Pioneers placement at engineering consultancy leads to meaningful knowledge-sharing between participant and host

In 2021, Luisa Teixeira participated in the EIT Climate-KIC Pioneers programme and completed an in-person placement at BuroHappold in Berlin. Taking place after two COVID-19 lockdowns, the placement was Luisa’s favourite part of the programme – and the company also benefitted from Luisa’s knowledge and positive energy.

“After two lockdowns, my Pioneers placement felt like a breath of fresh air, like an adventure I could take without risking myself. If you’re thinking of applying for Pioneers, I would say that if you have an open mind, can bring good energy, then it’s the programme for you – even if you only wait until next year to apply, go for it!”

Luisa Teixeira, Pioneer 2021

Luisa Texeira is an environmental engineer who studied in Portugal, Sweden and is now based in Germany, working as a Programme Manager at Planet – a company running satellite imagery.

When Luisa heard about the EIT Climate-KIC Pioneers programme, she wanted to grasp the opportunity to learn more about systems thinking and improve her facilitation skills: “I was also really keen to work with multidisciplinary teams,” says Luisa. “It’s rare to be offered an opportunity like Pioneers as an adult – I thought the agenda looked interesting and wanted to find out more about the tools being used. Pioneers’ systems innovation perspective was also intriguing as I hadn’t yet engaged with this element in my professional life,” she added.

Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Luisa hoped the programme would take place: “I didn’t want to have too many expectations but wanted it to go as organised, I was open to what was available. For my placement, I was already based in Berlin so I was able to do it in person – the stars aligned.”

Luisa joined the Buro Happold Sustainability and Physics team in Berlin for her placement – and quickly settled into her role. “It was a small team, very technical and full of ideas. It was interesting for me as an outsider to analyse and facilitate – I had been working as a project manager, so I am used to being organised and output-oriented – but I had never really been confronted with a ‘blank page’ where I had to look at the beginning, middle and end. I had a lot of flexibility, but also had to be very in tune with what the room was feeling.”

Luisa said she received positive feedback almost immediately: “Colleagues said I picked things up quickly and had a strategic, high-level view. I helped people be creative, helped them on research – and in turn, felt much more confident that I could run a team of engineers.” As a concrete example, Luisa helped on media relations: “With COP26 coming up, team members wanted to write a newspaper article on its impact on the German construction industry for a national newspaper. I introduced them to emotional stakeholder mapping, looking at newspaper readers – and found statistics on audiences’ environmental concerns, which was really helpful for the team as it drafted.”

Luisa remains on friendly terms with her BuroHappold colleagues and looks forward to using what she has learned in the future:

“I am running a team looking at big data on deforestation – it’s a complex topic with a very meshed stakeholder network. Bringing systems thinking into this project helps me ask: “What are we missing? What are our blind spots?” Stakeholder mapping helps formalise this more concretely and I look forward to continue using it and other systems innovation tools.”

Justin Zarb, an Engineer at BuroHappold, hosted Luisa during her placement: “We were lucky to have Luisa sit with us in Berlin for two months – she brought a lot of positive energy, meshed with the team really quickly and led us through a series of strategic workshops where we developed our development goals using systems thinking. Despite construction being a totally new discipline for her, she brought a lot of value by applying knowledge from her field to our typical challenges.”

This was BuroHappold’s second time hosting a Pioneer and Justin said they tried a new set-up – which ended up really benefitting the company and its employees: “Rather than bringing Luisa into one of our live projects, we workshopped how we could all get the most benefit out of the placement. We decided collectively to have a research task on a topic where the team and Luisa’s knowledge overlapped, and a series of workshops run by Luisa to help the group set a trajectory for better impact. I think both these exercises will have long term benefits for the group and going through the process helped me personally understand the driving forces behind what I do.” 

Check out our Week of Action videos to find out more about the programme, how it links to climate action and hear more from previous participants and partners: