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!

Kathryn Metzker

Director of Projects and International Programs, Galapagos

Why IOI:

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In 2012 as a University of Miami undergraduate student, I studied abroad in Galapagos with IOI. I loved the academic and cultural experiences—studying turtle behavior, learning to make ceviche, and understanding how IOI and the community contribute to a healthy ecosystem for all on Isabela. I told my mother in jest that I wanted to leave school to work full-time with the team in Galapagos; she said that if it was meant to be, a position would open after I finished my degree. It took a few extra years, but in the end, that actually happened. I seized the opportunity to join the IOI team because their philosophy and practice of working with, for, and as part of the community resonates with mine.

My IOI role:

I started working for IOI in early 2018. As Director of Projects and International Programs, every day brings something different. I lead conservation, education and community outreach projects, so you might find me talking to national park rangers, meeting with staff at the ministry of agriculture, or holding a class for the fishers’ co-op. I might be setting up veterinary clinics, planning an environmental education curriculum for schoolchildren, or visiting farms in my bright yellow boots.

Our international programs include individual volunteers and study abroad. Hosting international volunteers, you might see me with a group monitoring turtle nests at dusk, or pairing volunteers and local farmers for sustainable agriculture projects. On exciting days I accompany study-abroad university students snorkeling in lava tunnels, or hiking to Sulphur mines on an active volcano. Sometimes people even find me behind a desk at a computer.  I love helping visitors explore the Galapagos, learn as much as they can about these beautiful islands, and have a safe and enjoyable experience.

Life prior to IOI:

Love of different cultures, countries, languages and tropical coastal areas have led me to different places and projects. I earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami in Environmental Science and Anthropology and a master’s degree from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in Geography as a Graduate Degree Fellow with the East West Center. Previous research and jobs have led me to study treeline ecology in Alaska, human trafficking survivor-rehabilitation in India, teach organic agriculture in Hawai’i, and work in community development in the Dominican Republic.

Just me:

In each place and in every project, I’ve loved the people. Building community and friendships, and ensuring food security (making sure we all have plenty of fresh, sustainable food to eat) has been part of my life and as part of my family growing up. My friends and family refer to me as a professional adventurer. So living and working in the Galapagos is a wonderful experience!

Jamie Preira

International Programs Manager

Why IOI: 

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I participated in a study abroad program in Ecuador and the Galapagos while I was in college and I met Johann, the director of IOI, while I was in Isabela. After learning about IOI, I knew I would eventually end up participating in the program, but little did I know I would be working for the program. I felt a connection to IOI's mission but never had flexible vacation time or enough of my life together to make a trip work. So, after many years, I reached out to Johann and with help from Katie planned my volunteer trip to Cuba for the month of January in 2018. I absolutely fell in love with Cuba and specifically the IOI program in Cocodrilo. I had such an incredible, life changing experience on my trip, I knew I wanted to help others have a similar experience. I am so excited to be working for IOI as the International Volunteer Coordinator. 

My IOI role: 

I am the International Programs Manager which means I handle all aspects of volunteers' trips to our project sites as well as the project sites themselves. From the advertising listings to making sure dietary needs are accommodated - I work with every part of a volunteer's experience with IOI's projects. I help make sure volunteers are well prepared and excited for their trips. I am happy to answer any questions about traveling and planning your trip! 

Life prior to IOI:

I grew up in South Florida and moved to St. Petersburg where I graduated from Eckerd College with my BA in Environmental Studies in 2011. After college, I felt a drive to move west and found a great opportunity to move to Colorado with an outdoor education job that provided housing. Since moving to Colorado I have worked at an outdoor environmental education facility in a small mountain town west of Boulder. I have completely fallen in love with the state of Colorado and more specifically the very small mountain town of Jamestown. In 2017 I graduated from Prescott College with my Master's degree in Environmental Studies with a focus on Environmental Education. 

Just me: 

I live west of Boulder in Jamestown, Colorado in a house in the woods that is surrounded by national forest. We have lots of fun and exciting animal encounters here! Colorado is full of skiers, climbers, hikers, and bikers but my favorite past time isn't any of these in particular. I absolutely love hanging out with my dogs! I do love hiking, adventuring, rivering (I promise it's a verb in Colorado) and generally exploring but I like doing it most with them. I have 2 adorable dogs, Elvis and Winnie. I like to live my life simply and happily. My favorite hobbies are scuba diving and photography and I absolutely love traveling - especially if it includes visiting the ocean! I cherish the mountains and the experiences Colorado has given me, but I am looking forward to one day living back near the ocean where I can get back into scuba diving and exploring the ocean more regularly. I love and live by the quote, "The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea" (Isak Dinesen). 

Daniel Ponce Taylor

Strategic Partnership Advisor

Why IOI: 

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It was a few years ago that I met Johan, IOI’s Director. We shared very similar values and we both concerned by similar issues that the Study abroad and international volunteering industry is facing. At the time, I felt IOI’s approach and mission was one that I was very aligned with. A few years later, the opportunity to be part of this thriving and dynamic team was a reality…and here I am, ready to support, promote and help achieve IOI’s mission.

My IOI role: 

I am the Strategic Partnership Advisor. I bring more than 15 years of experience in the Study abroad and international programs’ industry. My role is to help IOI find new partners, both academic and others who will help promote IOI’s programs in different corners of the world. With a full backpack of experiences and contacts, I also hope to bring crazy perspectives and ways of increasing IOI’s impact on the ground and how to engage a wider community in becoming part of the solution. I am excited to be part of the remote team that helps support staff and provide leadership on how to achieve IOI’s goals and mission.

Life prior to IOI:

Originally from Spain, I have had the opportunity of living in Australia, UK, Costa Rica and Mexico. I am passionate about conservation and sustainable development, specifically marine ecosystems, and I obtained an MSc in Sustainable development of Coastal and Marine ecosystems and a BSc in Oceanography with Marine biology.  Since early 2000 i’ve been involved in setting up and managing conservation and community development projects around the world, with a focus on sustainability and contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Some of my relevant certifications are Child-Safe Child Project Specialist Training level 3, Emergency First Responder (EFR) Instructor Trainer, Royal Geographical Society (RGS) Off-Site Health & Safety Management Trainer, Divers Alert Network (DAN) Divers Emergency Provider (DEMP) Instruct and a PADI Dive Master.

Just me: 

I was born on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, in Valencia (Spain), and moved to the Balearic Island of Mallorca a few years later, so I knew ocean exploration was always going to be a huge part of my life. Since those early days, I’ve been connected to the ocean, and as soon as I started snorkeling and diving  I knew that I had to be a proactive actor in its exploration, investigation and conservation. As a father of two little ones, I spend as much time as possible in the outdoors, teaching them the value of outdoor education, and when I can, I find time to do the other things I love, like photography or training for my next triathlon or ironman.

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!