Global Mobility: Exploring new horizons on a personal and professional journey

Based in London as a member of WSP’s environmental due diligence team, Jenny Cope jumped at the opportunity to move within the internationally-focused team to Johannesburg, South Africa in March 2018. She accepted an intra-company transfer, armed with a mandate to conduct due diligence work for global and local clients in a complex, but fast-growing African market.

“I viewed the move as more than just a business transfer, driven by a desire to grow both professionally and personally, and the opportunity to see more of the world,” she explains. “I’ve always expected I would work overseas at some point during my career, and it so happened that the South Africa role dovetailed perfectly with good timing from a personal perspective.”

Upon arrival in Johannesburg, Jenny immediately warmed to the city’s abundant green spaces and lively vibe. Jozi (as it is affectionately known) is a genuine melting pot of cultures, and the greater metropolitan region of nearly 8 million people offers architecture, museums, sports venues and the performing arts.

“There is so much to explore in Johannesburg. I find friends, family and colleagues back in the UK are pleasantly surprised by the pictures and experiences I share of my life here. There’s no denying that Johannesburg has a reputation that precedes it, but my experience of everyday living here is one of coffee shops, ParkRuns, and world-class food. It’s just that now I get to do all of these wonderful things with a backdrop of reliable sunshine and in the company of some of the most amenable people I have met.”

Jenny was equally inspired by the surroundings of her new professional quarters, the new Bryanston office being an innovative, class-leading building, courtesy of engineering design and sustainability consulting services provided by WSP. In addition to the building’s state-of-the-art functionality, the views are pretty good too.

Jenny Cope

Jenny Cope

“Many staff members here start very early in order to avoid the notorious city traffic, and they’re rewarded with an incredible sunrise from our office windows and roof terrace. I’m still a ‘night owl’ by nature though, so I settle for the wide-sky sunset to round out the day.”

Jenny’s typical workday focuses on due diligence aimed at ensuring environmental and labour standards are at levels that global investors can work with. Beyond the realm of legislative considerations, projects that have the potential to foster innovative approaches and generate positive community impacts are highly sought after by investors, but only if exposures associated with reputational risk or financial burden can be negated. Through the due diligence work conducted by people like Jenny Cope, WSP is helping clients to wade the waters of emerging markets.

“There is substantial growth potential here and, led by Mark Naysmith and Mathieu du Plooy, WSP is forging stronger ties between the UK and South Africa” explains Jenny. “I continue to work very closely with our UK office, which is just one example of the collaborative and far-reaching strengths of our global firm.”

Within weeks of arriving in South Africa, she found herself overlooking Lake Victoria, the largest tropical lake in the world, while flying into Kampala, Uganda, participating in a supervision project for an international financial institution. Jenny’s two-week stint in Kampala formed part of the wider initiative being undertaken by WSP’s African team, providing support to a major global financial institution in applying approval standards to bank loans for business and development projects.

“The purpose of the mission was to ensure that all projects approved for loans will meet a set of established guidelines that safeguard against the financing of controversial projects,” she explains. “Approved projects must adhere to eight performance standards pertaining to aspects such as labour, cultural heritage, pollution, sustainable resource use and so forth.”
The due diligence project in Uganda led Jenny to the source of the Nile, and to direct discussions with industries that currently discharge effluent into expansive Lake Victoria. Her conversations focused on the social and environmental implications of decades of polluting activities in the area.

“I came away with the impression that those industries I interviewed are sincerely working hard to clean up their operations and protect a priceless shared resource,” she recalls. “And back at my hotel in Kampala, management were celebrating Earth Hour in an attempt to educate diners in the restaurant about its significance. These dialogues are happening, and progress is being made.”

Despite encouraging signs of change, Jenny is well aware of the fact that complete transformations of policies and practices don’t occur overnight. But with each encouraging conversation, and every passing sunset from her office window, the environmental consultant is further inspired to help bridge the fine lines that separate detrimental activities from projects that respect and work towards achieving global environmental and social standards.

“Africa is definitely a fluctuating market to work in, so I’m learning you have to be very flexible and just ride the waves,” she says. “But this is an exciting time to be in Africa, at a moment of great potential for change and high hopes for the future, and I’m grateful to be here to experience it.”

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