Asia CSR Women Heroes: Rebecca Walker Chan “I Try to Prove That Embedding Sustainability Into Business Will Create Bottom Line Impact”
In this new series, we celebrate the women who bring corporates to task from the inside, pushing for greater environmental and social forward policies.
What is your full title and where do you work?
What are your main job responsibilities?
I help my clients better understand their role in sustainable development with my expertise in reporting, developing sustainability strategies and policies, and conducting impact driven research.
No matter where my clients are on their sustainability journey, there is always room for improvement. I challenge them to think and act in new ways and to focus their organizations future possibilities. By helping set realistic goals and designing a practical strategy to achieve them, I try to prove that embedding sustainability into the core of business will create triple bottom line impacts—for people, profits, and the planet.
How did you get your start in CSR?
I have always been passionate about improving how we treat the environment, other animals and ourselves and believe that this is best achieved through a combination of private sector engagement and revamping personal approaches to global challenges. I am a retired ballet dancer and pivoted my career to focus on sustainability in 2010, but it took me a few years to get where I am today.
I decided to hang up my pointe shoes when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began in the Gulf of Mexico. I was furious and didn’t want to sit idly by, but at the time had no idea what I could do – so I went back to school and the only topic I was interested in was sustainability and environmental conservation.
Since then, I have worked with Harvard University to design and implement interactive and experiential environmental course material in Boston, led communications and environmental advocacy for the UN Refugee Agency’s Livelihoods and Energy and Environment Units in Geneva, and now advise clients here in Hong Kong.
What is your proudest accomplishment/moment in your CSR role?
It’s tough to find a proudest accomplishment, but the most memorable moments have come from connecting changemakers and raising awareness through my research and network.
An example of making connections was when I helped create a partnership between UNHCR and a Philippine start-up called A Liter of Light. From this, some refugees in Ethiopia now have eco-friendly and community-manufactured lighting, which has enhanced livelihoods options and decreased energy poverty.
I also really enjoy conducting research and loved working with OXFAM on their GRAISEA program, which aims to improve the livelihoods of small-scale producers through more responsible and inclusive value chains and private sector investments while empowering women to demonstrate economic leadership. I co-wrote a report on Agribusiness and the SDGs: How the Agribusiness Sector in ASEAN can embrace the Sustainable Development Goals (2017) and hosted roundtables on the value of smallholder inclusion and women’s economic empowerment. If even one company learned how to better treat smallholder farmers and women in their supply chain after reading the report or attending one of the roundtables, I would consider that an accomplishment.
What is the hardest part of your job?
I like to think that every project I engage in is about developing and strengthening a better, collective understanding of how to make the world a better place to live, work and enjoy. In reality, I show organizations how they can improve and help them figure out how to change, which can be really tough because by our very nature, we humans don’t like change.
It can be difficult to convince clients that there are real and tangible linkages between economic growth, human well-being, and global environmental health. Many of those who make big environment-affecting decisions are so detached from it, that they have forgotten that we are all dependent on healthy ecosystems. They either forget or don’t care that their food doesn’t just come from the grocery store – it has to be grown and processed and transported and there is a real impact on the planet from that value chain. Influencing responsible decision-making and advocating for the expansion of a circular economy is no easy feat, but I know I’m fighting a good fight and am happy to dedicate my whole career to doing so.
As told so Sonalie Figueiras, Green Queen Editor-in-Chief.
Check out other interviews in this series:
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Walker Chan.