Ripple effects and revolutions – women leaders in climate and biodiversity: Make Change Happen podcast episode 21

This episode of the Make Change Happen podcast brings together three women leaders in the climate and biodiversity sectors to discuss the positive effects of having women in leadership positions at every level.

Article, 07 March 2023

IIED’s ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast provides an opportunity to hear our researchers and guests discuss key global development challenges and explain what we are doing to support positive change. 

In this episode, launched to coincide with International Women’s Day, an all-women panel share the transformative change driven by women as they take on leadership roles at every level – from remote rural villages to international conventions.  

Hosted by James Persad, director of IIED’s Communications Group, this podcast features Ritu Bharadwaj, principal researcher in IIED’s Climate Change research group; Omaira Bolaños, director of the Latin America and Gender Justice programmes at Rights and Resources Initiative; and Ivonne Higuero, secretary-general of CITES

Participants discuss what women leadership looks like, why spaces must be created for women leaders in climate and biodiversity, and practical measures to make this happen. 

Ripple effects driving societal change 

Around the world, girls and women play a critical role in caring for biodiversity and managing the risks of climate change. Yet their role as stewards of nature and champions of climate action often goes unrecognised, and they are largely overlooked in decision-making spaces.  

Women still face barriers to access these spaces and to take on leadership positions, argues Omaira Bolaños, especially women from marginalised backgrounds such as Indigenous, Afro-descendant and local communities. These women are often invisible in places where decisions to advance action on climate and biodiversity are made.  

Yet the balance of power is shifting. Women engaging at higher advocacy levels is creating a ripple effect that will support nature conservation while also improving gender equality worldwide, shares Ivonne Higuero, the first woman – and woman from a developing country – to have been appointed secretary-general of CITES.

And the ripple effect created by women leaders is driving transformative change, including from the bottom up.  

Ritu Bharadwaj describes how women in the remote rural village of Dumardih in Jharkhand province, India, are putting themselves forward to lead social protection programmes that help the poorest families build resilience to climate change. Technology and knowledge exchange plays a significant role here, for example through the IIED-led CRISP-M tool that provides reliable, easy-to-understand climate information.  

Successfully piloted in 18 villages in India, women using the app – who become ‘climate friends’ − use this real-time information to help their communities manage climate risks.  

Through technology access, these women are growing in independence and ambition, in turn inspiring younger women and girls to see themselves as leaders and change agents of the future. 

But mobilising change needs money and women-led organisations, particularly grassroots organisations, tend to receive very little finance from donors. Omaira shared how the Global South Alliance, led by women organisations from the global South, is driving efforts to scale up climate finance for women and girls from Indigenous, Afro-descendant and local communities.  

With access to finance women can engage and participate in climate and biodiversity action and assume the role of leaders, from village level programmes to national and international policy design.


Head and shoulders photo of Ivonne Higuero

Ivonne Higuero is secretary-general of CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. She is an environmental economist with a career spanning 29 years in international organisations focusing on sustainable development. She is passionate about demonstrating the economic value of biodiversity to spur investment in nature.

Head and shoulders photo of Omaira Bolaños

Omaira Bolaños is director of the Latin America and Gender Justice programmes at the Rights and Resources Initiative. She has over 25 years of experience working on topics related to Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendant communities’ collective tenure rights, gender justice and women tenure rights, and sustainable development.

Head and shoulders photo of Ritu Bharadwaj

Ritu Bharadwaj is principal researcher with IIED's Climate Change group. She has worked extensively on social protection, climate resilience (policy, planning and finance), forest and watershed management, resource conservation (water and energy efficiency, renewables and circular economy), livelihood and gender issues.

Head and shoulders photo of James Persad

James Persad (host) is the director of the Communications Group at IIED. He is a campaigning and communications expert. Prior to IIED, James created and led the charity FareShare’s campaign to tackle childhood hunger during the holidays, which led to the partnership with Marcus Rashford MBE, and subsequent funding of over £600m to date for holiday and activity funds for UK children.

How to listen and subscribe

The ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast provides informal insights into IIED’s work to create positive change and make the complex issues we face more accessible to wider audiences. The title refers to IIED’s 2019-2024 strategy, which sets out how IIED plans to respond to the critical challenges of our time.

The podcast is also available on IIED's YouTube channel.

You can follow some of the people you have heard in this episode on Twitter at @JamesNPersad@ivonnehiguero, @OmaBoca and @RituBharadwaj16. Follow the podcast on @IIED_Voices for all the latest updates.