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.








Just Words

This morning I was watching the US presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that unsurprisingly covered the just a few day earlier published tape revealing Trump’s comments on kissing unwilling women and groping them between their legs. As if his words on the tape weren’t bad enough, showing how he thinks as a star he can do anything to women, but his self-claimed “apology” was even worst.

“Just words”. “Locker room talk”.

I can only imagine how insulting and painful listening to such lame excuses is for rape-victims as it’s already humiliating to every feeling human being.

The world has always belonged to white, privileged  men and admittedly far worse things have been said and done. But one would expect a lot more from a US presidential candidate. Even if the person is Trump. A lot more. How about an honest apology, without excuses?

Fortunately in today’s world such talk is less tolerated. Women have grown more confident and know to demand respect. Many men are also standing up to support women and their drive for equality in all aspects. Social media spreads the word, demands for justice.

What made me truly flip with this so called apology or excuse, was the reference to “just words”. Words hurt. Words cause harm. Words are powerful tools.

I was bullied in school and have now spent over 20 years recovering from that time, from those words. It was “just words”, but they weren’t just words to me. Those words caused pain and misery and self-doubt and keep affecting me still this day. I am living a happy life, know how to appear confident and have built a self-esteem, but those words from 20+ years ago will always haunt me. It’s been a long journey of recovery and self-discovery and I’m proud to be who I am today, of how far I’ve come despite the words that tried to prevent me.

“Just words and locker room talk” takes us back to the same old “boys are boys” excuses that violated women have always had to hear, always had to endure and overcome. Women, and men for that matter, have come a long way in our long hard journey towards equality, and I can’t stand another white privileged male trying to rip all those achievements away and take us back to the beginning.

Words are not just words. And joking about a rape or any form of physical assault is not funny. Not in a locker room, no where. Not ever.

And Trump, you claiming that “no one has more respect for women” than you – that is “just words”, without a meaning, without any content, without any justification behind them. I haven’t seen any action to prove otherwise, either.




Athletes, who happen to be women

The Rio olympics have raised a lot of social media discussion on sexism and the way women’s achievements are reported and generally spoken of. The media still diminishes the achievements of female athletes – consistently. American Corey Cogdell-Unrein, who won bronze in the trap shooting, was in the press coverage referred to only in relation to her famous husband. Another athlete’s husband-coach was credited by a reporter to be responsible for her performance. Another gold medalist with a world record was a secondary news under a male silver-medalist from the same day.

In the Finnish media, the focus in the past days has been on the woman who’s the only medalist for us so far. A boxer with a story. She had only been training boxing for the fun of it, until at the ripe age of 28 and with 2 kids, her coach awoke her passion and she started taking the sport seriously. Disturbing was to see comments on her story undermining the stunning achievement, and the sarcastic requests to highlight men who are fathers as well. Of course mother and fatherhood are equally important but when talking about athletes, becoming a mother is a completely different challenge than becoming a father. Yet, it seems it’s not clear to all that a woman’s achievement and success story could for once be featured in media, instead of that of a man’s.

And what on earth is all this talk about women athletes hair-dos and make-up? Honestly it’s horrible that female athletes have to compete in their looks as well, as if that was more important than their actual performance. I’ve heard reporters in Rio have been actually having discussions on the gymnastics make-ups?

I’m glad the global sporting event is gaining attention to gender roles and equality, and hope the discussions continue past the games and beyond sports. Because in pretty much every field in life women are still lesser-valued than men.

In my current job, as we organize large international conferences, gender equality is a difficult topic. Namely, when inviting speakers our team wants to achieve full gender balance but struggles event after event in achieving the target. We have a certain level of seniority as a guideline for accepting a speaker, and it’s clearly how there are far fewer women in such roles than there are men. There are of course many brilliant women and excellent public speakers as well, but still too few to easily achieve 50-50 speaker balance from both genders. Only panels where all invited organizations / companies straight-forwardly nominate women are panels where gender equality or women empowerment is being discussed. And these are panels where we desperately want men to speak in.

At least, as Rio reporting failures and the responses to those are showing, world is slowly waking up to this. It’s no longer acceptable and “passable” to diminish women’s achievements or give the credit of their success to the men in their lives. Social media, keep it up. We all have a role to play – it ‘s never a funny joke to be sexist.




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.

I don’t need flowers, I want equality

imageDid you get flowers and chocolate on the Women’s Day?

It seems like the international women’s day as become a day to celebrate womanhood, one day in a year where all women should be appraised. Many of my friends posted pics on Facebook on the flowers and gifts they received from their hubbies. But shouldn’t they get pampered, receive flowers and be shown they are loved every day of the year, not specifically because they are a woman and the 8th of March is dedicated to them?

The international women’s day isn’t about chocolate and flowers. It’s about equality. “Pledge for Parity” is the UN theme this year, raising awareness to the ever-existing disparities between the genders. Women are not men’s equals in many countries, topics, rights etc.

The international women’s day should be celebrated as a day for equality, acknowledging that both sexes are equally worthy and neither should be treated above the other.

I don’t want flowers or chocolates. In a relationship I expect love and tender treatment every day. I want to be appreciated as the person I am. Love and appreciation needs to be shown on a daily basis. On a women’s day, a romantic gesture from a man would be to say, “Darling, I love you every day and since today is the international women’s day, I’ve donated money to support, protect and empower women worldwide, hoping many more will have equal chances for happiness”

Every day of the year I want women in the world to fight for their rights and for their equality, and I want men to stand up for them. In the spirit of the international women’s day, let’s celebrate and demand for equality.

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!