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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

4 March 2022 - This year International Women’s Day recognises the contribution of women and girls around the world who are leading the charge to build a more sustainable future for all. In this blog, CISL fellow Zoe Arden celebrates the breadth, depth and diversity of the women in CISL’s ecosystem.

At CISL, we choose to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day by showing appreciation and gratitude for the remarkable women in our ecosystem. The word ‘celebrate’ comes from the Latin celebrare which means ‘to assemble to honour’. Our SuperPower Survey of 2022 does just that. We asked colleagues and contributors to share their superpower, proudest moment, biggest wish for the future, and who they wished to honour on IWD. Here we assemble their inspiring responses and the women they honour.

According to CISL CEO, Clare Shine, “It is fitting that this year’s theme for International Women’s Day  is ‘gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’ which recognises the contribution of women and girls around the world who are taking action on climate change to build a more sustainable future for all. We know that women are among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. At the same time, many women and girls are effective and powerful leaders of change. We’re proud to celebrate the women leading change in our organisation and global network of 15,000 alumni.”


What is your superpower?

While the superpowers identified were wide-ranging, many focused on positivity and resilience as well as characteristics such as ‘spinning all the plates’ and ‘sharing time with others.’  One respondent identified hers as ‘Spotting, nurturing and herding the superpowers of others and helping them to believe in their own superpowers.’.

Scilla Elworthy, Founder, Business Plan for Peace: “Self-awareness. Why? Because in any challenging interaction, if I can be aware of what I’m up to, I can avoid being reactive and instead understand the other person and be constructive.”

Anna Lungley, CSO, Dentsu: “Clarity of vision. I believe we can create a better future. It keeps me focused and motivated.”


In your career, what are you most proud of?

For many of our respondents, it was having a positive impact through the teams they build and lead. We’re also proud of the difference we’ve made personally - ‘the bold and risky leaps I’ve taken to try new things, while still maintaining the heart of who I am,’ commented one.

Shagofah Ghafori, Project Development Assistant at the Centre for European Policy Studies: “Every girl from Afghanistan who achieves something has to work for it triple hard as others. I’m proud I could make it and others should be too!”

Judy Ling Wong. Honorary President, Black Environment Network: “Being able to be a role model and share insights and experience to stimulate a widening web of multicultural leaders that are women, bringing in the vital culture of care as the basis for a holistic approach to sustainability.”


Who do you wish to honour on IWD?

These varied from individuals – Mary Robinson, Rachel Carson, Mother Teresa – to those closest to us - our daughters, mothers, grandmothers and more broadly ‘women with the strength to stand for what they believe in and bring others along with them.’ We also honour ‘girl refugees because they are in the most vulnerable and usually least empowered condition yet hold a wealth of insight and potential,’ remarked another.

Denise Odaro, Head of Investor Relations and Sustainable Finance, International Finance Corporation: “I wholeheartedly honour my late mother Irene who passed away in March 2020. She held positions ranging from Treasurer to President with around 20 groups at the time of her passing. She was a proud sponsor of campaigns against women trafficking, circumcision of women, and inhuman treatment of widows through the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) for which she served as President for over a decade. She brought love and light to all, and I try to emulate her even more now in her absence.”


What is the change that you wish to lead in the world?

At the heart of the change respondents wish to see is social and environmental justice, powered by education, transformative leadership, and purpose: ‘For people to feel safe and supported to be who they are, without fear of judgement.’  ‘Transforming our education system, and society towards honest, connected, empathetic, critical, creative, participatory, and emancipatory thinking and action.’  ‘Respect and appreciation for the benefits of divergent approaches and views.’

Janice Lao, ESG Director, Helen of Troy: “Helping businesses be a force for good!”

Marina Badlishah, Regional Head, Asia & Oceania, Corporate, Regulatory, Scientific Affairs, Nestlé: “Equality because I believe a just and equitable world can bring so much more to humanity including a more sustainable and harmonized life.”

Dr Victoria Hurth, CISL Fellow: “For me, rolling up our sleeves to deliver a Wellbeing Economy through Purpose-Driven Organisations is absolutely core and that is why I dedicate most of my time to this very practical task.”


Imagine a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive: what would you celebrate most? 

The resounding answer here was ‘all of it!’

Anna Lungley: “The creativity, innovation and energy it would unlock, and the untapped potential of 8 billion people.”

Dr Victoria Hurth: “Its diversity, inclusiveness and equity! The joy of living with the non-judgement, trust, security and self-esteem that would make such a world possible.”

Dr Scilla Elworthy: “I would celebrate a world where right brain intelligence - which sees the whole picture and is collaborative - is brought back into balance with left-brain or linear reasoning, which has taken us too far in competing, consuming, acquiring and dominating.”


It is well over 100 years since the first Women’s Day was marked in the US in 1909 by a Ukraine-born suffragist Clara Lemlich who demanded better pay, shorter working hours and improved working conditions for 15,000 garment workers who went on strike in New York. We are still making those demands. Progress can be fragile as we’ve seen in Afghanistan and stability can shatter. Today we remember Clara Lemlich and honour women everywhere, especially in Ukraine.

Find out more about CISL’s online short course Women Leading Change: Shaping Our Future

About the author


Zoë Arden is co-convenor and head tutor of CISL’s latest online course Women Leading Change – Shaping Our Future. CISL’s Accelerator and Sustainability Hub has recently announced an online programme for women founders of innovation start-ups called Women in Sustainability Innovation.  


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


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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