In Her Words: 3 Women in Business Creating a More Sustainable World
A woman’s perspective is a powerful thing. And as the world continues to grow and change, women’s ideas can be a driving force behind new businesses models and initiatives that are successfully pointing towards a more inclusive, sustainable future.
In their 2018 report, “Better Leadership, Better World,” the Business and Sustainable Development Commission even argued that gender equity in the workplace could unlock $12 trillion in new market value linked to the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. According to the Commission, women play a critical role in deploying leadership and growth characteristics, such as long-term thinking, innovation, collaboration, transparency, environmental management, and social inclusiveness.
With these competencies in mind, it is inspiring to see how women in leadership are using their experiences and voices to impact real change for some of the world’s biggest challenges.
At P4G, the Partnering for Green Growth and Global Goals 2030 initiative, we identify, fund and incubate innovative partnerships for a more sustainable, inclusive future. Among our 24 public-private partnership projects, women are leading more than half. We don’t think this is a happy accident – but rather a reflection of the value that these voices and perspectives contribute in the pursuit of a better world.
This month, in honor of International Women’s Day, we spoke to some of the women in our network to learn more about their professional journeys, as well their approaches to business and innovation. Here are their stories:
Lisa Ashford, CEO of Ethex
Building upon a career in the energy and environment space, Lisa Ashford’s goal as CEO of Ethex has been to make it possible to align one’s social and environmental values with their financial investments.
Ethex works with a variety of organizations specializing in areas including renewable energy, fair trade, social housing, organic farming, green transport and microfinance. Investors on the platform are then able to direct money to businesses they believe in while also potentially receiving a financial return if the business succeeds.
According to Lisa, this model, “through the power of innovative and disruptive finance and technology, is enabling everyday people to use their money to take action to tackle climate change.”
Ethex is the lead partner in the public-private partnership Energise Africa, which furthers Ethex’s impact investing model to provide clean energy to homes across sub-Saharan Africa.
In considering International Women’s Day, Lisa reflected specifically on this issue of energy access, and how pursuing this singular goal is also helping formerly shuttered communities to further their reach into the world. For example, one woman with whom the project works was able to increase the profits of her convenience store through the installation of solar-run refrigerators. Another woman, the 15-year owner of a local barber shop, was able to increase her profits three-fold through the incorporation of electric razors and lights to allow her business longer operating hours.
“Recently, I really started to think much more about how solar energy and green growth more broadly is providing a fantastic opportunity to empower women from all walks of life to achieve their full potential,” Lisa shared. “Some 600 million people in Africa have no access to energy, and, among them 50 to 70% are women or girls who are most affected by energy poverty—be it in the home, access to education or health benefits.”
Amy Jadesimi, CEO of LADOL
In her early career, Amy trained to become a medical doctor; but after an initial role at Goldman Sachs – and later, an MBA from Stanford Business School — she brought her business savvy to Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base (LADOL), in her home country of Nigeria, where she eventually became an internationally renowned businesswoman.
LADOL is a state-of-the-art logistics and engineering hub operating out of Nigeria’s industrial free zone, supporting much of the oil and gas exploration in the deep oceans off West Africa. Under Amy’s leadership, the organization has become not only the first and largest industrial free zone in Nigeria; but also the first sustainable industrial free zone in the world.
The significance of this added characteristic is key. Industrial free zones – areas in which trade barriers like tariffs and quotas are eliminated to attract new business and foreign investment – while good for economic growth and job creation, usually fall short in areas like labor conditions and environmental mindfulness. Through her leadership on the Sustainable Special Economic Zones partnership, which brings LADOL together with other organizations working across supply chains in Africa, Amy is further developing businesses and processes that promote human rights, social benefits, and less environmental degradation within the LADOL industrial free zone.
Amy’s approach is a special case of an innovative idea disrupting the otherwise stagnant and often socially negligent market surrounding special economic zones.
“As CEO, I’ve been privileged to have the opportunity to build this brand-new ecosystem from scratch,” she said. “Since joining the company in 2004, it has been clear to me that the winning business models of the future are sustainable models. From inception, LADOL has broken new ground and disrupted local markets by pursuing a new economic business model, which has now proven to be the winning strategy.”
Amy continues, “African CEOs now know that our future lies not in emulating the West but in surpassing it, and sustainable business models are one of these essential keys to success.
“The Green Growth space is by necessity in need of highly disruptive innovation. Diverse, confident and skilled teams which embrace change are needed to build successful private and public sector organizations in this space.”
Birgitte Qvist-Sørensen, Secretary General of DanChurchAid
In 2014, Birgitte became the first woman to lead DanChurchAid (DCA), a Danish civil society organization, in its almost century-long history. The organization came to life in the aftermath of World War I, with the original intention to aid in the rebuilding of Europe. In the decades since, DCA has evolved into an international humanitarian organization working to empower the world’s poorest.
From a background in theology, Birgitte spent her early career working in youth and women’s development. Her leadership at DCA drew upon these experiences and has been especially informed by her work with vulnerable populations.
“In my daily work, women from all parts of the world share their stories with me and remind me of the importance of including them in the development of their communities,” she said.
“Meanwhile, in the western world, it is evident that most large-scale institutions and funds are male-led. Thus, women globally are experiencing decisions imposed on them without having included any women in the decision-making process. As Secretary General, I therefore strive to include women in all layers to, firstly, avoid repeating unequal gender dynamics and, secondly, to include women in the pursuit of green growth and sustainable development.”
With DCA as the lead partner, Birgitte also works on the Sustainable Food Platform partnership, which aims to address both sustainable agriculture and malnutrition in Ethiopia through the development of locally sourced, nutrient-rich biscuits, thus supporting jobs and employment for smallholder farmers.
Many of these farmers are also women, whose businesses – and livelihoods – can be vastly improved due to both the nutritional and economic outcomes of the platform’s implementation.
“In order to accelerate green growth, we must adopt a ‘local-to-global and global-to-local’ perspective,” she said on the partnership. “Women and children who suffer from malnutrition and consequences of climate change are our highest priorities. We enable and empower women who are both the farmers and the consumers by identifying systemic challenges and promoting women as entrepreneurs.”
Looking Ahead: Sustainable Businesses for the Future
The stories these women tell are not only those of empowerment, but also visions of change.
In 2018, there were only 24 women leading Fortune 500 companies. Yet, women make up nearly half the world’s population and workforce.
Through inclusive business models that acknowledge the potential of all involved, these numbers can begin to change – and the implications will reach much further than statistics on gender relations.
Once scaled, outlooks like those of Amy, Lisa and Birgitte will revolutionize entire systems, the outcomes of which will advance opportunities for populations around the world.
Leila Yim Surratt leads strategy and engagement for P4G, where she is responsible for engaging partner countries, businesses, financiers and civil society to support the goals of initiative, including through P4G’s country platforms, partnerships, Board of Directors and global summits.
Leila holds an MBA from Stanford University and a BA in economics from Yale University.