepted the Directorship of WWF’s Performance and Development Africa. He followed that post with Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, WWF’s biggest Programme Office that administered six country offices and 450 employees, where he found a challenge and opportunity to demonstrate his strong leadership and management skills.
Niall holds a BSc and an MSc in Forestry, both from University College Dublin, and an MSc in Biodiversity Conservation from Imperial College London, with a specialty in community-managed nature park conservation.