Isna Marifa Soedjatmoko Sjadzall ’85 was still a child when she first noticed the changes in Jakarta, her home city and the capital of Indonesia. She looked down at a river one day and saw that it was filled with garbage and stagnant water. “It disturbed me,” she remembers. So she decided to do something about it.
In 1982, she left her country and family to study at Bryn Mawr. Soon she met Weecha Crawford ’60, a geology professor who later helped create the College’s environmental studies major. Crawford encouraged Marifa, who uses her middle name professionally, to study science if she wanted to truly help the environment.
“I’m grateful to Weecha because that science background has given me a solid understanding of what goes on and what needs to be done,” she says.
Marifa has spent much of her career tackling the environmental issues Indonesia faces—rainforest threatened by poaching and illegal logging, water pollution, a large population that’s straining its natural resources—through policy-making and capacity-building.
She started her first job in the late 1980s, working with the U.S. Agency for International Development on natural resource management in Jakarta. Since then she’s served as an environmental advisor for Mobil Oil Indonesia and spent 20 years as an independent environmental consultant.
Through her consulting firm, Marifa helped the Indonesian government review its environmental and social safeguard policies over about eight years, starting in 2004.
“That taught me that environmental work—and any work that requires policy interventions, really—takes a long time to get through,” she says. It’s one of the frustrating things about what she does: spurring people to move from complaining about something to making a change, then watching that change crawl forward.
In 2014, Marifa became vice chair of the Green Climate Fund’s accreditation panel, a United Nations-established initiative focused on increasing financing for developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to help the most vulnerable populations adapt to the effects of climate change.
Her panel has already accredited 20 entities from around the world, including Africa, the Pacific Islands, and Latin America.
“What drives me is that I still feel I can contribute something,” she says. “It might not be earth-shattering, but it’s still important.”
She sees the average citizen’s contributions the same way: do what you can, big or small. Work in the financial sector? Think about which types of projects to finance. Government? Make sure your economic growth isn’t putting too much pressure on the environment.
Even if you’re in a job that doesn’t seem to have any connection to the environment, she says, “think of opportunities to do the right thing.”