Ida is one of our Sassiest Mamas 2016…
With one of the most fascinating and worthy careers in the UAE, Ida Tillisch is Director General of Emirates Wildlife Society, a part of WWF. A mama of 2 (Axel aged 6 and Margaux aged almost 8), Ida is motivated by making a positive change to our planet and in fulfilling a childhood dream to make sure that all creatures and people in the world are cared for in the best possible way and that we all make changes to protect our environment.
Tell us about your organisation?
WWF is a world known environmental organisation and most of us are familiar with the famous panda logo. The WWF has worked since the 1960s in environmental conservation and is today one of the most respected and trusted environmental NGO. It is my responsibility to lead the Gulf chapter of the organisation, Emirates Wildlife Society – WWF (EWS-WWF). We have been in the Gulf region for 15 years implementing and supporting environmental projects on a federal level. Through partnering with the government, businesses and the wider society we work to tackle threats facing people and the planet including climate change, and unsustainable lifestyles.
What colour do you wear the most?
I wear a lot of blue, it reminds me of the open sky and the sea.
When did you last cry?
The Living Planet Report 2016 was recently published and I must admit I shed a tear reading it. The report gives us a status of the planet and among many facts, the report states global wildlife populations have declined by 58% since 1970 as a result of human activities. For the first time in the Earth’s history we, people, are overpowering the planet. We are the problem to all of this, but we can also be the solution. Changing this course requires each one of us to make a change in how we consume natural resources.
What do you feel have been your biggest achievements both in your personal life and career so far?
I’m motivated by making a positive change and I feel really proud of my team every time we embark on conservation projects because they always have a positive impact. Our projects ultimately translate into species being saved and habitats being restored, carbon emissions reduced or more awareness about the environment being raised. That said, it is not easy. I would love for us to be able to do more! Currently, we are doing only a fraction of what is needed, but all projects require funding, and funding requires like-minded partners who share our goals. We are constantly seeking new partnerships to expand our work in the region.
As a child what did you dream of being when you ‘grew up’?!
Growing up in the countryside of Denmark, my childhood dream was to care for animals and help ensure that wild animals would be safe in the wild, so working for WWF is a dream come true. But while I am doing my dream job and making a difference, I recognise that the Earth’s current situation requires so many more of us to make a difference and collectively change our course. You don’t have to work for WWF to contribute. Simply by being a conscious consumer, saving water and energy, buying less meat or imported goods, or steering away from products with vast amounts of packaging or from unsustainable sources (e.g. paper and palm oil) will all help and can be done by everyone.
If you had 3 wishes what would they be?
They would be in no particular order 1. to end the suffering of people and all living creatures. 2. To implement general respect and tolerance for each other as well as for our natural world, and 3. To secure a way in which humans can live in harmony with nature without overusing finite resources.
What does being a Sassy Mama mean to you?
As mothers, we are all role models for our children and they pick up so much of what we do, hence we need to be comfortable with seeing our own behaviour in them.
Being a Sassy Mama, for me, means inspiring and preparing our children to drive the change their generation needs so they and their children will be able to lead healthy and happy lives.
Being a Sassy Mama is about installing strong values, making sure the next generation learns to be tolerant and respectful of others, and all living creatures. It’s about being grateful for what we have, using only what we need, and not being wasteful. It is about understanding the value of family and friendships and being helpful to others in need. It is about understanding what makes you and those you care about happy and it is about taking responsibility. I often tell my children that every day is a gift and we choose how to use it. I am very proud when I see Axel and Margaux making good choices and actively helping to make things they don’t like better instead of complaining about it.
Do you have some tips for people who want to live environment conscious lifestyles in the UAE?
First and foremost, I hope that everyone understands why it’s important to be environmentally conscious. It’s not a fad nor is it something we can leave for the next person to do – it is a responsibility we have to ourselves and to our children to ensure our health, well-being, safety and basic needs are met in the future. The good news is that it is not hard to do. Even small actions collectively will make a big difference. For example, saving water and energy is quite easy simply by changing lifestyle habits e.g. taking shorter showers, washing the car with a bucket instead of a hose, installing a desert garden with drought tolerant species or simply ensuring the garden has an efficient watering schedule can make a big difference – and also save a great deal of money. As parents, it’s our responsibility to lead by example. Reduce, reuse and recycle is key and also try to avoid consuming products that directly harm our planet. Most of the time there are great alternatives. For example, avoiding palm oil. There is palm oil in almost 50% of the items we regularly buy. Why is using palm oil an issue? Palm oil is made from palm trees mostly planted at the expense of natural tropical forests. For example, Indonesia is losing its rain forests and wildlife at record speed because of palm oil plantations. Moreover, palm oil is not good for your health. It’s a substance used by producers because it is cheap. So we need to read the product information carefully so we can make informed choices as to how we spend our money and what products are given to our children.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given in your personal life and career?
My boss and mentor Her Excellency Razan Al Mubarak showed me upon arriving in the UAE, how to view the world from a multicultural perspective. She firmly believes in the universal culture of respect, no matter the gender, the nationality or religion. If you view the world with an open mind, understanding that different perspectives are good and you are willing to adapt your own views, your life will be richer, your decisions wiser and people around you will be more comfortable. My current team consists of 20+ nationalities and every day I witness how the team comes together to contribute to a single collective goal – the preservation of our natural heritage today for the generations to come. This is something the organisation still lives by today.
What do you most enjoy doing as a family in Dubai?
Being together is what matters to us, whether it is at home, on the beach or on the road to discover a new adventure.
What is the ‘best-kept’ secret in Dubai, or something fellow mamas should know about?
The chocolate factory in Al Serkal. Who knew we had a chocolate factory in Dubai? The tour takes 5-10 minutes and the kids can follow the process from a cocoa bean to a chocolate bar. The chocolate is made with all natural ingredients and is simply delicious. Our children now appreciate the taste of real chocolate, which is not as sweet as the artificial kind of chocolate that usually contains harmful ingredients including palm oil. They love the fact that chocolate can actually be considered a healthy snack.
If you were on an island and could bring only 3 things (family not included) what would they be?
I would bring my snorkelling gear, my phone and a bagful of great books.
Describe your style?
I’m generally not too fussed about style and enjoy being informal as well as formal. I do however, enjoy all the different styles we have here in Dubai. Anything goes here and I find that amazing and inspiring. I love how many people dress in their national attires, whether it is their abaya or colorful saris. I also find we are lucky that we can wear summer attires and sandals all year around and I don’t really miss my winter coat and big boots.
Tell us something funny that your kids have said or done?
I love the logic of children and Margaux and Axel make me laugh every day. One time, Axel’s class (4/5 year olds) went to JamJar in Al Serkal Avenue. The children were given a canvas each and the instructor told them to paint a tree. Some children were upset because they wanted to paint other things and argued with the instructor who insisted everyone had to paint a tree. Axel was not upset, on the contrary, he was very excited and started to paint right away with great enthusiasm. When they were done, there were 99 canvas with beautiful trees and 1 with a Robot. That was of course Axel’s. When I asked him, “Axel, I thought you were supposed to paint a tree”, he said, “yes mom I did. Can’t you see it’s a robot tree?”
How do you juggle work and family?
In order to juggle life in general, I believe it is important to have a positive view and enjoy what you do. If I wasn’t enjoying myself with the kind of privileges we have living here in the UAE, it would be time to think about doing something different.
I love spending time with my family and I also love my job. I think a lot about how I can plan my schedule around having sufficient time for both and importantly not feeling guilty. When I’m at work, I focus on work and my employees. I know Margaux and Axel are in good hands either at school, with friends or at home. When I’m with my family, I put away the laptop, and only answer the phone if it is important. As a family, we talk a lot about what we do, what is going on in school, at work and how we can help each other. This way there is a lot of respect and understanding for work, school and family time and how they can all be enjoyed instead of being barriers for each other.
All images Ida’s own