New Year Honours: Damehood for Muswell Hill woman's disaster-zone work

The newly-honoured Dame Jo Da Silva. 

The newly-honoured Dame Jo Da Silva. - Credit: Jo Da Silva

Muswell Hill's Jo Da Silva has been made a dame in honour of her work in disaster relief and sustainability in places as diverse as Haiti and Sri Lanka. 

Jo, 53, who works for engineering firm Arup, has been leading the company's global sustainability work for more than a decade, and spent a year working for the UN after the Indian Ocean tsunami on Boxing Day 2004. 

She told this newspaper how the award, bestowed in this year's New Year's Honours list, had brightened a difficult 2020 which had seen her immediate family hit by bereavement.

"This is one of the first very nice things that's happened for a long time, and it's very welcome," Jo said. 

"My dad always said never seek accolades or awards, but if you're offered one, say 'thank you very much'!"

She added: "It's very nice to have your work recognised, and this is not really a personal award, it's something for the whole team I work with."

Combining engineering and urban design with a passion for global development had long been important to her, but after taking time out from her day job to work with the UN helping to manage post-disaster infrastructure, Jo was inspired to create a new project at Arup focussing on how the firm could help solve urban infrastructure issues around the world.

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"In 2004/5 I was working at the UN. I had taken a leave of absence when the tsunami happened and I went to work in Sri Lanka," she said. 

"I realised then that the challenges facing the developing world were increasingly related to urban infrastructure and I felt there was a role for a global engineering firm like Arup." 

Jo launched the firm's not-for-profit subsidiary in 2007. 

"We have worked with various NGOs across the world," she said. "Over the last 12 years the team has worked in most post-disaster situations, including for example Nepal after the earthquake there." 

Jo and her team have also worked to help build schools in developing nations, and build resilience after disasters and in the face of the climate crisis.

She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Engineers.