In our series ‘Introducing’, which is also published in our magazine akzente, we introduce you to some of our staff and what they do.

David Nguyen-Thanh, Finance expert

‘Public Finance in developing countries and emerging economies doesn’t sound very exciting,’ says David Nguyen-Thanh. ‘But if we consider that without tax revenue, effective governance is impossible and that the manner in which the taxation system operates has been a key issue in social discourse since antiquity, perhaps you’ll understand why my team and I find the topic so fascinating, especially in the development context.’ David and his colleagues are internal advisors, making significant contributions to the design, realignment and measurement of results of projects relating to tax and budget reform, financial control, administrative reform, anti-corruption and good governance in the resource sector. They follow the international debate and contribute to knowledge management and the development of ideas. An economist and financial expert, David studied in Munich and the US and took his PhD in Heidelberg. His thesis looked at tax policy. From 2007 to 2010 he worked for GIZ in Ghana, where he advised the Ghanaian Government on its major reform of the tax system and on financial policy issues.

Johanna Knoess, policy advisor

‘Social security systems must protect poor social groups, above all, from the risks associated with illness, unemployment and old age,’ says Johanna Knoess. A political scientist, she has headed one of GIZ’s worldwide advisory programmes since April 2013 and, on behalf of the BMZ, is working with her colleagues on developing innovative models for sustainable and inclusive social security systems. Johanna Knoess is a true cosmopolitan: her family originally comes from Ethiopia, but she grew up in Germany and has worked for GIZ in Indonesia, where she advised the government on the implementation of social reforms. ‘We had to mediate between five ministries and coordinate work with other international donors as well,’ she recalls. It was during this time that she met her partner. ‘He’s an American and works for the World Bank. We’re now living in Germany but we can certainly envisage moving overseas again,’ says Johanna, who is expecting her second child. As well as spending many years with GIZ, she has worked for organisations such as the World Bank, the International Labour Organization and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Yann Le Beux, Business Start-up advisor

‘My employer is one of the leading business start-up centres for the IT sector in Africa,’ says Yann Le Beux. Two years ago, the Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM) placed the 28-year-old engineer with the Senegalese non-profit organisation CTIC, which works in the ICT sector. ‘Senegal, Kenya and Ghana are the most active countries in Africa as far as the development of the IT industry is concerned,’ says Yann, who comes from France. CTIC is funded by the public and private sector and provides support to new businesses in the IT industry. Until 2011, Yann worked in Great Britain and the United States, supporting business start-ups on behalf of the French Embassy. In 2012, 11 of the companies receiving advice from CTIC increased their earnings by 85%. Yann’s daily routine in Senegal is extremely varied: he meets partners, clients and journalists, and organises workshops with universities and events for the IT community. He coordinates his work with a BMZ-funded project which aims to improve the competitiveness of small and medium enterprises in the microfinance sector. ‘Dakar is an exciting place to live, I love it!’ he says. ‘And Africa is changing incredibly fast.’

Angela Ostlender, Development advisor

‘A well-functioning civil society depends on people valuing and making use of their rights to make their voices heard,’ says Angela Ostlender. The 48-year-old has worked as a GIZ development advisor in Hanoi since November 2012. Thanks to the country’s booming economy, the pressure of change in many areas is immense. ‘We want to help ensure that citizens have a say and that government agencies take their concerns seriously,’ she explains. Angela and her team provide advice to local organisations wishing to help build the capacities of the country’s civil society. The work involves preparing funding applications, planning and monitoring activities, and checking on progress. With a wealth of professional experience, Angela, who is from Germany, is keen to share her expertise. Before GIZ, she worked for a political foundation in Brussels for 20 years. She has taken a two-year leave of absence to work as a development advisor in Viet Nam. ‘I had a real desire to work at the grassroots level in another country.’ Now she is at the heart of the action, racing through Hanoi’s rush-hour traffic on her motor scooter. ‘My heart was in my mouth at first, but now it’s great fun. There’s only one rule of the road – never stop!’

Samson Tolessa, Energy expert

Environmental protection as a child in rural Ethiopia, Samson Tolessa experienced first-hand how harmful open kitchen fires can be. One of his lifelong ambitions has been to change this situation. ‘Nowadays, low-smoke stoves are available which only burn half as much wood,’ says the engineer, who is currently working on biomass for GIZ at Uganda’s Ministry of Energy & Mineral Development. ‘We are developing market structures for the production and sale of these stoves and hope to work with the ministry to draw up legislation that makes their use in schools compulsory.’ After completing a second degree in renewable energies in Oldenburg, Tolessa worked for GIZ in Ethiopia for 12 years which gave him a good insight into the company’s professionalism, expertise and practical approach. Internationality is important to Tolessa, who as head of a team of experts from the energy programme, commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), enjoys the collaboration between German and Ugandan colleagues. And his family also loves Uganda, where ‘everything is so green.’ Tolessa is helping to keep it that way.

Claudia Mayer, Eco expert

‘Biodiversity is the sum of life on earth. It forms the basis of human existence and activity,’ says Claudia Mayer, 42. From her office at GIZ in Germany and in her work with international stakeholders, the economic geographer is working to raise people’s awareness of the cultural and economic value of biodiversity. Using resources sustainably was initially an issue that concerned Claudia Mayer during her academic career. In Costa Rica and Colombia, South Africa and Nicaragua she conducted research into social and environmental standards in the production of coffee and bananas. ‘It gave me an appetite for international cooperation,’ she says. After completing her PhD, Claudia Mayer faced a major decision: academic life or international cooperation? She applied to GIZ and then spent seven years in Ecuador and Brazil, working on projects geared to the conservation and sustainable use of tropical forests in the Amazon region. ‘Through contact with a wide range of people – negotiating partners, indigenous peoples, small farmers and colleagues in the field – you are often forced to change your perspectives. I am now able to apply the strategies we developed and the experience I gained to other situations.’ Mayer sees her work as meaningful: ‘We help our partners to contribute to the preservation of biodiversity.’

Andreas Nieters, Climate expert

Promoting climate-friendly technologies touches on many different specialist disciplines, explains Andreas Nieters. Since early 2012 the urban and landscape planner has been managing a new GIZ-assisted project in Costa Rica. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), GIZ is supporting the model climate strategy of this emerging economy, which aims to become carbon neutral by 2021. ‘We are focusing our efforts on various aspects,’ says Nieters, ‘including passenger and freight transport, which still relies on fossil fuels.’ Climate-friendly technologies are still relatively untested, despite the fact that Costa Rica has an above-average share of green energy. Nieters’ work is varied. ‘We provide advisory services to the Ministry of Transport, train technical staff and support the introduction of international standards on measuring and auditing greenhouse gases.’ His GIZ career began in Brazil in 2000 as an advisor for urban-industrial environmental protection, renewable energies and energy efficiency. Originally from Lower Saxony in Germany, Nieters has a dream that one day he will be able to take his bicycle on the train in Costa Rica in order to reduce his own carbon footprint. Other than that, he feels very much at home in Central America. ‘Costa Rica is a really hospitable place for me and my family.’