Homeward Bound - Helen's journey for the planet (and penguins!)

By Helen O'Connor

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HomewardBound - women in leadership

In June 2019 I heard I was successful in my application to join a small group of women in the 5th Cohort of the global HomewardBound Programme.  I'll join 80 women on a 12 month leadership programme.  The women come from around the world, have  a science, engineering or medical background, and all have a passion to bring women into more leadership roles to tackle the global challenges facing our planet - such as climate change, environmental degradation, and gender inequality.

The world is facing a series of challenges

The world is facing a series of challenges which are almost unprecedented.  The pace and impact of climate change has led countries and communities across the world to declare #climateemergencies.  Sea levels are rising, extreme events are becoming more frequent or more intense, temperatures are increasing, air pollution damaging the health of us and of our children.  I have always believed that we need to address these issues and I've done what I can to take action.  

The HomewardBound initiative provides me with an opportunity to grow, to take my passion and experience and make a bigger impact, support a bigger change and make a more sustained contribution to protecting the planet's future.  This is a 12 month programme which will culminate in a 3 week voyage to Antarctica - this taking place at the same time as the 26th International Climate Change Conference where the world will take stock of progress to reducing emissions but importantly, aim to create a new, enforceable climate change agreement.  

What is HomewardBound ?

Over 10 years, HomewardBound aims to create a 1000-strong global collaboration of women in science and empower them to take up leadrship roles to influence policy and decision-making and shape the future of our planet.

The 12 month program develops leadership, communication, visibility and strategic capabilities and culminates in an intensive three-week expedition to Antarctica.  Here the women will focus on addressing the complex problems facing the planet, and developing creative solutions.

Science touches every part of our world, and will shape every part of our future.  Globally, women hold somewhere between 9 - 24% of global executive roles in Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine and Maths (STEMM), despite their recognised ability to more effectively collaborate, to be more inclusive, share a legacy mindset and care for assets (people and money).  HomewardBoud recognises the many barriers contributing to the low representation of women in leadership positions - including family commitments, lack of visible female mentors and role models in leadership positions, and discrimination and bias that occur in the workplace.

It takes the passion, experience, vision and commitment of women in science and enables them to work together to share and build their skills and capability to work collectively for the greater good.

What will I be doing?

I will join a 12 month programme which will see me commit 25 - 30 hours of my personal time for learning and development.  This will include:

  • Monthly virtual meetings with participants from across the world;
  • Key leadership diagnostics and coaching;
  • Personal strategy and visibility tools;
  • Working as part of a number of "theme" teams - teams that address agreed issues of global concern such as climate change or water pollution;
  • Building skills for giving and receiving feedback, creating effective teams, collaboration, managing difficult conversations, dealing with stress, personal resilience;
  • Develop approaches to science communication strategies.

What will I do after the course?

I plan to use what I've learnt in a number of ways:

  • Step up my leadership skills in my workplace - using stonger communication and strategic skills to help deliver the climate shifts needed;
  • Pass on my knowledge to others - in particular through talks in schools, community groups and other institutions;
  • Joining the growing global movement for gender equality and continue to raise the voices of those most vulnerable to climate change in debates - in particular women and children.

You can help me in delivering the changes we need to protect the planet for us now and for the future

The total cost of this year-long programme is approximately £26,000 per person.  Of that, approximately £12,000 is subsidised via in-kind contributions.  It's up to individuals to then raise or pay for the remaining £14,000 as well as cover costs of flights and carbon offsetting (HomewardBound is committed to offsetting 100% of the carbon footprint in getting to Antarctica).  

I'm asking for help and support in raising this money or some contributions in kind (for example, clothing which could cope with Antarctic weather!) - whether you wish to donate to my personal campaign by selecting an amount or choosing a specific item, or whether you wish to share ideas or suggestions on how you might help.  

I have set myself a goal for 2020 - to try to reduce my carbon footprint by the amount which the trip to Antarctica itself will generate.  This has already seen me take an 800 km journey to work by land and sea! My efforts to reduce will be in addition to the offsetting.  I'm also working with colleagues around the world to use this opportunity to highlight the amazing work of women and girls in Africa, Asia and South America who are spearheading work on science and policy which is generating the changes needed.  

Finally, I have teamed up with the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) who do lifesaving work around the UK, Ireland and the world - including teaching women and girls to swim and decided that in 2020 I will do two things - I will split any funds I raise through chuffed this year with them - at least 50% going to RNLI and 50% to my fundraising.  If I can reach £2000 in total, I will donate another £500 to RNLI when I come back from Antarctica.  Secondly, I need an additional challenge - to learn to swim in the sea, in the atlantic to be precise! I'm overcoming my fear of cold water and will be aiming to swim the 1.6 km around Sandy Cove Island in Cork, Ireland on my birthday in July.  To get there I've got to get in the water!   So, please help me and please help them!

I look forward to sharing my journey with you.

Thanks for reading!


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Team Members

Helen O'Connor

Isobel Medway