By Christine Amour-Levar | 12 Dec 2022
We finally emerged, like the sun rising over the mountains, with ice-cold winds rushing past our faces. We looked at each other, panting and proud, each of us standing in snow-covered boots and thick jackets, with magnificent views all around us.
We knew we had done it. We had succeeded in setting a world record for the largest all-female rope team to summit a 4,000-metre peak!
The Breithorn climb, which took place in June of 2022, was a part of Switzerland Tourism’s 100% Women Peak Challenge. It involved 80 women from 25 countries, from all backgrounds and walks of life – including an Indian professional skier, a French singer, a Canadian travel blogger, a South African philanthropist, an Iranian mountain guide, to name a few. Even our guides, organisers and photographers were all women! With each other’s support, we made it to the top and no one was left behind.
The objective of the expedition was to raise the profile of women in outdoor sports and encourage women to push their limits and reach new heights. This is why, when I was invited to participate a few months before, I said yes right away, because it aligned so well with my love of adventure and my passion for championing female empowerment and leadership.
Pressing on for positive impact
The global climate crisis and the epidemic of violence against women are the two issues that keep me up at night.
75% of women in developing regions are in the informal economy, engaged in insecure and precarious forms of work. This is because women make up the larger share of the agricultural workforce, especially in Asia, and tend to have access to fewer income-earning jobs to escape poverty. As a result, whenever a crisis hits, it is women who bear the brunt of it all.
HER Planet Earth focuses on conservation and sustainable agriculture – supporting elephant sanctuaries in Africa, helping women farmers in Vietnam, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Philippines become more climate-resilient – while Women on a Mission partners with organisations providing entrepreneurial and life-skills education for women living in conflict-prone areas such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Rwanda and Sudan.
Our expeditions have allowed my teammates and me to explore some of the most beautiful and inhospitable places in the world. We have traversed the world’s largest caves in Vietnam, fat biked across the frozen Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland, ridden semi-wild horses near the Altai region of Mongolia, and climbed many mountains in Africa, Europe, Central Asia and the Himalayas.
To date, we have embarked on a total of twenty expeditions, hosted fundraising events with thousands of guests combined, and raised US$1.7 million for non-profit organisations serving the underprivileged, with a focus on women’s issues.
In December 2022, Women on a Mission is taking an international delegation of 17 women to Manila in the Philippines, to learn how the International Justice Mission is helping protect children from online sexual exploitation. The trip will end with a hike to the beautiful Mt Pinatubo crater lake, just a few hours outside Manila.
Building resilient female communities
Historically, women have often been excluded from workplaces, social spaces, and business networks. Now, things are changing. Female networks are getting established all over the world. There are few things as satisfying as being a part of a circle of women, however small or large it might be.
Even though women are most vulnerable to climate change, they are also a huge part of the solution. Empowering, educating, and investing in women is one of the best ways to mitigate climate change, especially when we help women build livelihoods that are eco-friendly and in harmony with nature.
Over the years, the community of women we’ve grown via Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth has taught me a thing or two about creating such networks. Here are some of the ingredients that I’ve discovered make for strong all-female communities:
- Standing up for each other – Being advocates for the women around you builds strong relationships with trust at their very foundation.
- Shining a spotlight on those doing great work – Being generous with praise and encouragement is important for the empowerment of the women in your community.
- Being generous with networks and information – Recently, I came across a book that reinforced my philosophy of being a giver. In Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant describes three types of people in the world:
– Givers help others without expecting anything in return
– Takers like to get more than what they give
– Matchers help others to get back equally
He found through his research that Givers succeed in ways that create a ripple effect influencing the success of others around them. So, choose to be a Giver and this will lead you to build stronger relationships and many more allies.
- Working towards a bigger common goal – This helps create an overall sense of purpose and meaning and ensures everyone is on the same page. Internal synergy is crucial to a group’s growth and ability to collaborate and, in the long run, makes for more dedicated and impactful communities.
Thinking about the journey ahead
My mission to build a fairer and more equitable world doesn’t end here. While I continue to support philanthropic initiatives, I now want to use the power of finance to have a greater positive impact on our planet.
This is why I’ve recently joined the board of the venture capital firm Investible to support the launch of their global climate tech fund in Singapore. Focusing on the six sectors the UN has identified as critical to combating climate change, we will be investing mostly in APAC-based start-ups through the 100% dedicated impact fund. 50% of the companies backed by Investible’s Climate Tech strategy have at least one female founder, a trend we hope to maintain in the broader APAC region.
I believe the biggest problems in our world need trillions of dollars to fix. So, if we are going to make lasting and significant progress and tackle the challenges of our planet, we need corporations and investors to drive the solutions.
Thanks to the interconnected community and strong ecosystem we have here in Singapore, it’s been easy to network and collaborate on initiatives that I am deeply passionate about. My husband and I are both entrepreneurs, and Singapore has been an ideal base for people like us to start businesses and test new ideas.
The city has also been a wonderful place to raise my four children. As a family, we enjoy the safety, warm weather, and cosmopolitan community we interact with in Singapore. I love the lush equatorial vegetation here and going for long hikes around MacRitchie Reservoir Park, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the Coast-to-Coast Trail or the Southern Ridges. Plus, it’s always such a joy to fly in and out of Singapore, given we have one of the best airports and airlines in the world.
The adventures of life have taught me a lot, and I’ve collected some of these reflections in my recently published travel memoir, Wild Wisdom. The book retraces my journey growing up in the Philippines and France, working on multiple continents as a young professional, and founding two non-profit organisations that support women via expeditionary travel all over the world.
Indeed, there is real power in putting what you care about at the centre and at the core of your life, so that it ends up shaping your career and life story and becoming something bigger, something that matters.
My hope is that my journey, told with all the honesty and candour that I could find in my heart and in my memory, can inspire others to take their dreams into their own hands, find their purpose and go for it fearlessly, without limitations.