Sustainable Leadership for Sustainable Development

It’s not often that we consider one of the most important traits of a leader to be “sustainable”. However, the question of sustainability is a growing concern in leadership. It is not enough to have just one good leader—but rather, a generation of good leaders. This is how change happens.

AIESEC is an organization dedicated to developing young leaders to enact this sort of change by offering international volunteer and internship opportunities, and providing experiential learning experiences for youth. One of the most important traits of good and effective leadership is fostering it in others.

According to the Brundtland Report in 1987, the official definition of sustainable development reads as follows: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Casting this vision forward to the future, what will the world look like by 2020? As individuals, we must realize that we have the power to influence with each purposeful action. So, what can we do, collectively, in 2015, to make the world a better place?

One of the largest organizations in the world, Unilever is leading the way by having taken a commitment to put sustainability at the core of its operations. Through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, the organization aims to achieve three big goals by 2020:

  1. Help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being
  2. Source 100% of agricultural raw materials sustainably;
  3. Halve the environmental footprint of its products across the value chain.

Source: Unilever Project Sunlight


The Guardian quotes Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman on challenging the corporate status quo, “I don’t think our fiduciary duty is to put shareholders first. I say the opposite. What we firmly believe is that if we focus our company on improving the lives of the world’s citizens and come up with genuine sustainable solutions, we are more in synch with consumers and society and ultimately this will result in good shareholder returns.”

The root of Polman’s focus for Unilever is sustainable development in order to make the world a better place. Indeed, the goal is to act and carry out operations in such a way that allows the future as much potential as the present. As a result, leaders–youth or otherwise–can both take and create opportunities for their peers.

As AIESECers, we believe in changing the world for the better by working together and developing leaders — an initiative that lends itself quite easily to the sustainable initiatives of organizations such as Unilever. Through collaboration and synergy, the phrase “making the world a better place” might not seem so frivolous.

At the end of this month, AIESEC will be holding two important international, regional leadership conferences in Europe and Africa–both of at which representatives from Unilever will be present.


EuroXPro is the largest gathering of AIESECers for the Central Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and North America regions. It is to be hosted this year in Portugal for the first time with approximately 350 expected delegates, and will have the honour of the participation of António Casanova, the current CEO of Unilever Jerónimo Martins. On a similar scale for the African region, AfroXLDS will be hosted by Kenya for the first time and Marc Engel, current EVP East Africa & Emerging Markets, will be present.

Conferences are excellent opportunities for collaboration amongst different entities and external organizations. What’s more, both conferences will serve to bring together a multitude of young people in the name of fostering effective and sustainable leadership–in order to create sustainable development in their own communities.

In order to truly create change in the world, as Unilever has demonstrated, it is essential to create and nurture sustainable development. And sustainable development is only made possible through the empowerment of sustainable leadership.

AIESEC and Unilever are united in this mission: to bring these key messages regarding sustainability and leadership to young people. It is the first of many steps in order to changing this world, and to make it a better place.

Aspire to Lead: Why Confidence is Necessary for Women’s Leadership

Startup Stock Photos

On March 8th, International Women’s Day opened up a multitude of conversations about the value and role of women in society today. But while it is one thing to sit back and congratulate ourselves on having come so far, it is quite another to realize just how much better we can be, and furthermore, take action in order to make that change happen.

It is time consider how to empower and create leaders to drive the gender equality debate further. There is a gap in regards to women in leadership. According to UN Women, in the corporate world, only a measly 5 per cent of the CEOs leading the Fortune 500 companies are women. Likewise, in parliament, only 22 per cent of those participating are women.

These are intimidating numbers. And yet, studies and quotes have continually shown that breaking down the barriers of gender equality and allowing for the inclusion of women are not merely altruistic for the company, the society, and the nation, but also highly beneficial.

Women and men, alike, need to take the stand—to be bold, speak up, and take action for change. Ask yourselves, what would you do if you were not afraid?


Last month, PwC hosted their second global “Aspire to Lead” webcast centred around this very question, in the efforts of giving women the confidence to lead. The webcast featured Mike Fenlon, PwC’s Global and US Talent Leader, Eileen Naughton, Managing Director of Google UK and Ireland, and Claire Shipman and Kathy Kay, authors of The Confidence Code.

It’s a double-sided issue. Women are fighting against stereotypes on both fronts, that from society, and that from themselves. We are all familiar with how society views women and how that needs to change. But here, we confront a different side of the coin: how the way women view and portray themselves have tremendous impact on their role and potential to be leaders.

It is becoming increasingly clear that people—women and men alike—need to move past their fears and embrace confidence. This is the first step to take in embodying the traits of a leader, and also the first step towards breaking down gender barriers.

As Nora Wu, PwC Vice Chairwoman and Global Human Capital Leader, so candidly asks, “If you do not have confidence in yourself, how can you expect other people to have confidence in you?” Here are some valuable lessons from the webcast and various leaders in PwC.



 Confidence is taking ownership of yourself and your skills. It is being willing to step forward despite a self-perceived lack of confidence. It is knowing what you can do to make a difference and not being afraid to be different. Confidence is purpose, and it is motivation. Such confidence is what makes leadership possible.

Taking risks

This is the only way in order to grow in leaps and bounds. If complacency is the mark of a wasted life, then taking risks is the mark of a productive one. Having the confidence to take risks means taking purposeful action, and thereby informing your sense of self and others’ perception thereof. Creating yourself as a leader is a risk in and of itself. By pushing yourself to contribute, grow, and evolve in today’s fast-paced society, you are cultivating your potential.

The typical trend with women has been that they tend to be more passive. A speaker mentioned in the talk how women are only willing to apply for a position if they feel they have 100% of the qualifications, whereas men would be willing if they felt just 60%. Women should take initiative for themselves as well.

Know yourself

The advice “be yourself” might be a bit cliché but clichés have their root in truth. According to the Harvard Business Review, people become leaderships by internalizing a leadership identity, and thereby developing a sense of purpose. This sort of self-awareness is invaluable for any individual—when you know what you want, what you don’t, and what is important to you, you become much more effective and productive as a person.

Speak Up, Step Up, Be Resilient

Fear should be nothing but motivation to overcome it. Leaders are not scared to make impressions, to ask questions, or to learn. Confidence comes from building up resilience over time, being able to bounce back from problems and challenges over time. After all, we can have a lot more to learn from our failures than our successes.

Leaders should not be afraid of going out of the comfort zone, doing things differently, innovation. If one has the passion and ambition, one simply has to step forward and look for the opportunities, the people, the resources, and make it happen.

Share successes

This is arguably one of the prevalent strengths of the gender equality movement—that individuals are given a voice and a presence where they didn’t have one previously. It gives them a story, and what’s more, a story worth sharing. This is the backbone of solidarity movements like HeforShe, organizations such as Lean In, and campaigns such as #NotThere (by the No Ceilings initiative).

The point here is to let others know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and why it matters. Only then, can the impact be unleashed, through telling the full story.


The world has begun to realize that this is not so much a gender problem as it is a human problem. Now, more than ever, it is all about the equal value of every individual, and resulting equal opportunity. Indeed, today’s quickly evolving society fosters a culture of growth, in which opportunities abound.

For the gender debate, it is hugely important to discuss how the unbalanced proportion of opportunity is slanted towards the male population, yes, but it is also equally important to empower women towards taking action for themselves.

“Aspire to Lead” focuses on this very issue—raising awareness has been done, many times. There has been a plethora of different discussions and exchanges of ideas. Now it is all about confidence and the resulting proactivity. By collectively taking ownership and taking action, we become leaders who can propel people forward into a more inclusive, accepting society.

For more information about PwC’s Aspire to Lead series and to watch the recent ‘The Confidence to Lead’ webcast, click here.

Other resources listed in this post include:
Confidence Code
HBR Article
Lean In

Let’s Take Action for Women, Everyday

Contributed by: Tala Mansi

If you have seen the hashtags #Makeithappen, #GoGirl, #IWD2015, #SHE flooding your Twitter and Facebook, you have probably figured out today is International Women’s Day. Around the world today, we celebrate women and the progress we have made in gender equality as well as looking forward to making more real changes to enhance the livelihood of women.

International Women’s Day is celebrated in many nations around the world, and 2015 marks the 107th year that we commemorate this day.

International Women’s Day defined by the UN on their official website is:

“…a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.”


This year marks a special year for International Women’s Day, on which we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the creation of the first and most advanced guide for advancing women’s rights. Created in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference for Women, The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is a comprehensive blueprint for advancing the rights of women, signed by 189 countries.

This week until March 20th, the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women will be taking place at the UN HQ, bringing together representatives of Member States, world leaders, and various NGOs from all over the world to attend the session focused on implementation of gender equality initiatives.

The fight for gender equality has been one on the forefront with many global campaigns and online discussions by various organizations in the private and public sector in order to shed light in a new way on the existing gap between men and women, creating massive global awareness and inspiring a movement for gender equality

Some recent notable ones are:

  1. Always #likeagirl (launched during 2015 Super Bowl)
  2. Pantene, #ShineStrong
  3. UN Women, #HeforShe, brought to light by Emma Watson

Is awareness enough? What tangible progress have we made on gender equality? Let’s zoom in on 4 key areas.


All developing regions have or almost achieved gender parity in primary education – but the gender disparity widens at the secondary and tertiary school levels in many countries.
(UN Women)


Since 1995 across the globe, girls and boys are enrolling in primary school at almost equal rates, which is incredible progress. On the other hand, the gap between the two widens at the secondary school level.

Annually, AIESEC, one of the largest youth leadership development organizations aimed to provide experiential learning volunteer experiences to young people, facilitates the process of youth providing children and youth access to education by working NGOs and various schools across the globe to enhance the quality of primary, secondary, and high-school education. In 2014, 17,000+ youth went on volunteer and professional internships in the area of education.


25 women CEOs lead Fortune 500 companies today, compared to only 1 in 1998 – but this is a mere 5% of CEOs on the list.
(UN Women)


In politics, the number of women serving in legislatures has nearly doubled since 1995 — but that still only translates to 22% of women in parliament today.

Approximately 60% of AIESEC’s global membership of 70,000 are women – providing a platform for women from an early age with practical leadership experiences to discover their passions, purpose, and potential.

Recently, at AIESEC’s Global Leaders Summit that took place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the global plenary of 126 countries and territories elected the next president of the global association, Ana María Saldarriaga. Ana is the first Latin American woman to reach presidency, and a native of Medellin, Colombia.

“When I applied for President, the concept of me being a woman didn’t even cross my mind. This is precisely what it should be for all women out there. Every decision I have taken in the past has never been limited by my gender, where I come from, or my status. I would like to see a world where labels don’t matter – where you come from and your gender should never define you.

I would like to inspire a generation of young people to not inspire people to dream for a better world, but to inspire a generation to work for a better world for every person. Well done is better than well said. The world needs more doers, the more people who take action.”



2 billion people gained access to clean drinking water from 1990 – 2010 – but women still spend 16 million hours per day collecting water in 25 sub-Saharan countries.
(UN Women)


Women play an important role in water management in developing countries, often times having the responsibility to fetch clean water for their families for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and washing.

This difficult and time-consuming task limits other opportunities, such as pursuing education. There has been progress made on this burden for women between 1990 and 2010, as 2 billion people gained access to clean drinking water. In rural Benin, girls ages 6-14 spend an average of one hour a day collecting water compared with 25 minutes for their brothers. (source, UN Water)

Convenient access to water also reduces the chance of women being sexually assaulted or harassed while gathering their water, as they will no longer have to travel to dangerous places to fetch basic resources.


In 1993 the UN General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against women provided a framework for action on the pandemic. But more than 20 years later, 1 in 3 women still experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner.
(UN Women)


It’s difficult to determine the full scope of the problem, as very often, cases of violence against women go unreported. Living a free life without violence is a basic right, and unfortunately, also something many women and girls across the globe have never experience, being subject to violence by their home, community, and or war existing in their country.

Ending gender-based violence is one of the key priorities of UN Women. It is an issue that has no exclusivity to developing nations, and is widely a pressing challenge in developed nations. According to the UNODC’s global study on homicide, it is estimated that of all women killed in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members. UN Women has gathered the key facts and figures on the issue, examining many dimensions such as sexual trafficking, genital mutilation, and the cost of violence.

The consequences of women experiencing violence are long term, affecting children who can suffer behavioural and emotional disturbances, or improper care leading to malnutrition and disease, social and economic costs to society as women become more isolated when they have the inability to work and loose wages.

Since 1995—a decade ago—we have made incredible progress in the areas of education and access to clean water. However we still have a long road ahead for gender equality, especially in the areas of leadership and violence against women. Today, discrimination against women still remains.

Today is a day that brings energy and voices to the commitment to achieve equality between men and women, inspiring us to do more to empower the world’s women, and to do more to ensure that women are never held back from discovering their fullest potential.

As we look beyond International Women’s Day, let us remember that international awareness is not enough; to make real change we need to make a commitment to global action to make significant progress towards gender equality.

UN Women’s Message on IWD15

In her message for International Women’s Day 2015, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says gender parity must be reached before 2030, so that the sluggish trajectory of progress that condemns a child born today to wait 80 years before they see an equal world can be reversed. She calls on all countries to “step it up” for gender equality, to reach ‘Planet 50:50’ before 2030.

“Empower women,
empower humanity.”

Join us in celebrating the inextinguishable spirit of women. This International Women’s Day, tag and appreciate the special women in your life. ‪#‎SHE‬.

International Women's Day AIESEC #SHE