During the second Homeward Bound voyage we’re bringing you stories from before and after the voyage of more than 20 of the participants, plus members of the leadership team, in their words and pictures.
#TeamHB2018 have been back on dry land for exactly four weeks and none of them have returned to their pre-voyage lives, having developed fresh perspectives and new plans whilst at sea.
Our next HB Correspondent Isabel Zhang Zhang, Investment Analyst at the International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group) shares with us her leadership vision for the future and her new appreciation for our drinking water.
ISABEL ZHANG ZHANG
After 3 weeks living on a rocking ship, having a low vitamin C diet, drinking desalinated (slightly funny-flavored) water and almost no exercise, I really came to appreciate the conveniences of my daily life. I was looking forward to my own bed, having lots of space, eating vegetables, exercising, and drinking just plain, tasteless water.
But don’t get me wrong – this is the single most amazing trip I have ever embarked on. I am coming back full of hope, deeply inspired and emotionally energized; a truly unforgettable experience, one that will keep me reflecting for a lifetime.
I joined 77 wonderful women – doctors, marine biologists, engineers, physicists, pilots, policy advisers, founders of NGOs, science TV show presenters and many more women who had diverse careers and life experiences, but that shared a common commitment to elevate our collective and individual voices to influence decision-making in sustainable development.
Even before going to Antarctica, we engaged in a year-long conversation, developing leadership and strategic capabilities and raising our voices to persuade more people to join our cause.
During our voyage in Antarctica, we discussed systemic gender issues. We learned that many challenges were cultural, historical and institutional. But we also learned to acknowledge our inner voice that reinforced the external conscious or unconscious biases, we learned to take time to digest our emotions, to confront our fears, and to explore our personal challenges that were preventing us from becoming more effective leaders and team-players.
Why is this important? The 21st century faces many challenges different from the past. Urbanization, industrialization and globalization have, indeed, brought about huge improvements in living standards across the world. But, at the same time we have also put immense pressure on the planet we so depend upon.
We need a fundamental change in leadership mindset. Many of the qualities typically attributed to women (and often perceived as weaknesses) are crucial in helping to solve our social and environmental problems. Research has shown that women tend to be more collaborative, inclusive and have a legacy mindset. This is of course a generalization, but that’s not the point. The point is that the status quo is one where not enough female voices are being heard, not enough role models are being seen, and this undermines a huge leadership potential and skillset that could contribute meaningfully to decision-making for a more sustainable future. I envision a better future in which men and women are equally represented in a collaborative effort. Across age groups. Across countries.
Antarctica is special to our Homeward Bound journey partly for this reason. It is the last “true wilderness” on the planet, it is the only continent that does not have native inhabitants. It is not governed by any one group or nation, but it is a natural reserve protected by a coalition of governments that have agreed to devote it exclusively to peace and science.
Antarctica is also one of the most vulnerable places to human activity and climate change. 90% of the Earth’s ice and 70% of its freshwater is in Antarctica. Antarctic currents drive our global climate. Seeing and experiencing Antarctica left a truly lasting impression on me.
So what exactly was it? I can’t possibly expect you to understand what I saw and felt just by sharing a few words and pictures. I acknowledge that I am immensely privileged to have had the opportunity to go to Antarctica. It was under this backdrop, that I saw and experienced a truly different form of leadership driven by women. We created a powerful, life-long network of scientists and environmentalists, we discussed the ways we could be more effective in our leadership today and tomorrow, we worked through collaborative projects, and we encouraged one another to elevate our voices and meaningfully shape the road to peaceful and sustainable development.
This is just the end of the beginning. Thank you all for being with me.
Isabel Zhang Zhang is an Investment Analyst at the International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group) where she works on climate-related investments in emerging markets. Prior to the IFC, she was an Equity Research Analyst at Goldman Sachs. Trained in economics and finance, Isabel is passionate about building the business case in solving environmental challenges and exploring policies that will support private sector solutions. This fall, she will move to Beijing as a Schwarzman Scholar to study public policy, particularly as it relates to environmental and climate policy. Born in Spain, Isabel is fluent in Spanish, Mandarin and English. She enjoys traveling, scuba diving and practicing yoga.