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My name is Markus Enenkel. Many people call me Maggo (which sounds strange if you don’t pronounce it French). Even more miss the second “n” in my surname, creating a uneasy resemblance to the german word for disgust (= Ekel) or paving the way for Star Wars jokes (Enekel Skywalker). I prefer the latter.

I was born in the Eastern part of Austria, which lies too low to fulfill the Alpine stereotype, on 25 December 1984. The plan to follow my brother’s footsteps as an orthopedic surgeon died halfway through the first semester, just after my 19-year old self started questioning the pseudo authority of white overalls or if mankind was too destructive to be helped at all. However, few years later, I felt the urge to try to contribute at least a small piece to equality in a world that is governed by its opposite. Gradually, I realized that being a white, male European gave me privileges that most people couldn’t even dream of.

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After one year of working with handicapped and mentally disabled children, (successfully) protesting against the sale of fur in a department store and several gigs with my first band, I started to study resource management and ecological engineering at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. While working with the Red Cross on water-related emergency response systems in developing countries I realized that most decision-makers act based on very small-scale, local information. Information from a bird’s eye view, however, seemed to answer many questions quickly, if one is able to access and interpret the data. That’s why I started a PhD in satellite earth observation at Vienna University of Technology. My work as a research assistant and project manager  focused mainly on the development of satellite soil moisture-based applications, the Global Water Scarcity Information Service (GLOWASIS), capacity building with different categories of users and decision-support for Doctors without Borders (MSF). Together with MSF we built a tailored satellite- and mobile app-based drought and food insecurity monitoring system named SATIDA (Satellite Technologies for Improved Drought Risk Assessment). You’ll find more about it in the Media section.

Shorty after finishing my PhD, I started to work at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University (IRI Columbia). My research group, the financial instruments sector team, whose acronym won the internal creativity contest, is lead by Dan Osgood. We develop agricultural weather index insurances in collaboration with smallholder farmers and many international partners (UN WFP, World Bank, US AID, etc.) in Latin America, (East, South and West) Africa and Asia. The indices are entirely based on satelite-based monitoring during the season, eradicating the need for post season loss assessment. This way, weather index insurance is more affordable than conventional insurance, pays out much faster and, if combined wisely with complementary strategies, strengthens overall disaster resilience. While most global activities that are based on disaster risk management frameworks (e. g. the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction) are still very reactive and focusing on emergency response, weather index insurance  has the potential to transform the way we perceive and manage disaster risk in collaboration with affected populations. There is scientific proof that we can actually make a difference by protecting the investments of smallscale farmers during extreme drought years.

I’m convinced that the next generation of researchers will have to act as translators between science and users. Research organizations need to understand practical needs. Users (e. g. humanitarian aid organizations) need to be aware of technological opportunities. There are countless small-scale success stories, but the often mentioned paradigm change is still barely more than a headline in policy papers. If we want to deal with the root-causes of migration, promote climate justice or transform the Sustainable Development Goals into an actual, research-driven strategy for change we might need to understand that life isn’t all about the “comfort zone”, but fairness. That is the main reason why I decided to support the global emergency response unit of SOS Children’s Villages International as their Disaster Risk Management Coordinator and liaison to Columbia University.

In a nutshell:

I like using technology for, but more importantly with people, whose cards were simply dealt differently, authenticity, activism, music, realizing that different cultural backgrounds lead to different perceptions of “normal”, photography (with an analog Hasselblad or digital SLR), traveling, living with four seasons, mountain biking, skiing and playing on my beloved Fender telecaster.

I don’t like meetings about solutions that end in different meetings, people, who take themselves too seriously, batteries being glued into my laptop, my inability to control time, the taste of cilantro and (most of all) vanilla pudding. Yes, vanilla pudding. The manifestation of pure evil.

PS: The background  picture was taken on a tiny runway in the middle of nowhere close to the lower Zambezi (Zambia). It was one of the most magic moments I’ve ever experienced.