5 incredible, inspiring, powerhouse women — and what they’re doing to change the world

We have already introduced you to some inspirational women working in environmental science, told you the story of two women transforming their local energy landscapes and invited experts to talk about how climate-induced disasters affect women and girls first.

Words

Anne-Sophie Garrigou

Today, I wanted to introduce you to five of the incredible women I have had the pleasure to meet and interview in the last months. Mariama Kamara, Nguy Thi Khanh, Nithya Ramanathan, Ndoni Mcunu, and Cristina Arau are working all over the world, from Sierra Leone, Vietnam, India, South Africa to the Amazon to fight climate change, provide clean energy to remote communities, raise awareness for climate justice, and contribute to improve people’s quality of life — and in doing so, they have become role models for women and girls around the globe.

Mariama Kamara

Founder of Smiling Through Light

“The difference that one light and one empowered woman can make is huge.”

“Growing up in Sierra Leone was amazing and I have many beautiful childhood memories which I will always cherish,” explains Mariama Kamara. That was before March 1991, when a brutal civil war broke out in this beautiful country on the West Coast of Africa. Mariama was nine when she was forced to move from Freetown, in Sierra Leone, to the United Kingdom. “Moving to London was a big challenge for me; apart from the cold weather, I experienced a lot of racism at primary school and during my early years and found it really difficult to adjust,” she explains.

When I met with Mariama, I was instantly inspired by the energy she gives to her organisation and by the enthusiasm with which she was leading her projects. During our conversation, we talked about Sierra Leone’s main challenges, the injustice she experienced as a black woman in business, Africa’s difficult access to finance, and how women are a very important part of the solution to bring clean energy to all. Find her interview in The Beam #7.

Photo credit: LOVE FOR LIFE, Hanna Witte Photo credit: LOVE FOR LIFE, Hanna Witte

Cristina Arau

Founder and Executive Director of LOVE FOR LIFE

“I remember feeling the breath of this rich forest and the pulse of this sacred land. It was nurturing on such a deep level that I only realised it after I had left.”

When I met Cristina for the first time, I directly told her that I was not interested to tell another story of a European company “empowering” or “enlightening” a deprived community. I told her about how this narrative made me feel very uncomfortable. When I finally let her talk (I should have started by that!), her humbleness and modesty completely astonished me. And so we decided to focus on telling the story of the self-formulated vision that four Indigenous Nations, including the A’i-Cofán, Secoya-Siekopai, Siona and Waorani, had on their own energy needs, and about the journey collaboratively working, building, learning and growing together. Read the story in The Beam #7.

Nithya Ramanathan

CEO and Co-founder ofNexleaf Analytics

“For me, ‘leaving no one behind,’ especially in the technology sector, means creating solutions and technological advances that amplify the voices of the people on the ground.”

I met with Nithya Ramanathan at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in Lisbon. She was one of the experts who participated in the discussion around ‘Cooling for All’, a topic that we haven’t really explored in The Beam before.

Millions of people die every year from lack of cooling access, whether from food losses, damaged vaccines or severe heat impacts. Nithya Ramanathan co-founded Nexleaf Analytics to help solve this global issue. Her non-profit provides low-income countries with sensor technologies, and therefore data, used to protect temperature-sensitive vaccines for newborns, reduce air pollution by incentivising cleaner cooking and protect produce for smallholder farmers.

Nithya Ramanathan told me about the importance of using data to contribute to solving climate change issues, what their impacts on the population are, and the challenges that come with them. Find her interview in The Beam #7.

Nguy Thi Khanh

Co-founder and executive director of GreenID Vietnam

“Take whatever innovative action you believe is true and necessary for the society.”

Environmental activist Nguy Thi Khanh has been working for the socially just development of Vietnam and Southeast Asia for almost 20 years, and received the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize for her work to push Vietnam’s energy transition. Ms. Khanh started working with indigenous communities in the mountains area of Vietnam, focusing mainly on local development and women’s empowerment before diving into energy development and advocating for a more participatory approach around hydropower development in the Mekong region. Six years ago she was one of the main drivers to establish GreenID as one of the leading energy think tanks in Vietnam, championing sustainable energy development and climate action. We met with Ms. Khanh in a traditional Vietnamese coffee house close to her office. Find her interview in The Beam #7.

Ndoni Mcunu

Co-founder of Black Women in Science

“It is very important to ensure equal representation in specialised fields as this could bring new and innovative solutions to solving problems and influencing policy.”

“Nine years into my research and academic career, one of the most common questions I hear from family and friends is, “uzoqedanini ukufunda?” (“Will she ever finish studying?”),” explains Ndoni Mcunu.

Ndoni was born in KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, a south-east province of South Africa. “I have always been strongly supported by my family,” explains Ndoni, who is now pursuing a PhD in environmental science with a focus on agriculture, food security and climate change.

We asked Ndoni about the challenges of feeding the growing earth population within the climate change context. We also talked about the importance of raising awareness and providing knowledge about science and research for university students as well as rural women all over the world. Find her interview in The Beam #7.

A word from our Editor-in-Chief:

“I have been so inspired by these women’s stories, and I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to feature their incredible work in our publication. Their interviews will be published in The Beam #7, and despite all the craziness surrounding each new release, it gives me great pride and satisfaction to feature the work of so many incredible women here.”

Subscribe to The Beam today to read their interviews and share their stories to contribute raising awareness about climate change.