For the winter edition of eoMAG! 62 we decided to interview Yana Gevorgyan, the new GEO Secretariat Director. On July 1st, 2021, Yana was appointed as the new GEO Secretariat Director. In October Yana joined our EOcafe as a speaker, and we discussed the future of GEO, the involvement with the private sector and EARSC’s collaboration within the GEO community. We take this opportunity to continue the dialogue with GEO and, therefore, would like to expand more on these topics.
Yana, according to previous declarations, your vision for GEO includes strengthening GEO’s core membership participation in the organization’s mission, the connections with GEO’s regional structures and multisectoral partnerships. Could you please expand more on this?
GEO was established by countries (GEO members) to ultimately improve decision making for the benefit of the society and the environment through the use of Earth observations. To achieve this, we must make full use of countries’ institutional networks and our partners across the information value chain. From coordinating access to key data from a variety of sources, to analyses with the help of standards from which relevant insights can be extracted and packaged for specific user communities. This is the long journey towards attaining our goals. Readers know that while this seems like a linear mission, in reality this journey is complex, multifaceted and requires coordination on many levels, at different timescales, with different sensitivities.
GEO now has almost 120 members with many hundreds of national government agencies, as well as international organisations, non-governmental, civil society organisations, and the private sector. With such a large global community, we need to find different ways to ensure inclusiveness, as well as modes for engagement with all stakeholders. We know that many challenges today are global, but the actions and knowledge are mostly local. We use all available communication means and networks to increase our outreach to the national level. Regional GEO structures are invaluable in taking the global GEO vision and mission and programmatic activities and implementing them locally.
The GEO work programme is also essential to supporting the GEO community and as such, participation and contributions from GEO members are incredibly important. Increased participation of our members in GEO activities is fundamental to our continued development, i.e., knowledge sharing and impact. As we approach the third decade of GEO in 2025, an era that will be defined by our ability to inform accelerated actions to revert systems collapse and head off systemic risk, we want to take a more inclusive approach to problem solving. This means bringing together a broad range of experts, policymakers, and decision makers to focus on these challenges, rather than working alone in our areas of expertise. Multisectoral partnerships enable an integrative approach.
What are the plans for GEO for the new future? What is the vision for GEO in the long-term?
As just mentioned, we really want to focus on bringing communities together to share knowledge around global challenges and to amplify the voices of our members. The policy landscape is vast and complex but so are the data and tools that are increasingly at our disposal. What we really want is to have as much EO data and information freely and openly available with domain experts and local communities advising on how they can use it directly for decision making. We need official statistics and other data combined with Earth observations to provide as much insight and evidence as possible. Recently a mid-term evaluation was done for GEO, which provides us with direction for the immediate future. It is not a coincidence that there is much emphasis on the need to better and more effectively connect with national and local level stakeholders. In the longer term, it’s all about continuing to support our members with open knowledge.
How will GEO connect more with private stakeholders in the future?
As we bring more and more communities together, we need domain expertise, data, tools and services to help those communities make sense of all the information being produced. Our goal is to work more closely with small, medium, and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) to work at the national and local community level to understand needs and challenges, now and in the future. In this regard, the role of national actors is paramount as the private sector landscape differs from country to country, from region to region. Connections must be brokered, champions cultivated, relationships nurtured.
What tools will GEO use to create more opportunities for the small, medium and micro-sized companies?
Communication is one powerful tool in our arsenal. In my previous answer I mentioned relationships that need to be brokered and nurtured. GEO has created a level playing field for the private sector to partner through GEO. So from the process point of view, we are open to partnering. We have ongoing open calls for consultants or expertise for various activities under the GEO work programme and that will continue. In terms of a more systematic approach to engaging SMMEs, I think the work carried out by the team working on the GEO Industry Track, already in its third year, is important. As we sustain these efforts, we hope to see more SMMEs becoming aware of us as an engagement platform and a place to seed ideas that respond to known needs and demands.
How can EARSC support GEO’s activities and missions?
As one of GEO’s key partners for the private sector, EARSC has already been a great supporter of the GEO Industry Track, through the EO Café engagements and by generally working on programmes, such as eShape. As we look to expand our PPP activities and work with SMMEs in Europe and elsewhere, EARSC can help us understand the issues that matter most to your members and develop synergies with the rest of the GEO community. Through the Sentinel Benefits Studies, EARSC also has some great examples of the value of Earth observations that we can share with other regions of the world since we are all aiming for impact.
GEO can also continue to work with EO Evangelists. For example we have been collaborating with Irene Benito from Planet in her lead role for raw materials. In this context, we have been discussing possibilities to renew and strengthen our work on mineral resources in the GEO Work Programme. It would be interesting to connect with the other EO Evangelists for other similar discussions.
What would you like to add?
One important theme that occasionally receives an honorary mention but that deserves to be fully integrated into the culture and mission of any organization, including GEO, is inclusiveness. GEO has been working on increasing inclusiveness in terms of participation and representation. At GEO Week 2021, GEO adopted an Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Statement, which will drive our efforts to promote inclusiveness through all the vectors of our work. At the same time, we created a GEO Youth Community of Practice, and we invite all young professionals, EO enthusiasts, young and aspiring entrepreneurs to join this network and create energy and power from within. We will also continue to support the underrepresented around the world, such as small island developing states and Indigenous communities, through ethical and inclusive means of engagement.
Thank you very much Yana for such a fruitful and interesting discussion! We are looking forward to more collaborations between GEO and EARSC!