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.

1 reply
  1. Sergio Aguilera
    Sergio Aguilera says:

    It is always inspiring to read posts like this. Keep on writing about what’s going on AIESEC in other countries so we, AIESECers, can take the challenges back to our Local Committees. Nice work, Jessie! What’s your twitter account?


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