we4DRR members in focus: Karen Sudmeier-Rieux

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Foto: we4DRR

On January 24th 2024, the last part of our winter webinar series we4DRR members in focus was held online. Karen Sudmeier-Rieux gave insights about her career, current projects and personal views on work and life.

Karen holds a PhD in Environmental Science from the University of Lausanne (UNIL), Switzerland and Masters’ degrees in international development and forest ecology from Switzerland and the United States. She is an independent consultant on Nature-based Solutions for Disaster Risk Reduction. Previously, she worked as a Senior Advisor for Disaster Risk Reduction with UNEP’s Disasters and Conflicts program in Geneva, Switzerland. Karen has over a decade of experience researching, teaching and publishing on the topic of Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR). She coordinated a global project on Eco-DRR, which includes the development of a post-graduate course and two Massive Open Online Courses. She is also a scholar of ecosystem-based landslide management, with expertise from Nepal.


  • As a child I wanted to become: a member of staff at the united nations after a visit to Disneyland
  • The three most important things on my office desk are: a leather token made by my colleague, a note from my daughters and lipstick
  • My perfect (work) day starts with: yoga and core strength exercises
  • I restore my energy by: daily walks, exercise in the mountains, cross country skiing
  • My secret of success is: learning when to say no, keeping your energy and choosing your battles wisely

On mindfulness, thriving mothers and boundaries

Throughout her career, Karen had both male and female mentors. However, she also faced obstacles, such as when she worked in Pakistan and experienced difficulties due to the treatment of women. Despite these challenges, she was able to relocate to another country. Balancing work and family life was a significant challenge for Karen, even with the support of her spouse. A supportive work environment is crucial for mothers to thrive and serve as role models for their colleagues and children.

Karen prioritizes her mental and physical health and encourages others to do the same. She believes in listening to our bodies and regularly practices meditation, Qui Gong, and yoga, which are known to have positive effects on brain function and overall well-being. To maintain her peace of mind, Karen learned how to say no as she got older, but also when to say yes and take risks.

Partnerships and networks, both formal and informal, have been and continue to be crucial for Karen. Following the principle of 'give and you shall receive', she also volunteers at the IUCN commission, which has helped her expand her network. Karen believes that the people you work with are vital, so you should choose them wisely and surround yourself with positive individuals. If you are enthusiastic about your day, happy, and well-rested, you are considered successful in Karen's eyes. If this is not the case, reconsider if your workplace is the right fit and consider changing jobs if possible.

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