At the end of November 2021, the FBIP said farewell to its programme coordinator, Dr Lita Pauw. Lita served the FBIP for seven years from 2015 and said she is currently enjoying a self-declared ‘sabbatical’.

Former FBIP programme manager, Prof Michelle Hamer, who worked alongside Lita for several years explained that because FBIP is jointly run between SANBI and the NRF “the often changing processes and systems in both organisations need to be understood to manage various activities”.

“All of this has made the role of the FBIP coordinator increasingly complex and demanding. Lita mastered all of this work but because she was the first person to play this role, she also had to establish procedures and processes,” Hamer said.

The FBIP has impacted the careers and outputs of researchers and students and funded a wide range of projects that contribute not only to the publications of papers and the awarding of degrees but also to generating data and knowledge that contributes to the conservation and use of biodiversity as well as agriculture and human health.

“Lita ensured that all of this could happen, but she did this quietly, humbly and with total dedication and a drive to do everything perfectly and on time. Lita has left big shoes to fill in the FBIP, but she has also left a legacy that will be long-lasting,” according to Hamer.

Acting FBIP coordinator Fatima Parker-Allie said Lita was always a pleasure to work with, while her professionalism and attention to detail ensured a high standard of activity and operation for the FBIP. 

“Lita provided a strong backbone for the FBIP initiative, and her kind and generous nature ensured an enabling environment for her team and for the multitude of activities required by the programme – she will be missed,” Parker-Allie said.

Fond memories

Lita said that one of the best parts of her role was that it was extremely varied, with tasks changing from one week to the next which made it interesting and rewarding.

“The job provided a lot of opportunities and I acquired a wide set of skills during my time as coordinator including strategic thinking, data analysis, problem-solving, human resources management and relationship building,” she said.

Furthermore, the liaison with researchers, students and other external stakeholders covering a wide range of unique study fields made her job satisfying from a scholarly perspective.

The role was not always easy and coordinating the annual Forum took hard work, yet Lita says it was always rewarding at the end when the team’s plans worked out well and the participants enjoyed themselves and gained new insights and skills.

Colleague & mentor

Mahlatse Kgatla joined the FBIP team in 2018 as the programme’s data management specialist and worked closely with Lita. Mahlatse recalls how Lita helped him ease into the job for the first couple of weeks.

“I especially appreciated her guidance in dealing with grant holders seeing that I had limited experience with that part of the job. She would always encourage me to take part in exciting projects like attending data management training, undertaking presentations and being part of the panel that assesses projects for the FBIP.

“She was always open for any discussion on challenging issues, especially when experiencing difficulties with some grant holders. She was also always willing to review my writing, whether it be an important email or a proposal – I have enjoyed working with her.

“I have never once felt as if she was my supervisor. She would always approach me as a colleague and equal,” Mahlatse said, adding that it made it easy to be open with her.

Lita believes the FBIP is (strategically) a very important programme for sustainable development in South Africa.

“I am proud of what the programme has achieved and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been part of this developing programme.”

As for future plans, Lita says she would consider appropriate opportunities for re-entering the scientific workforce in future.