Peter Unger

Photo of Peter Unger
Degree Title: 
M.Sc. in Environmental Biology and International Development Studies
Graduation Date: 

I decided to go to Guelph after I finished a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded internship in Argentina. I decided that I wanted to work internationally, work on environmental issues, and help support vulnerable people where I could. A career in international development seemed the only way to address these interests. To be honest, with my purely science-based background, this goal seemed fairly difficult to attain at the time.

My decision to go to Guelph was to study honey bees, and it was at first difficult to think of a way to translate that into international development. However, after some discussions with the excellent faculty and staff at IDS, I was admitted into the program. I was exposed to things I had never even heard of before, much less learned about. I learned about economics, political science, gender issues, and sociology, subjects that I had never taken a class in before that. What I found most beneficial was that one of the courses would regularly bring in a practitioner to speak about the work they were doing and their experiences in the field. I quickly discovered that I had many misconceptions about working in international development, and some things were far more complicated than I had originally imagined them to be. Learning about the history of international development also taught me that many of my ideas that I thought original had been tried many times, sometimes with some success and sometimes with unintended consequences, often negative.

My time with IDS also brought the added benefit of exposure to coop and internship opportunities, and I landed a coop placement within the environment team for bilateral development programming at CIDA headquarters. This in turn led to a permanent position as an environment specialist within that same team once I graduated. As an environment specialist, I was responsible for environmental integration, which meant compliance with Canadian environmental legislation, the legislation of the partner country, and addressing any other environmental considerations for Canada’s international development projects. I got to work on projects in Sudan, South Sudan, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Bolivia, Colombia and Honduras in a variety of fields from agriculture to health to education.

I took a break in 2014 and decided to work domestically in the Northwest Territories, working for the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, managing their Wildlife, Lands and Environment Department. While not international, it still met my criteria, as many northern communities face similar issues to vulnerable communities abroad. I was responsible for the technical review of environmental reporting from the many mining operations surrounding the community of Lutsel K’e, as well as participation in the environmental regulatory process on their behalf. I would encourage anyone wanting to work in international development to consider working for some time in northern Canada as they may be surprised to see many parallels. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and learning about the various cultures in the north was something I benefited from greatly.

Most recently, I accepted a posting to work in the Development section at the High Commission of Canada in Abuja, Nigeria. This takes me away from my usual environment work and I am now instead managing a portfolio of projects on behalf of Global Affairs Canada. While I miss environment work, many of the projects are in natural resource-based areas, such as agriculture or forestry, and I am never bored. I am surprised at how often I still rely on concepts that I learned during my time with IDS in Guelph. I do hope eventually to return to something that involves environmental issues, and to this day I still keep honey bees, also from my time at Guelph.