IWD2024 Feature - "Women of VWB" - Daria Kuznetsova, VWB Country Program Manager, Ukraine
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"Women of VWB": Introducing Daria Kuznetsova, VWB Country Program Manager, Ukraine

To celebrate International Women's Day 2024, we are releasing a week-long series featuring “Women of VWB”. The Women of VWB are effective and powerful change-makers who #InspireInclusion daily. They demonstrate the diversity of VWB thought leadership and expertise around the world, and all that it takes to promote animal, human, and environmental health!

Today, we introduce you to Daria Kuznetsova, VWB Country Program Manager in Ukraine. In this interview, Daria shares her perspectives, her experiences, and her passions for One Health and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

Q: Can you share a bit about your background and how you became involved with VWB?

A: I joined VWB in June 2023, bringing over 7 years of experience managing international development projects in Ukraine. With expertise in fostering community cohesion, promoting civil society development, and advancing regional economic growth, I have a strong focus on inclusion and diversity. My academic background includes an MA in East European Studies from Free University Berlin and a BA in International Relations from Kyiv International University.

Prior to VWB/VSF, I worked with US Government-funded programs and UN agencies. Passionate about improving my country for both people and animals, I volunteered in various animal-related initiatives and supported local animal welfare organizations. Joining VWB provided me with a unique opportunity to integrate my passion and skills while continuing to contribute to my country during challenging times.

Q: What motivated you to join an organization focused on the interconnectedness of animal, human, and environmental health?

A: At VWB, my work consists of two components - Companion Animals and Poultry/Livestock. Both contribute significantly to promoting the concept of One Health by implementing projects and initiatives that address the interconnectedness of animal, human, and environmental health. For instance, our work related to conducting spay/neuter surgeries and rabies vaccinations in rural and de-occupied communities exemplifies this approach.

In the Companion Animals sector, we focus on controlling the population of stray animals while simultaneously addressing public health concerns such as rabies transmission. By conducting spay/neuter surgeries and providing rabies vaccinations, we not only improve the welfare of these animals but also reduce the risk of rabies transmission to humans, thereby protecting public health. This is especially critical in the context of an ongoing armed conflict.

Similarly, in the Poultry/Livestock sector, we implement initiatives aimed at improving animal health and productivity while promoting sustainable farming practices. This includes providing training programs on animal husbandry and disease prevention. By ensuring the health and well-being of livestock, we enhance food security and livelihoods for communities while minimizing the risk of zoonotic disease transmission.

Q: Can you share examples of initiatives from your work that exemplify the One Health approach?

A: From my own experience of working in a conflict setting, the interdependence of human, animal, and environmental health becomes even more evident during emergencies. In such situations, I have observed three key aspects of this interconnectedness:

  • Zoonotic Disease Transmission: Displacement, overcrowding, compromised sanitation, and disrupted healthcare increase the risk of disease transmission, particularly zoonotic diseases, which can spread between animals and humans.
  • Livelihoods and Food Security: Emergencies devastate agricultural activities, livestock, and food supply chains, causing food insecurity and economic hardship, especially in rural areas where livestock are vital for food, income, and livelihoods.
  • Prioritizing One Health: Fostering stronger community cohesion and resilience by addressing health challenges comprehensively and sustainably, benefiting both human and animal populations.

Q: Can you share a success story or memorable experience from your work with VWB?

A: VWB's Ukraine program empowered 10 teams of novice smallholder farmers in rural Dnipro region by offering sustainable farming and dairy production training, along with basic micro-business management skills. Each team received 10 goats and a comprehensive starter kit for goat farming, including fodder, medicine, and milking equipment. Lidia, a veteran and beneficiary of the program, expressed her gratitude, stating, "Running a small goat farm for cheese was our dream. Now, while my husband serves in the army, I've begun with a few goats, trying out milk production. Hoping for a quick end to the war so we can pursue our dream together." Through our support, Lidia was able to collaborate with fellow community members, ensuring her family's well-being while her husband is away.

Q: How do you see the role of women in driving positive change within One Health and community-centered animal health systems?

A: Acknowledging the indispensable role of women in driving positive change within One Health and community-centered animal health systems is paramount, especially amidst conflict and humanitarian crises. Women serve as caregivers, community leaders, and agents of change, significantly contributing to the well-being of humans and animals alike. Notably, during periods when many men are serving in the armed forces, it's noteworthy that a majority of our partner NGO leaders, volunteers, veterinarians, and other animal welfare professionals are women.

Additionally, in rural communities, women often act as primary caretakers of both family members and livestock, with 75% of our poultry and livestock project beneficiaries being women. It is imperative to empower women in these roles, recognizing the critical necessity of their contributions.

Q: What challenges have you faced as a woman working in the field of international development, and how have you overcome them?

A: In the early stages of my career, I encountered gender bias and limited opportunities for advancement. For example, when my male colleagues were given more interesting and challenging tasks, while I was given more routine or administrative duties. I navigated these challenges by prioritizing continuous learning, seeking mentorship, and advocating for myself.

Q: How does VWB ensure that its programs are inclusive and equitable?

A: We conduct regular monitoring and evaluation of our projects to assess their impact on inclusivity and equity. By collecting disaggregated data on gender, age, ethnicity, and other relevant factors, VWB can identify gaps and disparities in program outcomes and take corrective action as needed to ensure equitable access and participation.

Q: What advice would you give to other women aspiring to pursue careers in international development?

A: Never stop learning! The dynamic nature of this work demands innovative approaches to address emerging issues effectively. By staying curious and open-minded, you'll not only stay ahead of the curve but also become a highly sought-after professional in your field.

Q: How do you envision the future of One Health and the role that organizations like VWB will play?

A: I envision a future where One Health principles are fully integrated into global health systems, policies, and practices, leading to improved health outcomes for animals and humans. With a strong focus on localization, organizations like VWB will increasingly prioritize building partnerships and empowering local communities to take ownership of One Health initiatives.

Q: How can individuals support VWB and its partners on the ground?

A: Individuals can support VWB and its partners on the ground by volunteering, donating, spreading the word, and engaging in advocacy for the issues highlighted by VWB. Additionally, individuals can contribute by adopting practices promoted by VWB and its partners, such as:

  • responsible pet ownership (i.e., spay/neuter, vaccinate, provide proper nutrition and healthcare, and ensure pets are well-socialized and trained);
  • supporting sustainable agriculture and livestock farming practices that prioritize animal welfare, environmental conservation, and public health (e.g., this may include reducing the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, implementing agroecological farming methods, and promoting pasture-based livestock management).

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