In just a few short years, Khatuna Gogaladze has gone from walking the College Mall in Bloomington to striding through a national capitol as a cabinet minister.
In October, Gogaladze was named Minister of the Environment for the nation of Georgia. She had worked for an environmental organization in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi since 2008, shortly after her graduation from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University in Bloomington. She earned a master’s degree in public affairs as an Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Scholar.
Georgia, which became independent in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, is located in the Southern Caucasus region on the border of Europe and Asia, sandwiched between Russia and Turkey on the eastern edge of the Black Sea. The mountainous country has a population of 4.6 million and is slightly larger than West Virginia.
The first months on the job have been hectic. Gogaladze met with the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland. “We want to partner with you to address difficult environmental threats such as climate change,” Norland told Gogaladze.
But not all of the challenges of the office are so global in nature. In Georgia, residents celebrate New Year’s Day by decorating a spruce or fir tree. According to a press report, Gogaladze urged the Georgian population to restrain from selling or buying the trees for New Year to preserve Georgia's natural fir-groves.
She said there would be a hefty fine for cutting down a single tree and violators who chop down several trees could face criminal charges.
Gogaladze took a few minutes away from her duties protecting trees and fighting climate change to answer our four questions.
- How does your SPEA education help in your current position?
“Concepts and approaches learned at SPEA contributed a lot to broadening my vision not only on well-experienced methodologies of addressing environmental challenges but also on public administration. Each single course taken at SPEA is extremely useful at my new position. I hope I will manage to build a strong environmental management system in Georgia and in that case I would say without any exaggeration, that SPEA has played a key role in my success.”
- What are the greatest challenges facing your office?
“Lack of professionals and technical capacities in the whole sector, inadequate awareness on environmental aspects, weak institutional set-up and non-favorable legislation and this is an incomplete list. So, we have to deal with all of them and try to find the appropriate solutions.”
- Is there anything in particular you miss about SPEA, IU or Bloomington?
“I had spent so many hours in the library that, to be honest, I was thinking I would never, never miss it but I do … I miss lots of things in Bloomington: My Meadow Creek Apartments with very nice swimming pool and very nice people working there (especially Roy who gave his bicycle to my daughter ), I miss walking in the College Mall with my family, I miss even a dollar store but most important I miss my SPEA and lots of friends gained during those two years. It was two incredibly sweet years in IU.”
- Any closing thoughts to share with your colleagues here or with students considering enrolling at SPEA?
“I would say to my professors that I am much honored that I had a chance and attended their classes. I would say to my friends from SPEA that I was so lucky that I met them and I would say to students considering coming to SPEA not to pass up that big chance!”
To learn more about Gogaladze, go to the Minister of Environment’s website. http://moe.gov.ge/index.php?sec_id=40&lang_id=ENG.