Mother nature needs her daughters


(First published in Tasmania 40 South. All photos: Mary-Anne Lea)


Historically, the world has been run by men and in a masculine way. Indeed, recent global politics would suggest a resurgence in destructive predominantly male power games. Let’s face it – planet and people destroying decisions are generally made by men. Perhaps then, a more peaceful and sustainable world would be more likely to come in to being if there was a more feminine approach to power, decision-making and our interactions with the planet and with each other. The creators of Homeward Bound believe so and they are doing something about it.

In 2016, Homeward Bound’s inaugural program was launched with the first 76 of a targeted 1,000 women from around the world. All with critical science backgrounds, they would “undertake a year-long state-of-the-art program to develop their leadership and strategic capabilities, using science to build conviction around the importance of their voices.” Tasmania was extremely well represented within the first 76 women with six Tasmanian participants selected and a further three were part of the organizing team for the science component. Tasmania, particularly Hobart, punches well above its weight in the sciences.

The program culminated in the largest-ever female expedition to Antarctica, a three week voyage in December 2016, which left from Ushuaia on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego. Tasmania’s Governor Kate Warner and Homeward Bound Patron hosted an event at Government House to see off and celebrate the Tasmanian participants. The women undertook a stream of lectures and workshops on board – fortunately in a room on the ship with large windows to make sure they didn’t miss the stunning views.

The program for the trip was made up of four key components: leadership; personal strategy; ‘visibility’ and science, including two days before and after the trip. The personal strategy sessions helped participants to identify key areas and goals in their life, both personal and professional and the visibility sessions were all about why and how to build a public profile to further their objectives.

Three Tasmanians, Drs Mary-Anne Lea and Justine Shaw (and Jess Melbourne-Thomas who was not on board) prepared and led the science component, which included visits to the Carlini Base (Argentina) and the Palmer Station (USA). Interacting with polar scientists on Antarctic bases enabled meaningful discussion on current research in the region and the challenges faced by scientists based there. “Seeing the extent of glacier retreat near the Carlini Station was a stark reminder of why we were all there, of what we have to lose.” Says Molly Christensen who works in aquaculture research at IMAS.

The overarching goal of the science component was to educate participants about aspects of global change in the earth and biological systems through expert lectures, with a particular focus on current research in Antarctica, but it was also about creating inter-disciplinary linkages.

Justine and Mary-Anne organized a Symposium at Sea in which each of the 76 participants had three minutes to speak either on their research or on a key message. “This component was extremely stimulating and inspiring, particularly given the diversity of expertise amongst the presenters. It was also fundamental in drawing out the potential connections between the women and an important step in breaking down silos and building the ongoing network for future interdisciplinary collaborations,” explained Mary-Anne.

“I personally learnt how to make a dream, or a concept, come to life,” says Dr Justine Shaw, “but a highlight for me was getting to know and learn from 76 amazing women, who all have a story to tell and perspectives to share. The science was of such a high standard, and it was communicated with such passion and insight. The women shared their knowledge with each other and received knowledge with incredible enthusiasm and interest.”

So why women, science and Antarctica?

It is no secret that globally, women are underrepresented in leadership positions and that whilst this issue has been recognized in many countries, change remains very slow. Women today make up a far greater percentage of our graduates and our workforce than ever before, but they remain the extreme minority in positions of power and executive decision making roles. Part of the thinking behind Homeward Bound is that by giving talented and motivated women “leadership and strategic skills, a sound understanding of the science, and a strong purposefully developed network they will be able to impact policy and decisions towards a sustainable future.”

The name ‘Homeward Bound’ comes from the desire to create a greater focus on the concept of a ‘global home’. Supporting women in science is considered to be one way of achieving this. Significantly improving the participants’ “clarity, confidence, shared vision and strategic capability, will enhance their opportunity to take up leadership roles globally and proactively contribute to a sustainable world.”

“It’s not that men can’t or won’t do this.” Reads the Homeward Bound manifesto. “However, when time is short it would seem that an enhanced diversity in leadership teams, by ensuring more women are at the executive table, might serve us all.”

Over the next ten years, Homeward Bound wants to build a global collaboration of 1,000 women who have a scientific background and support them into leadership roles. It then aims to encourage them to help shape policy and decision making, networked to each other, each in their own way working for change and all collaborating toward a shared vision.

Setting this initiative against the backdrop of Antarctica makes perfect sense. Regions of Antarctica are currently showing amongst the fastest responses to climate change seen anywhere on the planet and the study of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, and their roles in the climate system, provides critical insights into global-scale change, and the influence of human activities on environmental change.

But it is also simpler than this: Antarctica is a wild, stunning and unique environment that captures the imagination and inspires people. Visiting Antarctica is an epic journey, creating an experience it is hoped will create strong bonds, inspire action and lead to long term change-making collaborations between the women. It’s also a location that makes disconnection from social media, emails, phones and the distractions of daily life easy.

“The ship Ushuaia was perfect for the program and the environment of the Antarctic Peninsula is just so inspiring.” Says Mary-Anne.

The project was initially the idea of Fabian Dattner (leadership activist and partner at Dattner Grant) and Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas (Antarctic Marine Ecological Modeler) when they met at a conference in Hobart.

“I co-founded Homeward Bound with Fabian Dattner after meeting her in Hobart in 2013. We were both interested in how to achieve change around the representation of women in leadership – we connected, Faby had a dream about taking a boat load of women to Antarctica, she called me and I could hardly say ‘no’ to something that exciting. What followed was many, many hours outside our regular jobs pulling the threads together, mostly stepping forward but sometimes backwards, until the dream became a reality.” Explains Melbourne-Thomas.

“The complex and intertwined problems of population growth, overconsumption, pollution, ecosystem destruction, disease, extinction and of course climate change that our world currently faces require more than novel scientific solutions. They require collaborative leadership, diverse thinking, and creative approaches. Homeward Bound is part of a wave of emerging initiatives to help level the playing field for women and to facilitate increased diversity in leadership.”

Within six months they had begun building a team and had gained the support of significant scientific bodies and women of influence. In February 2015 the project was launched globally, and by mid-2015 the inaugural program was fully subscribed. The 76 women selected from around the world include: astronomers, engineers, physicists, science communicators, Antarctic and Arctic specialists, doctors and social scientists.

The project is supported by a world leading global faculty who are experts in their various domains, including inspiring leaders such as Dr Jane Goodall (primatologist and environmental campaigner); Franny Armstrong (film maker behind ‘The Age of Stupid’, 100 most influential women); Dr Sylvia Earle (global leading Marine Biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer); Christiana Figueres (Former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change); and Clare Bowditch (award-winning Australian singer and activist).

A Homeward Bound documentary, “Beautiful Minds – Agents of Change”, is being made with celebrated production house Bunya Productions managing the project. It was selected in 2016 as part of the annual, global Good Pitch initiative, which matches film projects with a significant opportunity to change the world with philanthropists.

Homeward Bound is predominantly supported by Dattner Grant, various philanthropists and universities. It is an investment in our shared future with a global focus. Of course, the movement also hopes to elevate the broader societal conversation about the role of women in leading the world toward a more sustainable future.

“I got to know a lot of very different, but all remarkable women. I am truly excited about where all this might lead.” Says Mary-Anne.

Imagine a global network of 1000 women, containing multiple collaborations within that network, with each member having well-developed skills in designing and executing strategy, strong leadership capabilities and a profound understanding of what is happening to our planet. Imagine each of those 1000 women spreading their knowledge, strategies and inspiration even further amongst all their own networks. Positive things could only grow. “There is so much ahead of us!” Says particpant Nicole Hellesey, a PhD student at IMAS.

There are already hundreds of women wait-listed for the second program, which will depart in February 2018. “The trips will get better and better, attracting women from all around the world from a diverse array of backgrounds and perspectives. In the future it may not always travel to Antarctica – there’s already talk of an Arctic voyage, and I have visions of Homeward Bound in southern Africa.” Says Dr Justine Shaw.

Who could argue with the need for evidence-based decision-making? Who could argue against the concept of planet earth as our home? Yet, everyday decisions are made that do. “We don’t want to play the game anymore, we want to change the game.” Declares Molly Christensen.

Given Tasmania’s strength in various sciences, the strong involvement of Tasmanians and Hobart being a key gateway to Antarctica, the island state could be one of the first places to reap the long term rewards of the Homeward Bound vision to empower women to create a better and more sustainable world.

The Tasmanian contingent