Susanne Henne

Economics, Nature and Health: Susanne Henne, awareness of the benefits of forests and research without borders

Susanne Henne has lived and worked in many countries as an expert economist in trade development and export promotion. Times in offices, congresses, meetings, trade fairs and buildings changed with a new life back in Germany. She is Manager of One Health Region Vorpommern and the One Health Research Center at the University of Greifswald (Germany).

Her childhood in East Germany and her family time in the wild outdoors. How to bring business and economic insights to nature, health and forest related topics – developing new skills and added value.

“I grew up in nature and a rural area, actually in the forest, mountains, in middle Germany, or rather former Eastern Germany.. So family holidays or free time would always be outdoors, like bicycling, hiking, nature walk or trips out into the fields and to the forests. Sometimes we would travel up north to the seaside. With limited access to the western world, I’ve always had the focus on simple things and a natural lifestyle, and this was very natural and normal to me.”

“Really feeling for nature or even longing for it, I first developed when in my professional career, after university, I started in consultancy and in business development. It was the typical stereotype: long office hours in meeting rooms, office buildings, trade fairs, conference rooms.

“I did realize how much I miss and how I value nature and being outside and how it also does me well for my body, for my mind, for my emotional senses. I think this is when I really put notice to it. Until then, it was a given for me, it was natural, right? A natural living component”.

Professional pathways: from Dubai to Germany again

“Sometimes I wonder, why did it take me that long to find out that this is exactly where I want to be, where I can do good, where I can add value? And I think that all the pathways and turns have provided me with exactly that needed experience and skills that I can now bring to a group of nature professionals adding different viewpoints and guiding their development. 

“I worked in consultancy, in trade development and export promotion for many, many years. I lived in South and  West Africa, and then the Middle East. And in Dubai, I had my first child and developed this longing that we want for our children, the same natural green grass, fresh trees, outside experience that we had in our own upbringing. So we moved back to Germany”.

“Relocating wasn’t easy, and with my second child I then started my own consultancy, with focus on project management and freelance endeavors. And I got more  involved in regional development, and worked at the intersection of private business and  academic  research, connecting and combining  these two worlds, bridging research, the scientists and the business people.

One Health

“I engaged in various  research projects and got more involved with the academic colleagues, the University, and with the topics that have been crucial in our area, being , nature, tourism, and health.

“Yet  I’m still doing the same. I’m consulting, I’m building and developing networks. I do a lot of project management and program coordination, a lot of translation (in languages and disciplines) between stakeholders, on the search for financing and funding opportunities. Forming strategies and designing concepts, but  not anymore for heavy (export) industry but within the topics of health promoting regions and environments. 

“I really got engaged in a topic that seems very clear and very simple to me. There are so many experts, so much science, so much discussion about evidence, I feel really devoted and energetic about bringing in my part a little bit as an outsider, with the bonus that it also does me well”.

“I get to spend time outside and I hopefully get to contribute in providing the knowledge and the insights also to my family, the future ahead of us, that’s still to come.  I’m always playing that card, to get outside, see, smell, walk the place. If there’s an opportunity, I make the meeting point or the group discussion at the sites, out in nature, I will have them try and experience really themselves to better understand because it’s the most convincing.  Nature itself is the most convincing about it.

Green Prescription

“You can go to the forest anytime if we hopefully treat our forests well, and bring attention to biodiversity and conservation  issues.. Whatever one needs in order to make use of the health promoting effects of nature, we need to make that accessible, we need to make it visible. And that we can only do through projects, through collaboration and through involvement of many stakeholders. There’s always this ultimate wish for certification and having a “green prescription”. Somehow society needs the directive and the guidelines. The Healing Forest Concept brings its advantages here. 

“I think that nature changes people for the better, but also only if they allow for it. You really have to be open minded and observing and intaking. You can go to the healing forest, spend time there, have your cell phone in your pocket or your meetings in your ears, totally ignoring where you are and not paying attention, and it will definitely not have the same effects”.

“So, beyond being in nature, there’s a lot in the attitude of the people and the behavioral change of people. But I think that nature has a power to convince, though it is something that you have to make yourself available for and be ready in awareness to really take it in and then take that for your own development.

“Forest is only one part of my nature connection, I’m a water person, too. I’m a swimmer, and the water itself has an even stronger power. I’m also a lifeguard, and I have the deepest respect of the elements of nature, the  power nature holds. You can be outside randomly, but if you really spend time a little bit more in the mountains or hiking or climbing even, isolating yourself a little bit , you will also feel that power of nature as a greater force”.

Research and collaboration

“In my work I’m trying to find both research lacks or gaps, I’m trying to find fields where we still need more connection, identifying what is relevant to whom and good for what outcomes. . And I’ve been focusing really a lot on bringing it together. You have all this knowledge but still everyone seems to study  it out of their corner, out of their angle and in their little area. So I really see the need for general, wider promotion, and I’m also trying to convey more messages with programs like One Health Research Center and the OneHealthRegion Vorpommern.

“It is really about breaking up the silos and bringing people together and have a true multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary approach; because there will only be real effects in  providing evidence or changing legislation or having political or economic influences on health insurance systems and so on, when we can bring the different stakeholders that are all involved in this nature-health field together.

“Long pathways, many years, many stakeholders, many partners involved, in collaboration, work is also needed on further research on identity, on culture, on the effects of humanity in terms of being the connector to nature. So I think those are the fields that I’m still seeing as white spots and where I also try to be active and bring together different partners.

“There  is also a problem of breaking up the disciplines, the silos, but also breaking up territories. Where does the forest, where does nature start and end? And who’s in charge of the green park outside my office? And all these bureaucracies around it. This is also a part of research I focus on, on how to influence, how to engage and how to motivate for the better.

“You do not have to be a doctor or a health practitioner , you do not have to be a biologist or a natural science professor or similar in order to discover and work with this field of nature and health. I would like to see many more people engaging with that topic because then it would have a greater outreach even. I would like to see less of “new experts within the expertise”, but more of an open, inclusive society, giving access and providing an easy understanding to any of the approaches to anyone who wants to engage with nature. We all must do good for nature and receive our own goods by nature effects”.

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Ph: Courtesy Susanne Henne

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