Circular Economy and Women Leadership

There’s plenty of talking these days about corporate responsibility and business interests in sustainable development. Women leadership and gender empowerment are drivers for more sustainable business practices and profitable impact creation. Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending an event at the Singapore Sustainability Academy that combined these two – women leadership and responsible, sustainable business.

The Singapore Sustainability Academy (SSA), which was opened on World Environment Day on June 5 this year, is a training and networking facility on sustainability, “promoting low carbon economy, resource efficiency and sustainable practices among businesses and the community.”

The SSA further serves as a platform for the Women4Green initiative that the property owner and developer CDL has kick-started. Sustainability at the Singapore’s own private sector property developer has been led by a power-woman Esther An for a long time, and she has served as a role model for many women in sustainability. It is no wonder that CDL then has taken up the challenge of leading sustainable development not only in their own comfort zone but much beyond.

Yesterday, the topic of the panel discussion and event was thought-leadership in circular economy, featuring and promoting successful circular economy business models. Four companies were represented in this sharing and learning panel; CDL, Accenture, Interface and Ikea. And I doubt it being a coincidence all representatives were women: Experienced, smart and passionate business practitioners and leaders in their different industries.

Interface’s Chief Sustainability Office Erin Meezan obviously has a lot to share, as the company could righteously be called the world’s leading sustainability company. They have been incorporating sustainability into their core operations for decades, and currently are advocating for “Climate Take Back” – a vision of reversing climate change through collaborative action of all stakeholders. Pretty bold. “Take back” models are common circular economy opportunities and now a company is saying let’s use this for taking back our climate, work together to not only stop climate change but change it to positive.

Interface is not a consumer-facing company and in that a lesser known brand for a wider audience. A company that reaches consumers and has an impact on their consumption and awareness, is Ikea. I mean, who hasn’t heard of Ikea? And they are luckily using their reach and visibility to advocate for sustainability as well, and with amazing initiatives at that. At the event their SEA sustainability chief Hui Mien Lee shared how Ikea has taken sustainability into their core operations; they have a democratic design committee for new product development, meaning that all product design is weighed against their five principles of form, function, quality, sustainability and low price. And all five have to be met in order for the product to go into production and sales. They also use an internal sustainability scorecard for each of their products and measure sales against it.

Circular economy is the future of business and a way for more sustainable future. Yesterday’s discussion provided examples of successful circular economy models that are profitable and responsible. And as shared by inspiring women leaders in such different industries (and often male-dominated), the event achieved great energy for pushing for more collaboration. By learning from each other and working with each other we truly can achieve positive impact through creation of sustainable business models that follow the Triple Bottom Line framework and add purpose to the mix. And women leadership.








Role modeling

I had a business lunch today which quickly became a friendly chat over all things possible in the world. What a fascinating woman I had the pleasure of dining with! Covering communications for a huge, reputable multinational company, for Asia and Middle East (not a tiny market, and not an easy one to manage as a woman), being a mom and wife, I’m at awe of all of her achievements. They’re not unheard of, and I’m always proud and pleased when I meet such people – women, who are letting no glass-ceilings get on their way, women who won’t allow themselves to be “boxed” but do what feels right for them. Like work with middle eastern men on renewable energy projects.

She told me she’s writing a blog about being an expat, a working mother, a woman of Asian heritage but with no single identity. There are so many stereotypes to fight in that combination and so many struggles to make it all work. Yet, from her you’d hear no complaints, just challenges to find solutions for. And appraisal to her own mother, who managed a demanding job while bringing up 4 kids, not “just” 2 as her.

Mothers. I’m not one but I have one, and she’s been my inspiration and role model always too. I have the highest appreciation and respect to my mom, in addition to the bottomless love. Fighting her rheumatism, she showed nothing but love and tender to me and my brother, and managed to not just work and build a great career but also continuously study and do volunteer work. Mothers – where on earth do these people get their energy and determination?

Political opinions aside, another excellent woman role model has just made history, strongly on her way of becoming the first even woman to be nominated a candidate for US presidency. No matter what you think of Hillary Clinton’s politics and views, she’s shown that every girl has a fighting chance. Women can achieve anything, the world is not for men to dominate. Women like her are paving the way for the rest of us, for generations to come. Proving, that there are no men’s only – jobs. It’s up to us. Do we have to fight harder than men to get to where we want? Yep, unfortunately often that’s the case. But can we get to where we want? Yes, we can. My mom, my business partner, Hillary and countless other women – they are all proving this to be true.

It’s extremely valuable to have role models in our lives, near and far. Parents in best cases serve as such, as do teachers, colleagues, friends and others close to us. Celebrities, business leaders, NGO advocates, smallholders and others who we might not be acquainted with but who provide inspiration to us add to that. We should all have a collection of role models in our lives, from whom to derive energy, inspiration and amusement from. Our role models don’t define our lives but they can help shape the pathway. They can remind us to realize our potential and fulfill our dreams. To be the best we can be.

The Hell in a Paradise

Last friday I came across an article written by Imrana Jalal, originally posted as an ADB blog, about the acceptance of violence against women, by women. In her text she explains how 81% of women in East-Timor believe that husbands have a right to beat their wives. Women, thinking that violence against women is acceptable. That a husband, beating his wife, is not necessarily doing wrong.

I’ve been dwelling on this all weekend long and it still makes me sick in stomach and gets tears in my eyes.

It’s a custom, how things always have been. Husband on East-Timor have always been beating their wives, and daughters are brought up in that environment. Where there’s no alternative model existing, the traditions are not questioned.

Jalal writes about other examples in the Pacific Islands as well, showcasing how small island nations without much influence from outside can develop extremely unequally. Many developed nations also have high violence rates, often domestic too, but what really struck me with the Pacific island statistics was the fact that women find the beatings justified, acceptable.

That can only be changed by education. A new model needs to be introduced – for men to learn non-violent ways of expressing themselves and for women to understand their equal worth. Children need to be taught that violence is never an answer and never acceptable. The understanding of how violence is never acceptable, can’t be taken for granted. It needs to be taught.

I do believe behavioral patterns can be changed and wish the report on these horrifying statistics enables international organizations to introduce education programs in the Pacific Islands. Changing the mindset of people won’t happen overnight but it can be achieved. There certainly is an urgency and need for trying. I hope the next generation won’t grow up in accepting a fist on a face as an argument.

Proud to be a Woman

Today is the international Women’s Day and since gender empowerment is a topic very close to my heart, I decided to dedicate not just the day but the full week to sharing excellent, inspiring articles and stories on women empowerment.

It’s pretty cool to have a job that allows me to spend some time every day reading awesome articles, blog texts and stories of inspiring projects. Today I started with a blog text by Jenny Costelloe, who is the director of country partnerships at Grow Asia. She writes about the lack of mainstreaming women in business, missing on the economic and societal benefits which women empowerment have been proven to bring on. Last week I chatted with her on this topic after which she agreed to write more about it – the conversation started from us trying to identify companies who are running specific programs on women empowerment in agriculture. We have found none, at least none interested in talking about that work on the Responsible Business Forum on Food and Agriculture which we are organizing and where Jenny will be moderating a session on this topic.

A woman lifted out of poverty in average takes 4 others with her. It makes financial sense in addition to the human values to empower women. In agriculture, FAO has estimated that women empowerment could increase food production by 20-30 % providing enough food for 150 million of the world’s hungry.

Another woman I look up to and am inspired by is Jeannette Gurung, who shared with us her post regarding innovations that could “reverse the historic neglect of women and gender within environment and climate initiatives”. Jeannette is behind the amazing W+ initiative and has been an excellent support and challenger in designing the discussion topics to the RBF Jakarta, especially focusing on how to address women as primary farmers, identifying key stakeholders and proposing useful approaches to improving women-farmer’s acknowledgement.

My Linked-In and Twitter feeds have filled up with many further inspiring women empowerment stories today and I hope they will continue the same way. So many organizations like UN Women, WOCAN, Grow Asia and SEI are trying to shift the businesses’ and government’s focus to realizing the unleashed power and potential that empowering women possess. Women empowerment is a key to solving many of the world’s most pressing problems – I’m humbled and proud to be a woman! Happy international Women’s Day!