Meet Christine Amour-Levar, a social entrepreneur and climate investor based in Singapore. Her focus over the last ten years has been on raising awareness and funds for vulnerable women via her two NGOs Women on a Mission (WOAM) and HER Planet Earth. HER Planet Earth’s primary objective is to raise awareness and funds for underprivileged women affected by climate change, while WOAM aims to support and empower women who have been subjected to violence and abuse.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
I grew up in the Philippines, surrounded by very strong women. The Philippines is often described as a nation of driven women, who directly and indirectly run the family units, businesses, government agencies and haciendas or plantation estate.
I also became aware of poverty and inequality around me at a very early age. Mum involved us in charitable community activities whenever she could and taught my siblings and me that privilege comes with great responsibility – values that I strive to live by and pass onto my children today.
When I left the Philippines at 18, I went on to study in Japan for University then had a corporate career in marketing and communications around the world, working for Nike for several years, and finally moved to Singapore 16 years ago with them. Soon after, I set up my first NGO, Women on a Mission with my two friends and co-founders.
It combined our passion for sports and corporate experience, and right from the start, our core objective was to support and empower women via advocacy work and fundraising. We started taking all-female teams to off the beaten track locations around the world as a way to help raise funds for women survivors of war, as well as for women survivors of human trafficking, domestic abuse and other forms of violence and abuse.
And we did this because Violence against women is one of the most widespread, persistent, and devastating human rights violations in our world today that remains mostly unreported due to the impunity, stigma and shame surrounding it.
And, as I learnt more about the myriad of issues disproportionately affecting women around the world, it only strengthened my resolve to champion and empower women wherever I could, which led me a few years later, to start my second NGO in parallel, called HER Planet Earth, to supports women who are affected by climate change.
In terms of role models, I am inspired by women who are brave and generous. Those who aren’t afraid to dream big, but also make it a point to help others. Women who are genuinely kind, thoughtful and compassionate inspire me deeply.
I look up to women like Jacinda Ardern, Queen Rania, Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie, and some of my own friends as well: Executive Director of AWARE Singapore, Corinna Lim; Filmmaker and Philanthropist, Frederique Bedos; Founder of Impact Investment Exchange, Durreen Shahnaz; President of Utah Valley University, Astrid Tuminez; Executive Director of Women for Women International, Brita Fernandez Schmidt and the First Self-Funded Female Astronaut, Anousheh Ansari – to name just a few.
I also admire many of my friends, partners and teammates from Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth, who have truly become my “tribe.” I am so grateful for their friendship, support, and guidance over the years.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
Once upon a time, in early 2012, I had a chance encounter with an incredible woman called Valerie Boffy. This meeting changed the course of my life.
Valerie started out as just an acquaintance of mine. I would bump into her at the French lycée of Singapore when it was time to pick up the children. She was athletic and walked with confidence and purpose. I was drawn to her energy but didn’t know much about her, apart from the fact that she was French. One day, we got chatting and she told me she was going to be away for seven weeks.
‘Seven weeks! How nice, is this a holiday? Will you be going to the south of France?’ I asked her. She chuckled and said she was going to attempt to climb to the summit of Everest. That response floored me. The hair on my arms stood on end.
Being a mountain lover, I had read many books about Everest, including Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air about three times, which recounts the story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, in which eight climbers were killed and several others were stranded by a storm. I knew how dangerous Valerie’s climb would be, and I was fascinated by her courage and determination. It’s not every day that you meet a woman who is about to climb to the summit of the world, and I felt inspired and excited for her. I followed her climb very closely, on Facebook and also, getting news from her husband who was in touch with her via satellite phone for most of her seven weeks there. She succeeded on the first try and on the summit of the world’s tallest mountain, she unfolded a banner that said, ‘Bearing the Flag for Women Everywhere’ in support of a charity called Women for Women International that champions women survivors of war. Her act of courage hit me in the gut.
To this day, when I think about it, I get emotional. To see someone do something so brave, in support of other women in need—women who have gone through trauma and so much suffering in countries that are ripped apart by the horrors of war—her defiance and courage really impacted me deeply. It was like a wakeup call. It made me realize how lucky I had been in my life thus far. I grew up in a loving home, was lucky enough to receive a good education. I have had so many opportunities in my life and in my career. At the time, I had just given birth to my fourth child. I felt I had innumerable blessings in my life. This realization was an epiphany. I experienced an overpowering sensation. Like a veil had finally been lifted from my eyes. I could now see with a new sense of clarity and purpose, almost as if I had been waiting all my life to be figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do something very unique and meaningful, and tailor-made to my talents. Suddenly, I knew it was time for me to use my skills and experience to give back, to do more—indeed this was my tipping point.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
I believe the biggest challenge that entrepreneurs face is not from the outside. It is the internal struggle. Self-doubt, if kept unchecked, can make entrepreneurs question every decision. High workload and work intensity, as well as financial worries facing their business are at the top of entrepreneurs’ stress list.
One simple way to cope is to ensure you are getting plenty of sleep, eating healthier foods, drinking more water, engaging in regular exercise (even if you’re going on a brisk walk for 20-30 minutes a day), and getting outside more often. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance has been key for me being able to cope with my challenges over the years.
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
The pandemic has made me realize that to drive change moving forward, corporate social responsibility needs to be at the heart of corporations, embedded in their business model, aligned with their values, and not merely part of a separate initiative.
Indeed, research says purpose-driven firms— the ones that place their commitment to something other than generating profits — are more profitable for their investors in the long run. However, theories and good intentions can get tossed aside when stock prices or profit outlooks tip the wrong way. I believe most companies do not lack purpose, they lack the courage, commitment and follow-through to actually live their stated mission.
In truth we need leaders who don’t just support such sustainable initiatives, but who champion them passionately because they believe deeply in their intrinsic value for humanity, the planet and for their organization in the long term.
Leadership for the greater good, the likes of which we haven’t seen for years has been one of the great advantages of the coronavirus pandemic. And while it may be intuitive to return to the way things were as soon as possible, what we actually need to focus on now, is not how things were, but what needs to change moving forward.
As Economics Nobel laureate Paul Romer famously noted in 2004, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” During a pandemic, priorities come into focus, trends accelerate, rules and regulations suddenly become more flexible, leaders pay attention and real change is finally possible.
Perhaps the most important lesson now unraveling is one of human empathy and the urgent need, today more than ever, for more purpose-driven leadership, focused on empowering and advancing others.
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
I am excited to share that I am coming out with a book this September 2022 called Wild Wisdom, published by Penguin Random House.
This is a journey that begins with my early years growing up in the Philippines and France, living through the political upheaval of the People Power Revolution in Manila, attending university in Tokyo and working on multiple continents as a young professional. It touches on my learnings from navigating the heartache of my divorce from my ex-husband and finding love again as a single mother of two young children and being blessed with two more healthy children. The story retraces how I came about founding two NGOs that have as core mission raising awareness and funds for female empowerment and environmental conservation via challenging expeditionary travel, which in turn has led me to explore some of the most beautiful and inhospitable places in the world.
Writing this book has been a wonderful exercise in introspection and has made me realize that everyone should write their story, whether for publication, to just to keep in a drawer or beam up to the universe. There is drama and value in every life. I am convinced that the energy it takes to write and reflect on our opportunities and life choices is, for all of us, an endeavor well worth attempting.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
I often ask myself this question when I look ahead: what kind of future do I want? That answer comes back to me time and time again, loud and clear, without fail: I want a fairer, more just and equitable future, for society and the environment. One where businesses—both companies and investors— non-profits and governments work together more closely than ever to bring ethical, creative, innovative strategies and invest capital to solve the biggest problems of our world.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
Without a doubt, one of the most important lessons from my journey so far has been that true leadership is about empowering and advancing others. It is not about wielding power or being in charge. It is about lifting others up and helping them progress. In fact, one of my personal mottos is “We Rise by Lifting Others“.
I’ve come to realize that good leaders inspire their team, their tribe, their pack – whatever you want to call it – to be a part of something bigger than themselves, something more meaningful and ultimately, more fulfilling. Put simply, leadership helps people grow closer to who they are meant to be. And our ability as leaders is not measured by how much we have achieved in life, but by how well we advance the lives of others along the way.
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
The great challenge of this age is to give a voice to women everywhere whose sacrifices and suffering go unnoticed, whose pleas go unheard. Women are the primary caregivers for most of the world’s children and elderly, yet much of the work we do is undervalued by governments, societies, and corporate leaders. Everywhere around the world today, women are giving birth, rearing children, preparing meals, planting crops, running businesses, and leading countries. Women are also struggling to feed their children, prevented from getting an education, forced into servitude and prostitution, and in some parts of the world, denied the right to vote and own land. This is why, those of us who have a voice have a responsibility to speak up for those who cannot. And we must all recognize that women will never attain full freedom and dignity until their human rights are fully upheld.
It’s so tragic that in the twenty-first century women are still the ones whose human rights are violated, that rape continues to be used as an instrument of armed conflict, that so many women and girls around the world are denied basic rights and still forced into child marriages, forced to have abortions, or be sterilized and brutalized by the painful and cruel practice of genital mutilation. Indeed, ‘women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights’ a phrase first used in the 1980s, and again in the mid-1990s by Hillary Rodham Clinton at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where she expounded on the fact it was time to act on behalf of women everywhere.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
My message to young entrepreneur women is to go after your dreams fearlessly, and push for more diversity, equity and inclusion, because this is how we will build a fairer and more sustainable world all together.
Indeed, to ensure that progress continues, we need to have more women in central and decision-making roles at all levels of society. For this to happen, many more people (both men and women) will need to be convinced that diversity does matter, not just in terms of principle but because it breeds innovation and innovation breeds business success.
Ultimately, diversity is simply vital for any ecosystem to adapt, grow and thrive successfully in the long term. I am convinced that only then will environmental sustainability, gender equality and peace become a true reality.