In celebration of International Women’s Day, we are interviewing our three highly valued female colleagues in the CGF’s Sustainability team, Aliya Kumekbayeva, Debora Dias, and Erin Bush.   

What do you do at the CGF?

Aliya: I’m a Sustainability Officer, helping CGF members collaborate on addressing food waste and plastics globally.

Debora: My journey at CGF started in 2014 and through that time I have worked on a variety of Sustainability subjects, covering deforestation, food and plastic waste and refrigeration. I currently manage the Forest Positive Coalition of Action, which brings together 21 companies to leverage collective action and accelerate systemic efforts to remove deforestation, forest degradation and conversion from key commodity supply chains.

Erin:  I work between the Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative (SSCI) and the Human Rights Coalition. This work encompasses building trust in third party certification schemes and programs and working to eliminate forced labor.

What got you interested in working in sustainability?

Aliya: Since childhood, I have always valued and felt a strong sense of protection for nature and animals. Having studied environmental science and management, I was instantly drawn to sustainability as a way to fulfil my passion with a purposeful career path. Sustainability is exciting – it’s a dynamic subject that evolves constantly as we gain more insights and is still in the process of extending its reach to more sectors and functions that were considered as independent matters.

Debora: I have been deeply interested in nature from a very young age. This interest led to and early understanding how vulnerable our planet can be and the threats it is facing. I believed (and still do) that though we can be the source of ecological damage, we can also be part of the solution. I wanted to join those working on finding those solutions.

Erin: As my background is in human rights, working with social sustainability felt like a logical progression after obtaining a master’s degree in human rights. My career has focused on creating programs and processes that promote wellbeing and better conditions for individuals where they live and work.

What has proved most challenging and most rewarding in your career so far?

Aliya: Most challenging is feeling like we’re not moving forward fast enough. Working in sustainability makes you hyper-aware of the rate at which the change is being made – or not. But it’s a collective effort and we need to make the sustainable approach mainstream and easy enough to be adopted by the masses, which still requires a lot more progress from major decision-makers.

Most rewarding is knowing that through my small part, I’m contributing to making larger systemic changes for the benefit of a world that is fairer to underprivileged communities and is more respectful and caring of the Earth’s offerings.

Debora: It can be challenging trying to consolidate a sense of urgency with the understanding that it can take time for change to happen. The work that we do at CGF is not often about “quick fixes” or “silver bullets”. It takes time to lay the groundwork and a solid foundation for lasting change to happen. It is however rewarding when you do witness the movement you helped create, and even more rewarding knowing the effects of that change will last for years to come.

Erin: Working in a landscape where issues and actors are always shifting is both challenging and rewarding. It can come with significant delays and sudden updates, making the accomplishment of group consensus all the more meaningful. Feeling like the work I do has tangible impact on the lives of others is exceptionally rewarding.

Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to each of the 17 goals. How do women’s issues play out within the topics you work on?

Aliya: Sustainability and women’s empowerment are closely interlinked and should go hand in hand. One example of this linkage came up during our engagement with Kaushalya Foundation, an NGO supporting and improving livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Bihar state of India, as part of the CGF Food Waste Coalition’s action on upstream food loss. Regionally, women represent 70% of rural farming workforce and play an increasingly significant role in post-harvest management and the transfer of knowledge. When designing interventions, we need to integrate gender equality into our focus to support healthier, stronger, and more resilient local communities.

Debora: We believe that building a forest positive future isn’t just about saving ecosystems, but also about creating positive outcomes for the people and communities that live and work in forests. Women are of course an integral part of these communities and there is evidence they are more impacted by deforestation, land conversion and degradation. A number of gender gaps also exist in these landscapes and we must always keep this in mind when designing and implementing strategies to address deforestation, conversion and degradation, especially in landscapes.

Erin: As 50% of the population, women make up a large amount of the work force covered by SSCI and HRC. Within SSCI, industries that heavily rely on women’s labour, like floriculture, are seeing schemes they utilize to ensure worker safety benchmarked. Women’s role in sectors where they are often less considered, like palm oil, are being discussed in dialogues with purchasers and suppliers in HRC.

Who inspires you and why?

Aliya: One of my earliest inspirations is most certainly Jane Goodall. I appreciate her genuine and empathetic nature, which granted her with an ability to keep open mind and heart to consider chimpanzees as sentient individuals, leading to a ground-breaking contribution to environmental conservation. And I love the fact that she stuck by her values despite the harsh scrutiny of her findings by the male-dominated scientific community at the time.

Debora: Rather than one single person, I am inspired by the accomplishments and actions of people as a whole; humanity is inspiring. Not all the time of course, but it’s easy to look at the world’s current problems and become jaded and cynical (I’m guilty of that myself). For as long as humanity has existed, many individuals have been working, fighting, and striving every day to leave a better world than the one they came into. In many ways, thanks to them, the world is better today than any given time in the past. From the grand heroic gestures to the quiet diligent efforts, all of it is an inspiration to do better and continue the trend of building a better future for all.

Looking to the future, how do you think that women can make a difference in this field?

Aliya: Women play an integral role as guardians of communities and natural environments, as well as important decision-makers to finding solutions to both local and global challenges. We need the voice of women to be better represented and heard louder across all topics, as it often happens that women bear most of the cost of global inaction on poverty, climate change, and peace and security, among other issues. This starts with making gender equality an increased focus for leaders at all levels and giving women an equal opportunity to gain proper education, take leadership positions, and participate in decision-making processes.

Debora: I spoke earlier to the need to be inclusive of women when designing forest positive actions, but this isn’t limited to forests, nor even just sustainability. Women make up half of the global population and representation matters. Balance and diversity are crucial if we want to continue building a world of opportunity for all to thrive. Many women are already active and leading this movement, and I encourage many more to join.

Erin: Women represent important voice in the future of social sustainability. While past efforts have looked at how to generate more fair and sustainable environments for people, the differing social contexts of women are, at times, an afterthought. With more women working in the field of sustainability, more robust methods of inclusion are likely to be created and applied to a complex variety of circumstances where social sustainability makes a true difference. 

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