Hugely pragmatic, she nonetheless describes herself as a pessimist by nature, but regards this as a positive when it comes to her work, and her ability to think and plan ahead. ‘That became a lot clearer to me after I had my sons. I used to travel with them for my work, and I would prepare for every possible thing that could go wrong. From them puking three times on the plane to the three changes of clothes needed as a consequence… And really that’s all about knowledge and experience and using what you know to prepare… but you also need to remain open to change and to learn from the unfolding moment itself.’
Such curiosity and love of knowledge led to her appointment as Africa Program Director for NASA Harvest, the space agency’s food security and satellite mapping arm, as well as to a research professorship at the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences where she rekindled her ongoing love affair with all things tech and IT.
Regular followers of The Future Laboratory will also know that she is the winner of our prestigious Futures 100 Innovators Award 2022, a modest show of appreciation, I tell her, for such a stellar body of work that criss-crosses so many fields, disciplines and technologies – the latter intersections being the very ones that appealed to our international panel of judges because they exemplified the growing need for innovators and entrepreneurs to work across disciplines as they harness knowledge in more effective, consilient and collaborative ways.
But this openness, she tells me, needs to be tempered with an ability to communicate the most complex academic manuscripts in stories and ways that ordinary people can relate to, and as a consequence, can respond to.
Stories, she believes, help us to build better tomorrows, but only if you place people, rather than processes, at their heart. ‘That way around we have a vested interest in wanting things to change – and for the better.
You can find out more about Catherine and her work here. And details of our 2023 Futures 100 Innovators longlist can be found here.