Johann Besserer

Founder and Executive Director

Why IOI:

Cause I started it  See my story for how it all began…

My IOI role:

I am the President and the Executive Director of IOI.
In my function of President I co-preside IOI’s Board of Directors developing IOI’s operational base, providing strategic direction and having fiscal and financial oversight.
As Executive Director I was given the mandate to handle, manage and develop all aspects of our business operations, as well as advocating for IOI on a national and international level and representing IOI to all its partners, donors, clients and stakeholders. Concretely this translates in developing and overseeing IOI’s research, educational and outreach programs and finding and administering the respective funding for such operations.

Life prior to IOI:

Before I came to IOI my life was slightly eclectic. Being born and raised in land-locked Germany, I developed a passion for the ocean during an exchange year in high school to the Florida Keys.
Upon finishing high school and after my return to Germany I became a Paramedic for 3 years to avoid military service and to finance my college education. With a degree International Business Administration I worked at VW headquarters as a start-up consultant for spin offs from the corporation.
It took only two years that my passion for the ocean did not allow me to keep doing what I was doing (being far away from the sea) so I went to the University of Miami to get a graduate degree in Marine Policy. During my studies I went on a summer abroad adventure in the Galapagos Islands – and the rest is history…

Just me:

I am just a normal guy that likes to surf, eat and travel. I have all the very ups and downs that we all go through. Whereas some might call me adventurous in nature, all I ever wanted was to make a difference in this world. I believe this power is within each and every one of us. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to try and live such dream.

Dawn Shirreffs

Chair of the board

Why IOI:

On my first visit to Isabela it became clear that IOI is about empowering local families to build safe and sustainable future for themselves and their environment.  

My IOI role:

As a member of the Board of Directors I am part of the team that helps support staff and provide leadership on how to achieve our goals and advance our mission

Life prior to IOI:

I have spent over 10 years restoring the Everglades ecosystem working with nonprofit organizations, federal and state agencies on a range of issues from land use to endangered species.  My work has ranged from training large exotic animals to educating members of congress – actually those two tasks are not so different.

Just me:

I am a New York transplant to Miami’s paradise.  I hold a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Growth Management and a Masters in Public Administration.  More importantly I am an aspiring world traveler, photo enthusiast, a foodie, and a pragmatic idealist. 

Sara Luz Ruiz

Administrative Director

Why IOI:

It’s a long story – as they always are! In short though, the reasons are quite simple: I can really identify with all the values that IOI holds and have always had faith in the areas in which it helps the community here on Isabela – ways that really matter! This is an organisation that focuses on social development, education and conservation – there are few organisations that focus on these three interlinking areas. Most just focus on one or the other but for me the combination of all three is what really makes IOI work. IOI is forward thinking, constantly growing and has the perfect combination of local and international.

My IOI role:

I started working for IOI in 2009 – that seems such a long time ago now! My role and responsibilities have grown hugely since starting. I started assisting the founder of IOI in a team of 3 in a small office with few amenities. Now we are a fantastic, growing team with wonderful volunteers and local partnerships. I am the local Director here and take ownership of all local partnerships, projects and strategies for IOI. I am the key local spokesperson and continue to explore and grow IOI’s reach in the community.

Life prior to IOI:

I arrived on Isabela in 2000 to help my brother with some family commitments. Whilst helping I soon realised that I needed and wanted more so I started working as a volunteer for the Charles Darwin Foundation. I helped develop and coordinate several key educational kids programs. After a year of volunteering I was taken on as a permanent member of staff where I continued to grow their educational and conservation programs to the local kids. One random sunny day I was walking along the main street (there aren’t that many here!) and I bumped into Johann. Whilst in conversation about life and work he told me that he was looking for a local person to help him coordinate things her for IOI. I knew there and then that it was the sort of challenge that I was after. The rest is history.

Just me:

I have always been inspired by my family. I have a beautiful daughter and son and a lovely husband too….most of the time! My passions are the environment and animal welfare – good thing we live on the Galapagos Islands! We all love camping, eating and going on adventures together. I can’t complain…life is good!

Amanda Marie Lyons

International Program Director

Why IOI:

Where do I begin? Growing up in Long Island and living the hustle and bustle lifestyle, sitting in traffic just wasn’t my cup of tea. Isabela is like a breath of fresh air. When your biggest hassle to get to work in the morning is Iguanas crossing the road, I think it’s safe to say, “Life is Great!” I had been volunteering on Isabela Island as an assistant English teacher when I heard of IOI. I was interested in their English program. I was ready for a change in my life, to do something different. I thought IOI would be a perfect match to get involved with helping the children of the community through education.

My IOI role:

I’m the International Coordinator. I’m in charge of all our study abroad and volunteer programs. I organize the visas, accommodations and logistics as well as prepare you for your amazing adventure. I’m your “go-to-girl” on the island and sometimes known as the “mother hen”. I joined the IOI team in March of 2011 as an English teacher at one of the local elementary schools. Although I only taught one year, I was able to reach the minds and hearts of many children and their families in the community. In December of 2011 I switched gears from working with small kids to big kids as the International Coordinator. I am here to make sure everything runs smoothly and that everyone enjoys their time with us.

Life prior to IOI:

Before IOI I was living what I like to call my “Rock Star” life. I graduated from New York Institute of Technology as a TV production major. I started off hosting a show in Disney World’s Hollywood Studios. After 2 years of my magical job, I branched off to the real world as the associate producer for an NBC affiliate, WESH 2 News, in Orlando, Florida. Later, I worked as an extra/background on one of the popular CW shows, One Tree Hill, in Wilmington, North Carolina. I worked crazy hours, sometimes 14 hours a day, and was always “dressed to impress”. Wow how things have changed! Although I still try to bring my NYC fashion to the enchanted islands. Try walking in high heels on sandy roads. Definitely a challenge!

Just me:

Most of the Galapaguenos have nick names. Mine is “Betty Boop”! I guess that’s because of my fashion sense and upbeat, enthusiastic and incredibly friendly personality. I am a dance-aholic. I have studies just about every style of dance you can think of. Some of my favorites are salsa and bachata. I got certified for scuba diving when I was 13 years old. I’ve been so lucky to travel around, diving and discovering so many parts of the underworld. I love the beach, beach volley ball, listening to music and taking pictures. I hope to continue to explore more parts of the world.

 

Nuria Ladera

Outreach Program Director

Why IOI:

I decided to become a Clinical Psychologist to help those who need it the most and not only those who can pay hundreds of dollars a week.
Working in a closed office in the middle of a busy city is not my thing either, so I was planning to look for a job with an NGO somewhere calm and peaceful.
It was during a short visit to the beautiful and captivating Isabela when I met the staff of IOI. At that time they were looking for a psychologist to work on their community programs. The more I learned about IOI and their projects, the more I wanted to be part of it, and the only thing I could think about was: “Wouldn’t I be crazy if I let this opportunity pass by?”

My IOI role:

I am in charge of the Social Development-Public Health Department, where we work to improve the personal, familiar and social wellbeing in the community offering individual and family counseling and psychotherapy. I invest the rest of my time supporting families of the community of Isabela through group workshops, talks, preventive and educational campaigns, as well as through our weekly radio program. I also support our beloved hosting families in their intercultural experience y family wellbeing.

Life prior to IOI:

Right before starting with IOI I was just visiting some friends in Ecuador trying to figure out where to find a job that I liked. I was looking for something similar to what I had been doing for the last years as a volunteer and make a career out of it, if possible in a new place. My volunteering as a psychologist started back in 2009 when I was taking my masters in Marital and Family Therapy and my residency in Clinical Psychology in Barcelona. During that period I was cooperating with a new NGO that worked with kids and teenagers with social skills problems and their families. I kept working with them from a distance when I moved to California to finish my studies and to cooperate with another nonprofit project offering Brief Therapy to students in marginalized schools. Right after that I spent 9 months working full time as a volunteer as clinical psychologist in charity mental hospitals and a hospice in Peru.

Just me:

Me? Well, everyone that knows me a bit says that I am hyperactive, very talkative and an extremely fast speaker, with a lot of energy and my mind full of questions and new ideas. I think most of that is quite true.
I’ve always dreamt about traveling around the world and getting to know the different cultures and the different ways of understanding and living life. I enjoy doing that surrounded by people, chatting and sharing moments with them, being in touch with nature, playing sports, hiking, dancing, cooking, eating, watching movies, reading and a long etcetera. I had the chance to visit some countries around the world and their respective cultures. I just try to keep on going and never stop learning. My other dream in life is to build my own wooden ecological house with a hammock and a vegetable patch. I will have to wait a bit to make it happen, but in the meanwhile I want to learn all I need to make my dream come true.

Katie Thomson

Cuba Program Coordinator

Why IOI:

My arrival at IOI happened organically. I was already working in Cuba with CubaMar, a marine science and conservation NGO, when I first met Johann, the director of IOI, and learned about IOI’s plans to expand to Cuba. It was a perfect match! I could bring my experience working in Cuba to help IOI expand their program while at the same time learn from IOI’s successful model of empowering communities to grow sustainably. Meeting IOI happened by chance, but I couldn’t be happier. I am proud to be part of an organization that truly does practice what they preach.

My IOI role:

I am in charge of IOI Cuba’s Program, which means I handle all aspects of IOI’s work in Cuba. My role is dynamic—sometimes it involves traveling to Cuba and spending time at our sites, while other times I’m behind a computer working on budgets and emailing with interested volunteers. I help ensure our volunteers have an enjoyable, memorable experience. I have been to Cocodrilo many times and am very familiar with all of the ins and outs of traveling in Cuba, so please ask me anything. I may be biased, but I think volunteering in Cuba is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that everyone should have!

Life prior to IOI:

I graduated with my Master’s degree from the University of Washington in 2015. I studied marine policy, fisheries management (basically the social science side of marine conservation) and knew I wanted to work in marine conservation in Latin America. I got lucky and started working in Cuba almost immediately after graduating and joined IOI officially in 2017. Before starting to work for IOI, I was living in Costa Rica, near a volcano and surrounded by the rain forest. I woke up to the sounds of toucans! It was pretty idyllic and laidback. Fortunately, Miami is also pretty laidback and its weather and food are hard to beat!

Just me:

Well, as they say in Costa Rica, “pura vida”. It literally translates to “pure life” but really means anything and everything you want it to—live in the moment, all good, be happy—and it’s how I try to live my life. I love saying “yes!” to new adventures. I enjoy venturing outside of my comfort zone, like meeting new people, going new places, trying new food. I enjoy my transient lifestyle—I grew up in Midwest United States, moved to the West Coast (best coast!), then to Costa Rica, now in Miami, with many travels in between. I love hiking, laying on the beach for hours on end, reading (especially in a hammock), listening to podcasts, playing sports, and am constantly dreaming about adopting a dog. One day!

Victoriano Benigno Suárez Álvarez

GALAPAGOS CONSERVATION Coordinator

Why IOI:

When I started to study my Master in International Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid, I already knew that my destiny was the NGOs dedicated to community development. I have been working in NGOs that have social development programs all my life. A year ago, I started an adventure in my life coming to live in Ecuador. After working one year in university, I realized that this job was not the job I liked to do. My job is in the communities, helping their development and learning from it. At that time, I contacted with IOI and they gave me the opportunity to come to work with them and I could not miss the opportunity to work in an NGO in Galapagos.

My IOI role:

I am Conservation Technician in the Social Development- Public Health Department with my partner Nuria. My job is educating families on everything related to the environment. I also collaborate with the Galapagos National Park in different projects. On the other hand, I manage the volunteers of the Coastal Cleaning Project and the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre” Project

Life prior to IOI:

Since I started to study my bachelor's degree in psychology I started working for 6 years in an NGO that worked with people with alcohol problems. In addition, during my internship project I worked with the NGO Psychologists Without Borders in the indigenous communities of northern Cambodia for 3 months. Later I began several projects in the educational field until I came to live in Ecuador to work at the Private Technical University of Loja.

Just me:

I consider myself a person with a lot of curiosity about many things. People who know me say that I am calm and inspire confidence. My way of facing life can be very serious or too relaxed so I try to maintain a balance between both. My life has been dedicated mainly to travel and to know different parts of the world and different cultures from which to learn. I like football, but especially cycling, whenever I can I'm going to walk and enjoy nature. On the other hand, I always like to be informed of what is happening in the world so I always read the newspapers of several countries around the world. At the end I have to say that I am always in "war" against all those who try to destroy our beautiful planet.

Beatriz Tigse Vega

Accountant

Why IOI:

There are few prestigious organizations on the Galapagos that offer ‘real’ community support and IOI does that and so much more here on Isabela. I have always wanted to work for an organization that I was proud to be a part of and that had ‘human needs’ at the core of its existence. IOI has only been running for a few years but the community has benefited hugely in that time. IOI keeps growing and giving – I’m so glad to be a part of it all.

My IOI role:

I look after all of IOI’s accounting and legal needs. Numbers aren’t everyone’s preference but I actually enjoy working with spreadsheets! I ensure that all invoices are paid and visa’s and residency permits are applied for and obtained in a proper and timely manner. I only work part-time so I have a lot to do in the mornings but I enjoy being busy so the job is perfect for me!

Life prior to IOI:

Life prior to IOI was largely taken up by looking after my two beautiful children, which were (and still are) a handful! Alongside being a house wife I also owned and ran a small business with my husband.

Just me:

I am an honest and responsible person in and out of work. My family are my number one priority and will always be. I enjoy cooking, playing with my children. I love the sun and sea and being outdoors. Isabela is so beautiful – it never stops impressing my wanting to explore it further with my loved ones.

Maritza Serano

House Keeper

Why IOI:

IOI has a lovely work environment. One of the main reasons that I love working here so much is that it is full of people from all walks of life. It’s a great place to share life experiences with people – we are like one big family!

My IOI role:

I am here to ensure IOI is clean and tidy at all times. I am always happy to help all the volunteers, staff, visitors and students to ensure that their stay here is a happy one. I love my job and the service that I provide people with. I always do it wholeheartedly and with a great big smile on my face.

Life prior to IOI:

I was a house wife prior to IOI and trust me when I say that it is hard. Now I come to work, study in the evenings and continue as a house wife when I get home. It’s hard but I can’t complain as I love to keep myself busy!

Just me:

I’m not one to talk about myself but i do love hearing constructive criticism from people as it’s a great way to learn and develop oneself. I love to listen to music whilst I’m working and you’ll often find me singing along to it too! I love talking to people and trying to make them smile with my jokes and playfulness. Smiling is my ultimate hobby!