Skip to main content

Rotary scholar combines business and environment

The daughter of a Macedonian foreign service officer, Anja Nikolova grew up in London, New York, and Venice. Her globe-trotting childhood gave her not only a gift for languages (she’s fluent in five), but also a passion for international environmental issues. With the aid of global grants funded by Rotary districts from Texas, Oklahoma, and Connecticut, Nikolova is working toward her master’s degree in environmental management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Yale Center for Business and the Environment. She has interned at the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition – an initiative to accelerate action on climate change – and attended the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris as a member of the Macedonian delegation.

Anja Nikolova is a Rotary International scholar.

Q: How did you become interested in environmental issues?

A: It was when my family lived in Venice, because we got floods all the time. Everything just shut down. You walked out of your house and walked into a lake. I remember thinking, “If this happens in such a wealthy city, then I can’t even begin to imagine what happens in other places in the world that are not as fortunate.”

Q: What led you to study at Yale, and what are you hoping to accomplish there?

A: I did an internship with Earthmind, an organization supported by and with its headquarters at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an environmental NGO in Switzerland. That’s when I started becoming more interested in the international environmental scene. Because the environment is so interwoven with other fields, I felt I needed a broader degree, and that’s why I applied to Yale.

I’m interested in tying together the environment and economics on a larger scale to understand the feasibility of certain environmental projects. In the end, if whatever you pursue doesn’t make business sense, it’s probably not going to work. That has to be acknowledged and seen as an opportunity rather than as a threat. 

Q: Tell us about your work in Ghana.

A: When I worked at IUCN, one of the projects there was a community agricultural and forestry project in Mole National Park in Ghana. The vision was to empower villagers living on the fringes of the park by teaching them to farm the products that are in the park and then sell them. They don’t have the technical support to sell them at a scale that’s profitable. I’ve connected this project with some Rotarians, and together we’ve managed to raise more than $100,000 for it. Rotarians in Ghana are also very involved. 

Q: Now that you’re in the United States, do you have much opportunity to speak languages other than English?

A: I speak maybe three or four languages on a daily basis. With my parents, I speak in Macedonian. With my sister, I speak in Italian. With my friends, it depends. It’s not that I’m some sort of genius; I was just fortunate to grow up in different countries and learn different languages by default.

That has actually motivated me to co-found something at Yale: a program called Tandem Language Café. We match native speakers of two languages who want to learn each other’s language. The pairs meet once a week for eight weeks, and it’s free. This year we had more than 400 applicants. If I had the time this semester, I would even participate, but I’m just so overwhelmed with everything. Otherwise, I would love to learn Mandarin. 

– Anne Ford


In the end, if whatever you pursue doesn’t make business sense, it’s probably not going to work. That has to be acknowledged and seen as an opportunity rather than as a threat. 

Rotary scholar

• Read more stories from The Rotarian

Donate to the Rotary Foundation to support scholars