Originally from Boston, Molly Powers-Tora MPA-DP ’12 is based in Suva, Fiji, where she works for the Pacific Community (SPC), the principal scientific and technical development organization for nations and territories in the Pacific region. Molly is the coordinator for ocean intelligence in SPC’s geoscience, energy, and maritime division.
What did you do professionally before enrolling at SIPA?
Following college, I worked for two ocean-based experiential education programs, the Hudson Sloop Clearwater and the Ocean Classroom Foundation. I then served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer working in environmental education and resource management in the Fiji Islands, where I learned to speak Fijian fluently and navigate the intricacies of cross-cultural communication.
When I finally chose to apply to graduate school, I was looking for a program that would provide thoughtful analysis of development strategies, best practices, and hands-on experience implementing these practices. The MPA in development practice degree was the perfect choice for me — it gave me the chance to spend a three-month summer internship at the Millennium Villages Project in Ruhiira, Uganda, and to take part in the SIPA Case Study Competition.
What are you doing now?
Since graduating from SIPA I’ve worked in a few positions, including as the manager of the Fiji office of the Coral Reef Alliance, an international conservation NGO, and then as the climate and oceans regional officer at the Pacific Community (SPC).
In my current job as the coordinator for ocean intelligence at SPC, I work with a multidisciplinary team of oceanographers, numerical modelers, GIS experts, surveyors, hydrographers, and trainers to provide technical assistance, original research, and capacity building to Pacific Island governments in oceans and coastal geoscience.
This is critical in our region, which is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters. [The nation of] Tuvalu, for example, experiences coastal inundation with the monthly spring tides; in Vanuatu [another nation], a state of emergency was declared in March of 2015 after a cyclone off the coast generated five-meter swells that swamped entire islands, scattering graves and destroying homes. Everyone is aware of these threats, but the region still lacks the capacity to properly model and therefore prepare for them.
How has SIPA prepared you for your career?
Every day I rely on skills I honed at SIPA: preparing logistical frameworks, budgeting for grant proposals, working in teams on complex projects, preparing engaging presentations, speaking the language of development, and working in cross-cultural settings.
The MPA-DP degree trained us to be knowledge brokers and managers who could help bridge the gaps between technical specialists and politicians. This is the essence of what I do, and I’ve managed to make myself indispensable to a team of scientists because they trust me to add value without over-simplifying their work.
I love working on the front line of development and in a region I have come to know and call home. I’ve married a Fijian and we now have two little boys. I hope they will also grow up to consider themselves citizens of the world, and look for every opportunity to help save it.