From Accountant to Conservationist: Q&A with Rebecca Brewer
Rebecca (Becky) Brewer spent many years working as an accountant before joining the Durrell team in early 2019 as the Director of Finance & Commercial. From a young age, Becky dreamed of using her skills to have a greater impact on the planet and now that dream has become a reality. Here she gives an insight into her inspiring journey from chartered accountant to conservationist.
What was your background before coming to work for Durrell?
I spent 15 years working for PwC as a chartered accountant providing audit and advisory services, primarily to the financial services industry, which is often the case when working in Jersey. I also spent 2.5 years in the Middle East, where my client focus changed from finance to hospitality & leisure, with many large well-known hotel groups in my portfolio. I returned to Jersey in 2013 and became an Audit Director in 2014.
When did you decide you wanted to work in conservation?
I’d always been interested in conservation and nature. In fact, I did a masters in environmental monitoring & assessment of dryland environments before making the decision to study towards my chartered accountancy qualification. I always joked that one day I would combine my professional qualification with my passion for conservation. Still, this thought faded into the background while I focused on my career with PwC. After I was made Director, I felt like I had approached a crossroads in my life. I had a great job with a firm I was very proud to work for, but I felt like something was missing – a real sense of purpose for what I was doing. I was starting to take more of an interest in conservation again from a personal perspective, and I really wanted to get involved with something that had a greater impact on saving our planet (as clichéd as it sounds). While I wasn’t at all sure what my next career move would look like, I knew that conservation was one of the options I wanted to explore.
What steps did you take to make the career change?
I quit my job… with no idea how I was going to make the change! Perhaps not the most sensible approach in everyone’s eyes, but for me, it felt like the right time to take this risk and have a career break. After 15 years in finance, I wanted to take some time out to think through the options open to me, focus on my passion for conservation and include some travelling at the same time. I volunteered on a number of conservation projects and nature reserves in Botswana and Zimbabwe, which opened my eyes to some of the challenges faced and the hard work and commitment that goes into making these endeavours work. One of these, in particular, was really inspiring to me which focussed on rehabilitation, and essentially ‘Rewilding’, abandoned or poor quality farmland with the aim to protect endangered species – at the time the idea of working for a conservation organisation where their mission was exactly this, but on a larger scale, was definitely a pipe dream! When I returned to Jersey, I set about researching job opportunities for finance professionals in conservation. I really wanted to be located in Jersey but wasn’t sure it would be possible… I didn’t ever think the Director of Finance role for Durrell would be open and when I saw the advertisement, I knew I had to go for it. It definitely felt like fate had intervened!
What were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome, and how did you overcome them?
I would say that most of the challenges were actually down to my awareness (or lack of) of the variety of jobs available and skill sets required to support conservation efforts and to run a charity like Durrell. There was definitely doubt and nervousness to take the leap into the unknown and to leave a good career that I had worked hard for. I didn’t make the decision lightly and talking through my reasoning with my mentor and colleagues at PwC, as well as family and friends, definitely helped. Knowing that they were supportive gave me confidence and cemented my view that making the change was the right choice. Being able to get some hands-on experience also was important to me, partly as reassurance I was doing the right thing, but also to add some credibility to my decision. That said, now that I am here, I know it wasn’t essential. I also thought that finding my dream job in Jersey was going to be a challenge, but I was proved wrong on that front too!
What advice would you give to others who are thinking of changing careers to conservation?
Don’t doubt yourself – if this is something you really want to do and believe in, then you should do it! Think about your transferable skills. You don’t have to have a science background or be a conservation practitioner as there are a wide variety of roles required to support conservation efforts and make them a success. It has been the best decision for me. I am learning so much every day, and not just about conservation! Even though I am not one of the team out in the field, I really feel like I am contributing to the conservation work that Durrell does to help achieve our mission of saving species from extinction. To be able to use my finance skills and experience to support a cause I am passionate about is incredibly rewarding.
Posted 6 March 2020