Cover Cherrie Atilano (Photo: Artu Nepomuceno)

Ahead of Earth Day 2022, we highlight the powerful female leaders amongst Asia’s Most Influential who are leading the fight against climate change

Women and girls bear the brunt of climate change. According to the United Nations, women consist of 80 per cent of the population that are displaced by climate change. While the negative impact of the climate crisis affects everyone, those that are in vulnerable situations—in particular females in traditional roles as primary caregivers and providers of food and fuel—have to pay a heavier price, especially those that are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources. 

To that end, women are the agents of change when it comes to leading the fight for global sustainability. Here, we highlight some of the most incredible female leaders featured on Tatler’s 2021 Asia’s Most Influential list who are making strides in the sustainability sphere. While these women are all in different fields and represent varying approaches when it comes to addressing climate change, they all have a common goal: a healthier future for the planet.

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1. Cherrie Atilano, Philippines

“Eco over ego”—this is Cherrie Atilano’s mantra. Raised by a single mother, Atilano grew up on a sugarcane farm, where she developed her love for land. At the mere age of 12, the eco-advocate began teaching low-income farmers how to plant their own food.

In 2014, the empowering agricultural educator founded Agrea, an inclusive enterprise based in the island province of Marinduque in the Philippines that aims to build the One Island Economy, a replicable model for island economies with zero hunger, zero waste and zero insufficiencies. Agrea has made a name for itself as an inclusive and innovative agri-business. As founder and chief executive officer, Atilano was awarded the UN Global Compact Agriculture Business Excellence Award in 2017.

Even as the world came to a halt during the pandemic, Atilano never stopped her efforts to push for change in the green space. She has been pushing for green recovery with the Philippines Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture. Under the project, the advocate launched a ‘Women Save Food’ campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the lack of prioritisation for women during crises; the initiative also launched a slew of programmes for women to create nutritional diets based on organic backyard vegetables.

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2. Nadine Chandrawinata, Indonesia

Indonesian actress and film director Nadine Chandrawinata harbours a deep love for the ocean. During one of her many ocean adventures, the avid diver was shocked by the amount of plastic she found in the waters around Indonesia and strived to change the situation. In 2008, she was appointed a coral-reef ambassador for Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries—a role that she continues to hold today.

After researching and talking to those who live in coastal towns, she realised that there was an urgent need to educate the public on marine life and what goes on beneath the surface of the water. She thus co-founded the NGO Seasoldier in 2015, which raises local awareness of important environmental issues such as mangrove deforestation, plastic pollution and illegal dolphin catching.

In just three short years, Seasoldier gained a reputable prominence and helped develop a memorandum of understanding with the Minister of Environment and Forestry to support a regulation to stop travelling dolphin circuses, which were banned a couple of years later. Chandrawinata also runs her own tourism business in Raja Ampat, West Papua, which aims to practise and promote eco-tourism. 

3. Susan Chong, Singapore

When Susan Chong launched sustainable packaging company Greenpac in 2002, she had a goal: to turn the industrial packaging industry green by using environmentally friendly materials and reducing waste. The fact that she was a one-woman operation has never deterred her, and instead fed her drive—today, the firm is now a leader in the re-engineering, design and distribution of eco-friendly packaging products and solutions, and counts some of the world’s largest Fortune 500 companies in aviation, defence and biotech as its industrial clients.

One of the firm’s many innovative products include re-engineered wooden packing pallets, which are durable and lightweight, and obtained from sustainable tree farms. Under Chong’s helm, the firm has clinched several awards and certifications for its innovative and eco-friendly contributions.

Besides the eco-front, the inclusive leader also encourages her 50‑strong workforce to focus on the community and environment; Chong practises an inclusive hiring policy in employing ex-convicts as well as people with disabilities. She also picked up sign language to communicate more easily with some of her staff. 

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4. Sasibai Kimis, Malaysia

As the founder of social enterprise Earth Heir, Sasibai Kimis intends to create sustainable livelihoods for traditional artisans in underserved and marginalised communities. Kimis, who gave up her successful career in finance, founded Earth Heir in 2013. The Malaysian luxury craftsmanship brand preserves and showcases heritage craftsmanship by producing contemporary bags, accessories and lifestyle products made with artisanal skills and combined with contemporary designs.

Fair trade certified, Earth Heir advocates for ethical partnerships and conscious living. Through their efforts, the company has impacted more than 500 artisans across six states in Malaysia and is fair-trade certified. Kimis was also an Eisenhower Fellow in the 2015 Women’s Leadership Program, where she focused on the issues of socio-entrepreneurship, ethical fashion and innovation.

5. Ellie Tang, Hong Kong

As the force behind Asian conglomerate New World Development’s sustainable transformation, Ellie Tang is championing climate change by driving the company’s long-term commitment to sustainability into new heights. Tang is the head of sustainability at New World Development and general manager of sustainability at K11 Concepts, where she oversees ESG reporting, environmental management risk management and green financing; she is also behind the New World Sustainability Vision 2030 policy, where the company aims to save energy consumption, reduce waste and engage their employees on environmental and social issues.

Tang was also behind the launch of Hong Kong’s Nature Discovery Park, the city’s first biodiversity museum and sustainability-themed park that focuses on raising awareness about sustainable lifestyle. She is a member of the Hong Kong government’s Environmental Campaign Committee and Green Tech Fund Assessment Committee.

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