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A life-changing experience: the impact of studying CISL’s Master’s in Sustainability Leadership

15 January 2018 – Minette Bellingan, Director of Global Sourcing at Amazon, reflects on how the course helped her, as a leader, to deepen her sustainability knowledge and build credibility in the workplace.

I manage the global sourcing office for Amazon but my role isn’t specifically focused on sustainability. In a broader sense it involves vetting and selecting factories to supply Amazon but these criteria include socially sustainable factors such as how the manufacture of materials affects the workforce and the conditions in which they operate.

It is important that Amazon monitors the working standards of people making products for its consumers. Consumers increasingly scrutinise labour standards and don’t want to buy goods manufactured by people working in poor conditions and unsafe environments.

Whilst working for Amazon, I had completed an MBA and after looking at a range of further learning opportunities, found the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) course which aligned with my own professional and academic aspirations.

Academic rigour

On first impressions, I found the course to be extremely well structured with a gradual build up in workload. The coursework was manageable and there was a consistent level of academic rigour throughout the course.

I felt fully supported and the workload was balanced, incredibly well thought through, and offered a mixture of face-to-face on-site sessions combined with online learning and reading alongside a variety of modern learning tools such as case-study simulations. We were tasked with writing our own blogs which offered continuous self-reflection.

For my Master's research, I was interested in exploring social responsibility in the context of factory audits and the interventions business could use to improve labour standards; something that’s important to Amazon and to me personally.

To gather the information for my dissertation, I visited a number of factories, unconnected to the Amazon supply chain, where I interviewed workers on the understanding that I would share my research with the owners in the hope that they could use it to improve the conditions within their factories.

Deadlines and expectations

My supervisor was tremendous; he guided me through the process and made sure I remained on track to hit deadlines and goals. He was very clear about the expectations, set the scene of what I needed to do, and was a sounding board throughout. 

Being on a course with so many other professionals and practitioners and engaging with academics gave me access to a vast amount of knowledge. By going through this process, I was a very different person when I finished the two-year course.

I have more knowledge about sustainability and I feel that enables me to be a great deal more confident engaging in this space with those who don’t believe in the critical changes that the world needs to make, and being an advocate for change as well as having meaningful engagement with industry and functional experts working in sustainability.

Businesses must be aware of the need for them to take a lead on sustainability and, through programmes such as those offered by CISL, they are becoming more in tune with their obligations.

The importance of credibility

Credibility is so important in this space. By that I mean credibility with those who believe sustainability isn’t important. Those that need to hear the message from advocates who can speak from an informed position. It is also important for stakeholder engagement and for bringing business and industry on the journey. The CISL Master's helps students build a deep understanding of sustainability issues and equips them with the tools to articulate. 

We need sustainability champions at the heart of businesses who have engaged with this type of learning. A number of people in my cohort were from some of the biggest blue chip companies in the world and I would hope that the knowledge they gained during their time at CISL was fed back into their organisations.

A springboard for further learning

My time at CISL really was life changing. The entire experience was very insightful and taught me things I wasn’t aware of in my professional role. It was hard for me to articulate everything I had learned within the 15,000 word dissertation. It became clear that I was just scratching the surface so I looked at a PhD as the next stage in my academic development.

I’ve gone on to study for a PhD within the Engineering Faculty at the University of Cambridge, focusing on social sustainability. So for me, as well as helping me in my career, CISL has opened the door to pursue further study. It has also helped me recognise that I can make a difference as a human being and through my studies within the sustainability space I can, hopefully, have an impact within my sphere of influence. 

Learn more about the part-time Master of Studies in Sustainability Leadership.



About the author

Minette Belingham

Minette Bellingan is the Director of Global Sourcing at

Minette has more than 15 years' experience in general management, manufacturing and sourcing. In her role at Amazon she manages factories, product sourcing, operations and quality and compliance for its Private Brands and Direct Imports. As well as a Master's (Distinction) from the University of Cambridge, she has a BA (Hons) in Fine Art (1st Class Distinction) from Central Saint Martin's, and an MBA from the Open University Business School.

Minette Bellingan is now a part-time doctoral student working on International Manufacturing under the supervision of Dr Mukesh Kumar. Her focus is on improving working conditions in factories, in particular an investigation into effective interventions to supplement routine monitoring and audits.

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Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.