Female Experts in Cooling – Mary Najjuma

When we think about cooling, we think about refrigeration and air conditioning. Access to cooling is important for food security, health prosperity, and productivity. However, currently, cooling equipment contributes 7% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. If we continue operating at business-as-usual, the cooling sector’s emissions could double by 2050.

In summary, cooling equipment uses conventional refrigerants with high ozone-depleting potential and global warming potential. Our guest, Mary, talks about her work that supports the transition to clean and sustainable cooling technologies;

Hi Mary, thank you for joining us today. I am excited to learn about this cooling side of engineering from you
Thanks, Winnie for reaching out. What you are doing is very interesting and I am happy to be involved.

Would you mind sharing a little bit about yourself with our audience?
My name is Mary Najjuma from Uganda, and a mother of one. I am currently a Ph.D. student at the London South Bank University where I am researching rural efficient and optimal cooling hubs. Before this position, I worked with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), as an international consultant for the Montreal Protocol; a treaty aimed at phasing out ozone-depleting substances. The treaty has been amended to include global warming substances and is now referred to as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

This is my first time hearing about work done in cooling hubs. I am interested in learning more about how you joined this field
Growing up, I had always wanted to be a medical doctor, seeing how my mother, who was a nurse, cared for and treated sick people. I was fascinated with the whole medical profession until it was time for high school Biology and they brought in caterpillars for dissection. One look at those creatures and all the passion for medicine died, untimely.

On the bright side, I was more enthused by Chemistry and everything that had to do with elements and their combinations. I wanted to pursue a degree in Chemical Engineering and possibly work with nuclear weapons. This decision sent my parents’ thinking into overdrive, making me an instant prayer topic. A family gathering was summoned, and I was repeatedly advised against a career in such an explosive domain. Besides, universities in Uganda weren’t offering degrees in Chemical Engineering anyway.

My only options were the more ubiquitous sectors of engineering studies; Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. For someone who adored chemistry, I went for Civil Engineering at Makerere University, with the hope that it would be somewhat closer to Chemical Engineering, and boy was I wrong!

I had absolutely zero passion for this field and this dispassion was all the more confirmed on my first day at work as a Site Manager. Altogether, I practiced for less than a year, but I already felt like an upgrade would help me shift careers. At that moment, the booming oil and gas industry beckoned unto me, I answered. I won my first scholarship to study Oil and Gas Engineering at Aberdeen University, in Scotland for a year and came back to contribute my quota to the national agenda.

Sadly, it was the time of the recession and there were global layoffs in the oil industry. Looking for a job was hectic; I was mostly rejected on the basis that I was overqualified. I was later invited to serve as a business analyst at the company that sponsored my master’s studies. After a year and a half in this position, the recession went from bad to worse. I became a victim of the incessant layoffs that were going on.

Fortunately, I was still in the business of trying to find myself, my passion, and an area that would keep me fascinated all day every day. While looking for a job, I stumbled upon another opportunity to upgrade. This time it was a master’s in Business Administration, particularly in the field of green energy and Sustainable Businesses. With much enthusiasm, I jumped on a flight bound for Italy to pursue an MBA in Green Energy and Sustainable Businesses at Bologna Business School. It was after this academic upgrade that I received the most important call of all. The call to work as an intern at the UN in the department of Environment, Montreal Protocol Division…. phew!

It was during the internship that my passion for the cooling sector was birthed. I am glad to say that, while I have never been in a position this long, I enjoy being here and I believe I will be here for a long time. Who knew that after all these years I would find my passion in the Cooling sector and that I would be fascinated enough to join a Ph.D. program in it?

What goes on in the Cooling Sector? I am asking on behalf of myself and many others out there – we have no idea, haha
Do not worry, I keep getting the same question everywhere, haha. I am always wondering how best to explain what I do to a layman. It’s a work in progress. One thing I purpose to achieve from my research is simply for people to understand what I do and not just use complicated terminologies.

Well, the cooling sector is mainly about refrigeration and air conditioning. As far as the Montreal Protocol is concerned, refrigerators and air conditioning units use refrigerants, which many refer to as ‘gases’, which are overwhelmingly harmful to the environment. These refrigerants are the worst culprits in the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. Hence, the need to take action towards efficient, environmentally friendly solutions.

What have been the most challenging moments on your journey in the cooling industry?
My most challenging times were after university with all the job rejections because I am “over qualified”…….surpriiiiiiise!:) Well, back home, when you have many degrees to your name, you’re a threat to your superiors and yet all we’re looking for is gaining hands-on experience.

Fortunately, I have had a number of ‘destiny-helpers’ along the way who have given me their undying support. Most of these were men who were intentional about supporting the girl child to achieve her dream. My internship supervisor had enormous confidence in my ability, even though I was unable to complete a task in the beginning. He said to me, “Mary, I know you can do this, I know you have so much potential.” This came with a few guidelines to help me successfully accomplish that task. He’s one person who always celebrates my career wins.

What has kept you inspired during such challenges?
What has kept me going all these years is my ability to embrace change. I’m not afraid to try out something new, to go through another door when one door closes. I always glory in the fact that I did not settle for what I did not enjoy doing. My ability to accept constructive feedback and pay attention to it no matter its form has given me the impetus to develop immensely. Trying new things by adapting to change has landed me right here, in my passion.

Tell us about some of the most prestigious moments on your journey as someone working in the cooling industry
Recently I was invited to an energy-efficient working group and replenishment task force for the technological and economic assessment panel of the Montreal Protocol. Together with other experts, we offer technical advice to the panel on the decisions made by the members of parties to the protocol.

Who is Mary outside of work?
The best that happened to me is the free gift of salvation. God restored my life. When I close my laptop, I listen to podcasts, audio bible, and music. Sunday is for church.

When not on a work mission, I spend most of the time with my son. He likes movies, so we have movie dates.

Let me see… do I even have hobbies? When I am not doing “cooling” stuff, I like to have a quiet time with my loved ones, go out for a movie or do some cooking because I love cooking. Yeah, that’s how boring it is, haha.

Do you have a favorite quote?
I took my favorite quote from a song by Nas; “I know I can, be what I wanna be. If I work hard at it, I’ll be where I wanna be”.

How would you encourage a young girl who wants to join the cooling industry?
To the young ones I will say, “never settle for less, don’t be afraid of change, don’t be afraid to try new things till you find what you love, till you find your passion”. It might take time but in the end, it will pay off. I promise you, nothing comes close to earning from what you are passionate about, absolutely nothing.

Most importantly, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the things you desire will be given to you” – Matthew 6:33

Thank you very much, Mary, for teaching us about the cooling industry. We appreciate your time and look forward to other great things you do in the future.

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