International Women’s Day 2024 #InspireInclusion: Asia’s Women Leaders in Sustainability

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To commemorate the significance of the International Women’s Day 2024 theme, ‘Inspire Inclusion’, we celebrate the successes of women around the world and have reached out to outstanding women leaders in Sustainability for them to share with us their exceptional stories and efforts in uplifting other women, defying gender stereotypes, and making their voices heard.  

ESG principles align closely with the ethos of International Women’s Day, by advocating for increased female leadership among workplaces. According to the World Bank, closing the gender gap in employment could potentially accelerate “long-term GDP per capita by nearly 20 percent” on average across countries. According to United Nations Women, five key areas needing joint action to today include “Investing in women, a human rights issue”, “Ending poverty”, “Implementing gender-responsive financing”, “Shifting to green economy and care society”, and “Supporting feminist change-makers”. 

This year, we have invited seven inspiring women leaders in ESG from across Asia to share their journey on how they started their sustainability journey to being leaders in their various fields today, as well as their insights and advice for other women navigating the sustainability space in the evolving Asian green landscape.

Hong Kong – Helene Li, Co-Founder & CEO, GoImpact Capital Partners

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Helene is an esteemed veteran in the Hong Kong sustainability scene, and her accolades span as the Board Director for the Institute of Corporate Directors Malaysia (ICDM), and many more. Her directive is to close the knowledge and action gaps by making sustainability easily accessible. She is often found sharing her expertise on various sustainability topics and plays a key role as CEO at GoImpact Capital Partners, in engaging ecosystem partners and leaders to ensure that sustainability aligns with business goals.

Helene shares that more women need “to be engaged” and this is not just to make up Boardroom numbers, but “in Sustainability policy-making, education, encouraging women-benefit-focused entrepreneurship, investing, and industry practices”.

At GoImpact Capital Partners, Helene is determined to accelerate the narrowing of gap between talk and action, first by raising awareness among the professionals who are often decision-makers in business and institutions.  “We need to have the appropriate and correct messages not only voiced-up, but also be listened to in the senior management arenas and the Board levels.” Walking the talk, Helene herself has ensured that GoImpact incorporates Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at work by having a balanced gender of employees.

Indonesia – Annette Aprilana, Sustainability and ESG Lead, Funding Societies | Modalku 

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Championing the voices of young women, Annette Aprilana is no lightweight and has consistently been active in the Sustainability space. She is actively engaged in global sustainability initiatives such as being the Vice Chairman and Sustainability Projects for the Switzerland and Liechtenstein Bilateral Committee of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Global Shaper for the World Economic Forum. Her work as a Sustainability and ESG lead involves developing the strategy and roadmap of what ESG and sustainability will look like for Funding Societies | Modalku, as a fintech company catering to SMEs. This includes assessing risks, conducting materiality assessments, creating an ESG policy with corresponding SOPs for relevant teams, as well as educating SMEs about ESG and sustainability. As an example, Annette is leading the collaboration with STACS to introduce their SME ecosystem to ESGpedia and empower them on ESG disclosure through ESG workshops. 

She believes that when more women contribute to fintech and sustainability, it will result in “more ideas and solutions to continue innovating and address global challenges”. Delving into sustainability was a deliberate pursuit of passion for Annette. Her interest piqued after a school trip to a recycling facility at the age of eight and she went on to watch “Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, which made her more intrigued in the effects of climate change on the Earth. 

Professionally, she got a work placement during her master’s studies at United Nations Environment Programme’s Finance Initiative in Geneva. After witnessing the “progress being made in the global north”, it roused her passion even more to contribute back to her home country, which landed her in a Business Development role at Modalku | Funding Societies. Back in 2019, sustainability roles were far and few between and it was only in mid-2021 during COVID, as stakeholders in Southeast Asia became more aware about sustainability, that she stepped into her current role now as Sustainability and ESG Lead at Modalku.

Malaysia – Mishall Nair Revee, Stakeholder and Content Lead, Capital Markets Malaysia (CMM)

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Mishall holds a significant role at Capital Markets Malaysia (CMM) as Stakeholder and Content Lead. She found her calling towards managing large networks of stakeholders, social enterprises, and government agencies to execute community-empowerment initiatives. Her role serves as a bridge between stakeholders and forming communication strategies to advance sustainability goals, engagement, capacity building and more within Malaysian Capital Markets. She is no stranger to the ESG space, as her personal hobbies involved volunteering at nonprofits such as MMICARE Association since early 2000’s. 

By constantly advocating and representing women in the financial sector, Mishall believes that this will bring diverse perspectives and help generate innovation solutions that businesses can only seek to gain. She advocates that women should speak up for oneself and fellow women, to jointly create an inclusive environment for everyone to thrive and inspire each other. On incorporating sustainability into her daily life, Mishall candidly shares that she is not a “tree hugger yet” but things that she does at home from having a recycling and compost bin, to sending old clothes for fabric recycling, were what led to sustainability being instilled in her from young.

Philippines – Tess Ravalo, President and CEO, Philippines Dealing Holdings Corp. (PDS Group)

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Tess Ravalo leads as the CEO of Philippines country financial market infrastructure (FMIs), PDTC depository and Managing Director of Philippine Dealing System Holdings Corp. (PDS Group) PDS Group. She has spearheaded the launch of the country’s first “one-stop online shop” for businesses to monitor and streamline the bond listings and selling process during the pandemic. A significant milestone includes reducing cost in manpower, mitigating operational risks, and creating a streamlined and more sustainable process. Tess oversees sustainable strategies at PDS Group, and has supported issuers in their compliance to ESG reporting through ESGpedia and held ESG workshops to empower publicly listed companies to report in accordance with the Philippines’ Sustainability Report Guidelines and Sustainability Report (SuRe) form.

Tess shares that her foray into sustainability first began during her tenure at Asian Development Bank (ADB) as a consultant on the AsianBondsonline project. A chance encounter led her to witnessing an ongoing project on ADB’s water policy, which involves promoting water as a socially vital economic good, emphasizing its value in sustaining equitable economic growth to alleviate poverty. This prompted her curiosity and inspired her to pursue a sustainable finance role.

Singapore – Esther An, Chief Sustainability Officer, City Developments Limited

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Esther An requires no further introduction to the sustainability space in Singapore. Her vast experience as a seasoned sustainability practitioner for two decades proves her ability to lead as Chief Sustainability Officer at City Developments Limited. Not forgetting an impressive list of accolades as the 2018 SDG Pioneer by the UN Global Compact, amongst 25 Trailblazing Women against Climate Change by Reuters in 2023 and sitting as boards or advisory platforms for international organisations such as World Economic Forum Nature-Positive Cities Global Commission, UN ESCAP Sustainable Business Network Executive Council, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Supervisory Board, and many more. 

It takes “162 years to close the Political Empowerment gender gap” cited Esther in the latest WEF Gender Gap Report. Evidently, there is still room to grow and Esther shares that she has worked in the male-dominated real estate sector for nearly three decades but still find it “largely male dominated in the leadership.” She further shares that it is found in a study from universities in United Kingdom of over 4,000 firms in 29 countries that “companies with more women in boardrooms are less prone to greenwashing.” Walking the talk, she shares that two-thirds of CDL’s total workforce are women and half are at Head of Development level. But there is still room for growth as female board representation is still 20%. 

As an active female advocator, Esther has also launched the Women4Green network in 2017 to recognise female empowerment for capacity-building and collaboration amongst female leaders, executives, and youths. She incorporates daily sustainability habits such as turning off lights when not in use, personally making the choice to stop eating beef for over 3 decades, and even driving an electrical vehicle for almost a decade. Her vested interest in sustainability ultimately reflects in her work, as she wishes to continue amplifying these positive impacts into Singapore through the Singapore Sustainability Academy and the net zero CDL Green Gallery at Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Thailand – Dr. Tientip Subhanij, Chief of Sustainable Business Network, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP)

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As a pivotal figure in the international sustainability space, Dr Tientip Subhanji has always been an exemplary advocate for sustainability and technology. She joined United Nations ESCAP in 2017 and has heavily contributed in assisting Bhutan in issuing its first ever sovereign bond/green bond to create a public-private partnership network for sustainable infrastructure financing in Asia and the Pacific. She has also led the reforming of ESCAP Sustainable Network to focus on green economy and collaboration with STACS to launch the ESBN Asia-Pacific Green Deal for Business digital platform to help corporations in Asia Pacific especially MSMEs embark on their ESG journey 

Deeply involved in policy making, she advocates for gender equality, believing that both genders should stand equal chance to contribute to the future of sustainability. Dr Tientip raised that some aspects of sustainability require more gender mainstreaming, such as in the infrastructure space. By gender mainstreaming, it ensures equal access to economic empowerment for women, addresses the specific needs and challenges faced by women in infrastructure development, improves safety and security by mitigating gender-based violence and harassment, and fosters sustainable development by ensuring infrastructure projects are responsive to the needs of all community members. 

Vietnam – Nguyen Thi Hang (Mia), ESG & Sustainable Finance Specialist, VietinBank

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Nestled in the bustling and rapidly evolving hub of Asia, Mia resides in Vietnam and her team is in charge of ESG Finance product development at VietinBank. Mia has led internal trainings to educate on the latest developments in sustainability-related and ESG practices. As the ESG and Sustainable Finance Specialist, she engages with various business partners and stakeholders to identify opportunities for the bank towards contributing to Net Zero. 

Mia firmly believes that it is necessary for businesses to make an example by having more women representatives involved and actively contributing, to ensure that the business remains relevant in current times. Given equal opportunities, businesses can thrive if they choose to lead by being progressive and treating everyone equally with respect. The goal to inspire inclusion requires all hands-on deck and women play a significant role to uplift other women or any other minority group, including the LGBT community.

#InspireInclusion: Championing Diversity in all communities

International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to highlight these remarkable ladies and their achievements and progress they have brought to sustainability. Their insights serve as a powerful reminder that women hold great capacity to enact change, by speaking up confidently and persevering through diligent effort. Businesses stand to gain a plethora of benefits, such as boosting performance by an average of 29% by increasing diversity. In positive news, while businesses still have some way to go in implementing diverse leadership, Europe has mandated a 40% share of non-executive directors to be women by 2026. 

We are deeply appreciative of the opportunity to uncover the remarkable stories of the female leaders in sustainability across Asia, and hope that their journey will inspire and encourage more women to believe in themselves and rise as leaders in the global green economy.