If you’re an information junkie like I am, following the news every day can leave you feeling overwhelmed, or even a little depressed. In the past year, we’ve witnessed the catastrophic effects of climate change — from massive fires burning down homes and killing wildlife from the Amazon to California to Australia, to major flooding in Africa — and mass protests from Paris all the way to Hong Kong, rising out of frustration and despair over economic and social inequality. How to handle all this negative news?
During a discussion at the 2019 Women’s Forum Global Meeting which I attended in Paris last November, one of my favorite actresses, Kristin Scott-Thomas, suggested that, instead of getting very depressed or angry or yelling at your television set,
“…join some movement and put all that energy into something more positive and helpful.”
Inspired by her words and those of others I’ve heard and read recently, I’ve decided to issue my own calls to action as we kick off a new decade. Instead of setting the traditional dieting and exercise goals for the new year, why not be a bit more ambitious with our resolutions for 2020 and make it a year of positive action?
Here are some ideas for positive actions you can take to make your 2020 more purposeful:
1. #BeTheChange: Take action to make the world a better place
2020 has been designated by the United Nations (UN) as the Decade of Action, calling on everyone from businesses and governments to individuals like you and me to accelerate sustainable solutions to the world’s biggest challenges, ranging from poverty and gender inequality to climate change. You may have heard about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN’s blueprint to end poverty, rescue the planet and build a more peaceful world by 2030.
Well, we have only 10 years to go, and it’s become clear to most people that climate change is the biggest and most pressing existential threat to humanity. So, why not take a closer look at how we can make a difference?
Progress is being made — but not quickly enough. Climate change dominated the agenda during this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, where CEOs, politicians, NGOs and academics as well as activists, lobbyists, and many others gather to debate the biggest issues facing the world. We heard 17-year-old Greta Thunberg and her fellow young Fridays for the Future climate activists eloquently express their anger at the slow progress from world leaders in tackling the climate emergency.
Having worked on climate change and sustainability-related initiatives in recent years, I know that major companies such as Unilever, Adidas, Mastercard, Johnson & Johnson, and many others have been “walking the talk” when it comes to environmental and social responsibility.
Entrepreneurs and researchers around the world are developing innovative solutions for everything from sucking toxic carbon particles out of the air to collecting microplastics from the oceans and turning waste into energy or new consumer products. Hundreds of these solutions were featured at the Change Now summit in Paris just last week.
But even those who are pioneers in sustainability say that much more needs to happen, and on a larger scale, if we are to start reversing the devastating effects of climate change. More investment in innovative climate solutions is required. More businesses need to change the way they make and distribute things. More government action is needed.
However, you don’t have to be a policymaker or a corporate executive to make an impact. We are all part of the solution. If each and every one of us around the world starts to change some of our daily habits — whether it is by recycling and reusing more, consuming less electricity, biking or walking more, or ditching single-use plastics — it can help bring about change more quickly. We can also vote with our pocketbooks by buying only brands and products from companies which are environmentally and socially responsible.
Resources to inspire you to take action:
Podcasts to inform and inspire you:
- Global Goalscast, hosted by the amazing Edie Lush and Claudia Romo Edelman, who will make the SDGs understandable and inspire you to make the world a better place.
- Outrage and Optimism, a weekly podcast about the climate crisis co-hosted by former United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) chief Christiana Figueres, one of the world’s leading climate influencers and founder of Global Optimism.
2. #MeToo: Stand up for women and girls
As a woman, this is, of course, a cause dear to me. It is also directly linked to resolution #1 above, because a sustainable future isn’t only about protecting the environment, it’s also about giving everyone an equal opportunity to live a better life and making sure no one is left behind. Unfortunately, economic and social inequality are on the rise in both developed and developing countries. And, wherever there is inequality, women tend to be marginalized and discriminated against the most.
Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its potential, but many of them have no voice. Empowering women by giving them equal access to education, healthcare, jobs and representation in political and economic decision making will fuel sustainable economies and benefit humanity as a whole. While there are many barriers to empowerment, violence against women and girls is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 1 out of 3 women and girls worldwide is a victim of physical or sexual violence during her lifetime. Yet, 49 countries have no laws protecting women from such violence.
Fortunately, the world is taking notice.
The groundbreaking women’s empowerment and anti-sexual assault movements #MeToo and #TimesUp have elevated global consciousness about women’s issues across generations and continents. Acknowledging that the fulfillment of women’s and girls’ human rights is integral to the world’s sustainable development, gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is SDG #5. Furthermore, the UN and the European Union launched the Spotlight Initiative to place eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls at the center of efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment by 2030.
Even business leaders recognize that we can’t have gender equality without ensuring that women and girls can be safe on the job and at home, and have equal opportunities for economic success and security.
At the 2019 Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Paris, I expected to be inspired by the influential women who would be speaking about issues from tackling climate change to diversity and women’s empowerment in the workplace. What I didn’t expect was to hear about ending violence against women — from a billionaire businessman. After his wife, actress Selma Hayek, opened his eyes to the cause of violence against women, François-Henri Pinault, President & CEO of Kering (owner of Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and other luxury brands), made it his mission to transform Kering into a feminine group and set up the Kering Foundation to fight violence against women.
“Without the efforts and the mobilisation of everyone, this violence will never stop.”
—François-Henri Pinault, Chairman, Kering Foundation
He also insisted on putting in place business practices, such as equal maternity and paternity leave (14 weeks!) to ensure gender parity and equality in the companies within the Kering group. Hear that, job seekers?
What you can do to empower women and girls
Challenge gender norms and stereotypes at home, at work and around children:
- MISS Representation is an excellent documentary about gender stereotypes in the media.
- The Culture Unframed Parents Program helps parents of tweens to build children’s resistance to hypersexualized culture and the impacts of porn.
Educate the boys and men around you about women’s and girls’ rights. We need more male feminists to really change the way women are treated:
- The Mask You Live In is a documentary that follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity.
- Read INSPIRELLE blogger Ken Carlton’s articles on “What Do We Tell Kids in the Age of #MeToo?” and “How Do You Raise Your Boys Today?”
Support and advocate for women:
- Listen, give constructive feedback and provide mentorship
- Promote other women’s accomplishments
- Join a local women’s association or group
Learn to watch for signs of domestic violence and find out how to help:
- Start with the UN Virtual Knowledge Center to End Violence Against Women and Girls.
- Check out the resources on the MeToo and TimesUp websites
- In Paris, Domestic Violence Help Paris is a support group run by professionals working on a volunteer basis to help English-speaking victims of domestic violence.
So, those are my action calls as we enter a new decade. Don’t get overwhelmed by the bad news out there. Channel your energies into taking positive action for a cause you believe in, whether it’s helping someone else find their voice or taking some responsibility for protecting our planet — every person’s actions will make a difference. There’s no better time to start than now!