In this episode, we spoke to Christine Amour-Levar, author of Wild Wisdom, on how she has created her dream life, leveraging opportunities to make a difference.
Co-founder of two award winning NGOs, author of Wild Wisdom – Life Lessons from Leading Teams to some of the Most Inhospitable Places in the World, a consultant and soon a VC partner. It seems like there is nothing Christine Amour-Levar can’t do! In this episode we learn how chance meetings can change the course of your life, building movements step by step, and what it takes to be a Good Business.
In this conversation we learnt…
– Christine’s background and how chance meetings inspired her to start her two philanthropic organisations (01:23- 20:00)
– How to start a movement (20:12 – 21:45)
– The basic equation of good business (29.00- 31:00)
– The process behind her newest book, Wild Wisdom: Life Lessons from Leading Teams to some of the Most Inhospitable – Places in the World (34:13 – 40:58)
“Made us understand that privilege comes with responsibility.” (14:34)
Having grown up in the Philippines with a French-Swiss father and a Filipino mother, Christine has been made aware of her privilege from a young age. Her mother always encouraged her to give back and this learning has stuck with Chrstine. When presented with the opportunity to make a difference, she grabbed it with both hands, using her years in corporate marketing and PR roles to help her NGOs grow.
“I realised that when you put effort around any kind of movement or initiative, you have to put effort every single day, even if it’s a little bit, and it does add up to something.” (20:12)
Christine debunks the myth of overnight successes and instead espouses the importance of building something step by step. Despite early momentum for both Women on a Mission and Her Planet Freedom, it took constant effort to have the impact they have today. Rejections are part of the process.
“So if they’re trying to authentically and genuinely shoot to try to fix those issues, and then for sure, they’re doing the right thing, and they’re good companies, but it’s not an easy fix.” (30:24)
When discussing what makes a “Good Business”, Christine believes that it starts with ensuring that “you’re not harming the planet”. Long gone are the days where just having a CSR team is enough. Organisations are required to evaluate their entire product cycle and business model. Whether it’s building sustainable products, reducing emissions or having strong labour practices, businesses need to look at the whole picture.
“But you know, we all need hope, right?” (33:38)
Christine shared that certain studies have shown that “when you are doom and gloom about the climate, the climate crisis, you completely remove the incentive for people to make an effort.” So, instead of criticising individuals, organisations or governments, we can encourage them to do more of what they’re good at. As such, she works to create positive stories, in her consulting work as well as in her book, Wild Wisdom.
“We rise by lifting others.” (42:57)
Similar to our favourite quote at Launchpad, “the rising tide floats all boats”, Christine is also inspired by the impact of helping others. It isn’t just the feeling of fulfilment of helping a friend, supporting your community or giving to a charity, but giving back advances you and makes you more successful in life.
Women on a Mission
Her Planet Earth
Wild Wisdom Book
Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
Lucy Bennet Baggs, founder of Force For Good
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Chris Edwards (00:04)
Hi, Christine. So happy to have you on the podcast. Welcome to the show. I’m so looking forward to having a chat to get
Thank you so much, Chris.Yeah, me too.
I think we’re in for a really juicy conversation. I so admire your journey. I mean, you are a true multi hyphenate and the founder of multiple NGOs, a consultant. an author and an advocate, a mother to four, is there anything you can’t do?
Christine Amour-Levar (00:31)
There’s so many things I can do. I have very long bucket lists. But, but yeah, I definitely try to grow in and challenge myself along the way. So maybe that’s why I’ve done a few different things in my life.
Chris Edwards (00:45)
I feel like you’ve created, really, the dream life, Maybe we can start there. You know, maybe you can share with our listeners, you know, your story and what you’ve done. But you know, reading about you and researching you for this interview today, I feel like you’ve just created this dream, experience based life where you’ve had real impact and real change and, and doing these wildly adventurous trips. So yeah, maybe you can share with our listeners.
Christine Amour-Levar (01:16)
Your journey. Thank you, Chris. So first, firstly, thank you for asking me on the podcast, I was really honoured to get your invitation.
And that’s a big question. You’re asking me but of course, it feels good to hear you say that, that you feel that in some way. I’ve created a dream life, you know, and I’m very grateful for the life that I have today. But it certainly wasn’t I would say all by accident, there’s been a lot of luck involved. But there’s also been a lot of hard work behind it. So I can tell you a little bit about my journey if you’d like, you know, audience.
So I’ll start from the beginning. I was born and raised in the Philippines. This is really the country that pulls at my heartstrings. I spent the first of the first 18 years 13 were spent in the Philippines, my mother’s Filipina my father is French and Swiss. And so in the middle of those 18 years, I spent five years in France, also growing up near Paris and then came back to the Philippines. I finished high school in the Philippines and did the IB diploma, which my children are also some of them have done as well. And then I went to university in Japan. That was not my idea. I was dreaming of going to Paris for University and my father had different ideas. He thought that I should learn a different language and he thought Japanese, this was in the 90s.
I’m giving my age away a little bit.So I went to university in Japan, went to Sofia University, a Japanese university in Tokyo, took a business degree Business and Economics degree and did a minor in Japanese. It was an incredible experience, very humbling. I had to learn Japanese from scratch because I hadn’t taken it up in school. Growing up, I grew up with four languages. And as you know, the Philippines being an English speaking country, because it’s an ex American colony. We speak Tagalog as well. So my mom insisted that we children learn Tagalog. And while I spoke French at home because my parents spoke French together. My mother had gone to university in France. So she spoke fluent French when she met my father. And then I picked up Spanish, I studied Spanish intensively. So arriving in Japan, that was my fifth language, not easy, really from scratch. And then I ended up spending six years in Japan. So I did my four years of undergrad. And then I started working in advertising, a very exciting industry for an American ad agency called McCann Erickson.
And then, just to fast forward a little bit, so that agency was handling the account for a company that I adored Nike. And so I was able to meet the client. And that led to a job in the United States in Oregon. And that was a dream come true for me. Because growing up I was so passionate about sports. I played multiple sports, but especially football, or as the Americans call it soccer. And so, you know getting the opportunity to work at the world headquarters of a company like Nike was really mind blowing to me at a tender age of 23. I arrived in Oregon and never had lived in the US.
Coming from a big city like Tokyo to quite a small town actually. Portland is a small town of at the time it was 1.5 million people. So that’s smalI, I would say compared to Japan definitely. I ended up working at first on marketing initiatives that are related to Japan. So, where I could use my Japanese and then as they grew other Americans region, the which included Canada and Latin America, they were signing up a lot of football teams and they realised that was also my sport. They asked me to join the Americas region as the one of their youngest PR Public Relations Manager. So I was in a company that I loved and worked very closely with the sport I loved. I love football.
Well as, as they were acquiring assets all over Latin America, including the Brazilian national team, you know, travelling all over the region with my marketing team. So I was in marketing with a fantastic group of people, and then moved to France with them. And then later on to Singapore. So I had many opportunities with Nike, I worked for them on and off for about 11 years, I left for a couple of years, went back to school in New York, did something a bit more creative, did an interior design degree, and then ended up working for a couple of years with Philippe Starck in Paris. And then rejoined Nike when an opportunity came up in Singapore, to run their marketing here. So that’s how we came to Singapore almost 17 years ago, it seems like another lifetime. Yeah.
Yeah, I know that feeling well. So then from there, you’d left the corporate?
After joining Nike in Singapore after a few years, there were a lot of changes in my personal life as well. And I will talk about a bit later about my book, but I will talk about that part of my life as well, where I divorced after 10 years of marriage, and then I really wanted some big changes in my life.
And then I met my current husband, who is an entrepreneur, and he encouraged me to do things that were a bit more entrepreneurial. So I left Nike, around 2008. And I started a retail business. I had a Brazilian boutique in Singapore for about three and a half years on Orchard Road, because I had done business in Brazil, with Nike, so I speak some Portuguese as well. So I started importing Brazilian clothing and retail. It was difficult. It was not an easy business. Very humbling again, you learn a lot about people in terms of how they shop.
So, I sold that business after three and a half years lock, stock and barrel didn’t make much of a profit. But I was quite happy to escape unscathed and unscratched from that experience. And that’s about the time I got into philanthropy. And that is the time that I call my tipping point in my life.
I met a mountaineer, a French mountaineer called Valerie Buffy, who later became my co-founder of my first nonprofit, as she was about to climb Everest. And I bumped into her. It’s a very special story to me. I get emotional when I tell this story, all the time, because it was a regular Singapore day, a sunny day, I was picking up my children from the French school. And I bumped into the lady who was always a woman that attracted me because she had a very athletic demeanour about herself. How she walked with purpose. And I was drawn to her. But I didn’t know her very well. So I stopped and chatted and she said, I’m going to be away for seven weeks. And I said, really? So are you going to France for a special holiday, I thought. She said, Actually, I’m going to try to climb Everest. And that just floored me. You know, having gone through a divorce where I turned a lot of my energy to the mountains to gain strength. I spent time climbing in the Alps and the Himalayas alone.
As I was going through my divorce, that, you know. Her telling me that she was going to try to climb Everest and I had read many books about Everest. I knew how dangerous that was going to be. And she’s a mother as well. She was a mother at the time already.
That made the hair on my arm stand. And I remember coming home to my husband and I said you won’t believe I met this woman. She’s a mom, and she’s going to climb Everest, and he could see my eyes were shining, you know,
Just for me at that point in my life, it just, it just impacted me. So people will meet somebody on the street like that, and we’ll just walk on with their day. It won’t impact them the same way that for me, it really shook me. And I followed her climb very closely. I even got in touch with her husband who had a satellite phone because at the very end, you couldn’t communicate with her. She was using satellite phones, etc. And she summited Everest on the first tribe. And on the summit of Everest, she had the banner for a charity called Women for Women International, that supports women’s survivors of war. And it said, bearing the flag for women everywhere. And that really touched me to see her bravery and her defiance of fear, to raise a flag for other women who had gone through so much, you know, survivors of war. They’re some of the most marginalised women, I still get emotional when I tell this story. As I said,
When she came down, she told me all about this beautiful charity. And I knew then and then that I had to support this. And this is how Women on a Mission was born. Because together with another partner, we set up women on a mission to take our first group of women to climb to Everest base camp, which is not the summit of Everest, but it is a very challenging climb up to 5400 metres in Nepal. And we did that together with a group of friends, nine of us in 2012. So 10 years ago exactly this year, and we ended up raising $150,000 for women’s work for this charity.
Through events and through our community. I put my marketing hat on. And I wrote a press release called Women on a mission to reach higher ground. Straight times picked it up. We got invited to the media court for a radio interview. The girl who interviewed Michelle Martin, who’s a well known radio presenter here, at the end of the interview, said, I’m coming with you.
Two weeks before we left, she joined us and she barely had time to train. But she did so well. And this is how it started. So that’s kind of how my first NGO got set up women on a mission. It’s been 10 years, and it’s been 11 expeditions. In over a million US dollars raised. We’re all volunteers by the way, we don’t pay ourselves anything. This is the business model that I chose with my co founders.
Oh, wow. And why climbing for women on a mission?
I love sports, right. So I met another mountaineer obviously, she also loves sport. She was a French gymnast in her youth. And I love sport. And as I said, you know, when I went through my divorce, I turned to the mountains a lot. I did spend quite a bit of time in Switzerland, because my father is also Swiss. So when we were children on holiday, we did spend time in Switzerland, visiting my grandparents. And so there was an affinity with the mountains. But I had never done any serious mountaineering until I got divorced, or I started climbing in the Alps, and in the Annapurna range in the pile, and then meeting Valerie solidified my desire to do more climbing, because I found it’s so therapeutic being in nature. Nature gives you strength, the mountains give you strength, and it’s so soothing, you know, and it’s so empowering.
And so because we have this common passion with that, we’ll use that, you know, because doing something daring like that, and courageous makes people may be more open to donating to a charity in your name. And we are not reinventing the wheel. Many people do marathons and different sports activities to raise funds. So we just branded it a little bit different to create a story around it, we did exclusively women’s supporting women. And we saw that there was traction in our community, people wanted to join us. And we’re asking, you know, as when we came back from Everest base camp, we had so many friends saying when is the next one? When can we join? You know, there was something there, there was something that we felt very early on. Everybody was helping us. We didn’t even have an entity, the American Chamber of Commerce stepped in to help us organise our first events. They sold tickets through their, you know, through their organisation, because we didn’t even have a bank account or anything. It started having a movement of its own.
Oh, wow. Wow. if there’s a will there’s a way. And I was intrigued by your comments about growing up in the Philippines and the role of women in Filipino society. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that? Has that really shaped you and what you’ve ended up doing?
It really has done that. So growing up, you know, I grew up in a very matriarchal society. So my grandmother, my Filipino, Chinese grandmother lived till 101. And she was the matriarch of our family. She had seven children, my mom was her fourth. And there was only one brother, and all the rest of my mom’s siblings were ladies. So I have very strong aunts, first of all, growing up around me who are all very entrepreneurial and opinionated, and, you know. They would kind of create this atmosphere around us of these incredibly hard working women. So around me, I saw that in Philippine society. Actually, along with New Zealand, New Zealand, and Australia, they are actually the country in Asia Pacific that have the most gender equality, they are the most gender equal in terms of a society. So we’ve had two women presidents, Corazon Aquino being one of my heroes. Today, we have many leaders in the corporate world, in politics, even running haciendas, what we call haciendas, or plantation estates. Women are very much leaders in Philippine society. And so growing up I saw that very clearly.
Even though my father was probably the main breadwinner in our family. But around me, I saw many women in business and actually, even in my dad’s company, where he worked for a Swiss company in the Philippines. His head of sales was a lady, his head of marketing was a lady.
So yeah, so lots of examples. And then, of course, I saw a lot of inequality. Also, you know, the Philippines is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia.
So we, you know, I was very blessed to grow up with parents who could afford a nice home and a good education for me, but I also saw a lot of poverty. And it touched me very deeply. My mom always made us aware of the privilege that we had and tried to, you know, take us on projects with her around charitable initiatives always to make to make us understand that that privilege comes with responsibility.
So this is something that I’m in very early on in my life. But I also felt that I didn’t really know what I could do to help. I mean, apart from supporting certain charitable initiatives, I felt very powerless. And maybe somewhere. That was something that stayed with me and resurfaced when the moment was right. The right opportunity. I like to think it was that way, but it was certainly not a conscious plan that I would one day set up a couple of nonprofits. My dream at the time, as I said, was working in sports. That was what I wanted to do early on.
Chris Edwards (15:35)
And tell me how did her planet earth come about?
So it’s a cute story, actually. So I bumped into a French girlfriend of mine who had just gone to Antarctica with Robert Swan, who is a polar explorer. He’s well known. He’s a British polar explorer, OBE for polar exploration. First, both pools so she had met him and she had gone to Antarctica with a group that he had organised. And when I met some her, her name is on her money shell, I had a drink with her at her office, I wanted to hear all about her trip to Antarctica, she was working for Facebook at the time. So I went to the rooftop of their building to have a glass of wine on a Friday. It had just rained, and then it stopped. And the sun peeked out a bit. And there was a big rainbow on top of our heads. And it was so funny, because as we were having a glass of wine talking about her trip, I said, I really want to go to Antarctica, it’s always been my dream.
And then she said, let’s go back, I’ll go back with you. Let’s go together. So we cheers-ed!. And you know, she was so she said, you know, Christina, what you’re doing with women and the mission, I only had women in the mission, then there is such a strong connection with the environment, you don’t, you must do more research around it, you must realise that women are actually the most impacted to climate change. And she was right, I did more research that weekend. And I realised, my God, you know, of the 70% of poor people around the world, there’s one point, let’s say 1.3 billion poor people. 70% are women. Anytime a crisis hits, not just violence and conflict and war, but climate change. Women are most impacted, especially in Asia, where they hold the majority of the agricultural roles. So they are really at the forefront of climate change. And the more I researched them, I realised that we’re also a huge part of the solution because of our strong connection with Mother Earth. And so that weekend with my husband, we brainstormed and he came up with the name, Her Planet Earth, because I said I wanted to do something, you know, I, you know, I’m somebody who likes to put a lot of action behind my initiatives. And I realised that well, what can I do? Right? So I said, I’m, I’m getting some good traction with women on the mission when I do something like that, because I enjoy it and I know how to do it well, but I’ll put more of an environmental spin. And I didn’t want to detract attention from the work we were doing with women on the mission supporting women impacted by violence, because I feel that nonprofits cannot be everything to everyone. You have to be quite targeted and strategic when you do start movements. So I decided to create a similar sister entity called Her Planet Earth. And I called up Songhai and a few other girlfriends who I knew were really passionate about the environment and I asked them to join me as founding partners. And then we started planning expeditions as a way to raise funds. And I started knocking on doors of different charities that had an environmental focus. And actually, I wasn’t very successful at the beginning, because they’re like, who are you? And what do you want? We don’t even need you. And so you know, it’s funny you want to raise funds for charities, but they don’t always just want anyone you know, they who are you, you know, so it took a while. But eventually I started getting things organised as I do sometimes. With determination, I already organised our first trip to the Philippines and island in Siargao. Before going to Antarctica.
Antarctica was the second trip and started raising funds for different nonprofits supporting women impacted by climate change, or environmental NGOs that had programs in place that could help women either become more grow for certain skills that could also contribute to helping the environment like for example, elephant sanctuaries in Africa, where our funds will go to support women to get jobs to care for baby elephants, which are a huge part of the ecosystem, baby elephants that were abandoned and rescued. Other funds went to agricultural programs.
So you know, as I started developing Her Planet Earth, and it’s now five years old, I learned more about those issues and how women were impacted and how some of the eco friendly livelihoods could strengthen their their own security and resilience to climate change by being kind, but at the same time being kind to nature. So that’s how the idea for Her Planet Earth started. So it’s a separate organisation with different partners. We have different charity partners as well. We’ve raised about almost 700,000 US in five years, and I have traction with that charity because there is a growing demand and concern for the environment. So a lot of my teammates and partners are actually a bit younger than me.
They’re more millennials, and they are really determined to find a way to support these causes that help women. And a lot of our work is around advocacy and the message around why it’s important to mitigate climate change. So I do talks around that as well.
Chris Edwards (20:12)
Yeah, cool. And I’d love to know, I mean, what’s your strategy for creating a movement? Like, it’s a very bold thing to try and tackle or create? So how do you do it?
It’s very complicated for me. I realised that when you put effort around any kind of movement or initiative, you have to put effort every single day, even if it’s a little bit, and it does add up to something, because I’ve seen it happen. So for me, it’s like, you have to be sure that you want to do it that aligns with your values, you get people on board who are as passionate or even more passionate than you about it, bring them along the journey. Tell them why it matters to you, and then keep talking about it every day. doing something to build it every day, even if it’s just reaching someone being on a panel talking about becoming an advocate for it, right. And then before you know it, it becomes something bigger. We planned things, we planned events, we ended up being known for this advocacy, you know, but it takes an effort every single day.
And anybody can start a movement. I talk to kids all the time at schools. And you know, if there’s a cause they care about I tell them started now! I wish I had started earlier, you know, a long time to get there because it happened by meeting Valerie, you know, that little tipping point I had? Yeah, but then you realise that when you look back, and it’s been, as I said, 10 years with Women on a Mission and five years with Her Planet Earth, and we’re still very grassroots movements, but it has suddenly, slowly amounted to something. And it’s, and it has opened so many other doors for me- in my consultancy business and my work in my involvement to have more of an impact.
Chris Edwards (21:45)
Yeah, yeah. Great. I like I like that message. And I think you’re absolutely right, a little bit every day. So tell me about your consultancy business.
Yes. So I’ve actually been operating as a consultant for the last nine years. And again, it happened by chance, and maybe by chance, but also maybe because I was working in areas that I was very passionate about. And when you’re passionate about something, you tend to do a good job. So nine years ago, after I came back from Everest base camp, I had met a lady who was going to come with us to Everest base camp, but unfortunately, when she trained, she injured her ankle.
And she kept in touch with us. The team came to our event supported us, you know, what are some of the auction pieces, and she was actually a very successful CEO, still very successful woman. She was the CEO of Temasek Trust, the philanthropic arm of Singapore sovereign wealth fund. And actually she asked me to come into her office one day and introduced me to her staff and actually asked me to work for her. She gave me a few options. And I said, that’s wonderful. Because she I guess she saw that I was so passionate about CSR and I had a more communications background and she saw how was rallying the team on our events, etc. So I ended up working for her reporting directly to her as a consultant for five years here. I had flexible arrangements with her and worked across six foundations, Temasek Holdings, disperses about 2 billion Singapore dollars every year, to their six foundations, they have their own boards and teams. And my role was to run communications for the group. And so that was an amazing opportunity.
So that’s how I kind of kicked off my consultancy business, I worked exclusively for them for five years. And then when my boss took their semi retirement, she is still a director, but she stepped down from the CEO role, I decided to take on other clients and started getting involved in the startup ecosystem. Working with different startups, some of them smaller than others and getting other opportunities coming my way. And over the last four years, I’ve really worked with a range of clients now, in tech,
particularly in food tech in the last couple of years, but also just regular technology companies.
I then suddenly started getting involved with impact investing as well. And that offered an advisory role with a Swiss group, a member of a group of 600 impact investors. And that led to other things as it always does. And I just joined the board of an Australian Venture Capital Group called investable, whose launch. Congratulations.
I just posted on my LinkedIn, they’re a wonderful group based in Sydney and Singapore, and we’re launching a climate tech fund in Asia, they already have one in Australia. So again, aligned with the things that I really want to focus on trying to find and scale up, you know, solutions for the climate crisis through technology. And so that’s kind of how my sustainability journey actually continued. In that way, you know, because working now impacts investing in VC and I’m also joining a venture building group. I haven’t announced it
yet on my LinkedIn, but it will be coming soon. It’s a venture building group called Venture Rock. As a partner for Asia, we are launching very, very soon, but they already have an office in Amsterdam. So this is a venture studio, venture buildings to do where we bring in and incubate amazing startups that are in line again with our values around the climate, but not just climate, other solutions around wellness, FinTech AI, we have a whole range of startups that are going to be joining our studio here. And there are already many of them in Amsterdam.
To help, you know, again, find those innovative solutions that will help hopefully, humanity and the planet. So yeah, wow, I really enjoy the opportunities that have come my way.
Chris Edwards (25:49)
Yeah, phenomenal, what an exciting space to be involved in. And I want to ask, you know, with the climate crisis, where do you see the change going to come from? Is it going to be from people or corporations or entrepreneurs? Or do you see it coming from governments?
I like to think that it’s going to come from all areas, because it needs to come from all those areas, if we’re really going to make a big dent in our emissions. So our biggest problem is that we’re emitting way too much
in terms of trying to keep those temperatures below two degrees from the Paris agreements that we’ve set, because beyond that is actually the time where the glass years will disintegrate and sea level will rise to a point that is uncontrollable. So this is where we are finding ourselves. And we basically have about eight years to try to turn that around. So it’s very urgent, and people who are in the business will maybe be more aware than others. But even the students in schools are more aware of it. Now, I sometimes do talks to children. And when the last time I did a talk at 12 year old asked me how long do we have left, you know, that’s also the anxiety that they’re feeling so, so it is really going to have to be around government, corporations, individuals,
venture builders, venture capitalists, because those technologies, some of them involve deep tech, which are very capital intensive, and high risk, because we’re not sure they’re gonna work or not are applicable commercially. So there’s a lot of facets, and I’m still learning a lot from it, to be honest, but it’s so interesting. And last night, we hosted an investor event at 1880, where we talked about deep tech, and we had the professor from NUS, who works on those kinds of deep tech IPs, explaining to us some of the challenges. But obviously, the Singapore government is quite forward thinking in that in that sense, and they are really trying to create this ecosystem and investing in in technologies that will have an impact, because we are very, very precariously positioned as well in Singapore being an island and sea level rise is a big issue for us.
Chris Edwards (27:58)
Yeah, 100% Yeah, it’s a very interesting space. And I feel like we’re already seeing a change. And that speed of change is increasing. But yeah, I suppose I think you’re right, in that it needs to be the actions to come from everyone on all levels for us to meet the targets. Now just switching gears a bit, we have a lot of entrepreneurs that are going to be listening to this podcast. I’d love to ask you, what do you consider a good business? So what do you think business needs to really do in today’s day and age?
Absolutely. Yeah. It’s a great question, Chris. So I often ask myself that, and I know we’re going to talk about my book. But I actually talked quite a bit about that in my book as well. It’s not just about my life lessons from expeditions. So for me, the first thing for any business to be considered a good business is that you’re not harming the planet, meaning that you’re using resources in a sustainable way.
And that’s really already a big point that is not achieved by a lot of companies. So that is the first one. So it’s a very basic equation, right? It’s like, what are you putting out into the world? And does it harm our environment? Does it harm human beings? Are you you know, that talks to the supply chain that talks to labour practices as well. So you know, so many companies are now trying to do a much, much better job. I mean, Nike, the company I worked for, for many years, was caught red handed. I don’t know if you remember this, Chris. But they had a big crisis at Nike. It was maybe in the late 90s, where it was shown that they were using suppliers in Pakistan making their footballs that were using child labor. And so even though they were not a Nike office, these were suppliers. So all these practices. After that time, a lot of companies looked in the mirror and really started to look at their whole supply chain. Firstly, are they treating people fairly and humanely?
because it’s still not the case everywhere. And then also, what are we putting out there? What’s the waste we’re putting out in the environment? And what’s the and now more and more? What’s the plan for when you sell the products? And the consumers don’t want them anymore? Because it’s still our responsibility, right? What happens to the shampoo bottles? And what happens to the things that people discard then throw? Sorry, it’s a slightly bigger answer.
And I know that it’s not easy for a lot of companies that operate today to be considered a good business. But for me, it really has to start from those ideals. So if they’re trying to authentically and genuinely shoot to try to fix those issues, and then for sure, they’re doing the right thing, and they’re good companies, but it’s not an easy fix. And it’s something that a lot of companies now are looking for ways to almost pivot their businesses because they realise that, you know, they are putting plastic out there from their products, they are polluting, maybe the waters with some of the chemicals they’re using. So there’s a lot of questions right now and actually speaking to consulting firms next week about this, who are building their sustainability practice, because companies are looking for answers too. They realise that they need to look at their whole product cycle. It’s not just the marketing and you know, that you can put out there and say, We’re doing this CSR program, or we’re going to try to, you know, do better with our packaging, it’s not enough. Now, it’s, you really have to change the business model, actually.
So this is something I’m really focused on, actually, because I feel, again, that we need to move the needle there, because these big corporations are also part of the solution, and they get it right.
Yeah, 100%. And I feel like there is very much an awakening across all levels of business and, and consumerism. And I feel like perhaps it’s happening a little bit faster in some countries, and, and I feel like it’s a little potentially a little bit slower in Singapore.
Christine Amour-Levar (32:05)
So Singapore is an interesting one, because on one side, we’re still incinerating everything. There’s not much recycling. You know, I’m also on the board of zero waste SGA, a local Singapore charity that looks at exactly this question, how are we, you know, reducing single use plastic etc. So we’re definitely not doing very well in this area. And yet, in other areas, it’s become a hub for food tech. So you know, agriculture and food put out about 20% of emissions around the world. So Singapore in line with its 30%, by 2030, trying to produce 30% of its food production by 2030 has suddenly become a food, the food tech capital of the world as it released, it gave very good regulatory approval for the sale of cultivated meat recently, I also worked with that company as a consultant. So they are doing other things that are very visionary in terms of looking at alternatives to our current food system, which is not sustainable, where slaughtering billions of animals that use way too much land that we, you know, we raise forest down to grow corn and soy to feed the animals that we need. So the way we’re doing and the way the population is going towards 9 billion we’re at, we just hit 8 billion. Now, our food system is not sustainable at the moment. So they’re doing some good work around there, they’re looking at science, they’re looking at different technologies that could be decarbonize, cement that can absorb co2, etc. And yet other times, we’re not even doing the basic right, which is recycling using less plastic, you’re banning plastic bags and supermarkets etc.
But you know, we all need hope, right? So we can criticise governments or we can encourage them to do more of what they’re good at. So my view is, we need more hope. We need more positivity. It has been proven that when you are doom and gloom about the climate, the climate crisis, you completely remove the incentive for people to make an effort. So other people never have that. And I think we also need positive stories out there. And maybe that’s one of the reasons I wrote my book as well.
Yeah, well, let’s, let’s talk about your book, while wisdom life lessons from leading teams to some of the most inhospitable places in the world. I mean, what a great title. Yeah, tell us what was your motivation or your goal for the book?
So actually, wild wisdom is my second book. I wrote a book 10 years ago called the Smart Girls handbook to being mommylicious. Which I Oh, that’s right. Yeah. That was a lot of fun. I worked with a cartoonist, and it was a book obviously, about post pregnancy, diet and fitness, and let you know how to get your groove back, have some personal stories about my four pregnancies, and of course, more, most importantly, not giving up on your dreams when you become a mom, right? Which is something that I really, you know, realise was that easy even for me. So I wrote that book and it was self published by an arm, an arm of Penguin called Partridge publishing, which is their self publishing.
I had a wonderful experience during that little book, you know, launched it in Singapore. And then basically after going on a few of these expeditions, I kept taking notes. And I kept writing little articles. And sometimes they were published in the straight times about our trip. Or sometimes I worked for a time writing for Forbes. So I published them there, and you know, different publications. So I kept a little folder with all these stories from our expeditions. Because in the end, I’ve ran, as of today, I ran almost 20 expeditions. And so when the pandemic hit, and we were basically grounded, I had that little folder in my desktop that said, book number two, and I opened it up. And I said that maybe this is the time to actually put pen to paper and finish this project that I’ve been thinking about for a while, and really bring out those lessons from these expeditions. So I started writing it. And I had about 40,000-45,000 words. And at first, I wasn’t really sure what to call it, my working title was ‘empowering the pack’, which was more about the team, the team leadership, you know, around taking teams, you know, on expeditions. it was gonna be more about leadership, in particular, and then at the same time, I got a message on LinkedIn, from Penguin, out of the blue, I hadn’t even thought about looking for a publisher. I hadn’t made a list of publishers I hadn’t hadn’t even gotten to that part yet. I got a message on LinkedIn by Nora Bakar, who’s the publisher for penguin IN Southeast Asia. She sent a very nice message saying, I see you’re a speaker. Because I have put that on my LinkedIn that I did a TEDx before. And she said, I’m sure you have a story to tell. And would you like to write a book? And I said, Oh, actually, I’m writing a book. And she said, Well, what’s the book about? And I said, it’s about leadership. And she said, We don’t need more books on leadership.
It’s really more of a travel memoir. I said, it’s a memoir. And she said, Well, unless you’re Michelle Obama, we’re not interested. So I said, Okay, I said, nevermind, I had budgeted a little bit anyway to self publish, you know, because I HAD done it before. So I said, that’s fine. You know, I’m gonna go back to my book. And she didn’t give up. You know, she was very good. She kept in touch by messaging me. And then we switched to WhatsApp. And she said, you know, Christine, your unique selling proposition is that you’ve taken all these women on these crazy trips. And you know, we look at it as a business, wouldn’t you want your story to reach a wider audience, we think that you should focus on your expeditions. And you can just make, you know, one expedition per chapter and really pull out those life lessons that could appeal to a broader audience. And then I spoke to my husband, and he was like, Well, that makes sense, right? Because it’s free and it’s Penguin, what are you waiting for? So then I actually took a weekend to relook at my whole outline. And I came up with the title of wild wisdom, because I had used that on a keynote I had done a couple years before,
and I thought, okay, that’s gonna be related more to the expedition’s. It makes sense. So I resubmitted an outline. And then within two days, I got a contract from them. Oh, wow. And then what happens when that? I don’t know if you’ve ever? Maybe you’ve written a book already? Chris, I don’t know. You have?
No, I haven’t written a book. No.
If you say with a publisher like that, they give you a deadline after that. And they say, Okay, you must submit your 60,000 words by this date. So I had my work cut out for me, they had approved more or less my outline, I had compressed my two first two chapters are basically my life memoir in two chapters, you know, a little bit like the story I just told you about
my values, etc. And then it goes into women on a mission, her planet Earth and expeditions. So I did that I submitted the 60,000 words, and I didn’t hear from them for like four months. And I thought, Oh, my God, I’m rejected.
And then I found, like, oh, they were like we had COVID. And the editor had COVID, and whatnot. Then finally, I got the first edit, which came with a three page email on how to improve the book and lots of little notes on every single paragraph of the book and how to make it better. And they said, We want you to turn this around in three weeks. Are you kidding me?
It’s quite a journey, I tell you, writing a book with the publisher.
And so I had to wait, I asked for an additional week because I said three weeks is just not gonna cut it with everything else I’m doing. And I woke up at 5am Every single day to work on this, and I submitted an additional 23,000 words, you know, at the end, because of all the other work I had to do, and I changed a bit of the chronology to make it more, you know, make more sense, and they helped me kind of weave a little bit a with a thread across the chapters, because before that, they were a little bit like standalone chapters. They didn’t really, yeah, so they were really good. The editor they picked me for is wonderful, and I mentioned her in my acknowledgement but she really helped me find my voice. But I had to work hard. So they wouldn’t take it and write more of it themselves, but they don’t. You have to do all the writing and make it better.
Can you please improve my book either? No way. It’s like, can you please describe how you’re feeling right here and explain what was going on in your mind. And why did this happen? And so you have to do all the work. And then it’s after that they do a little bit of the, you know, they use a penguin uses a US and British English. So they have a special kind of combination US/ British English. They use a certain kind of grammar. So they do the tweaking after that once you’ve done all the writing.
Chris Edwards (40:48)
Yeah, I bet I bet I will. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Maybe you could go. I love that. I’d love that. I love that.
Yeah, okay. I would love that. That would be amazing. And yeah, it’s amazing, you can fit all of the things that you’ve learned into a book too. I imagine that would be part of the talents, right?
Still lots to learn! Learning is a lifelong journey, isn’t it? And of learning.
Chris Edwards (41:16)
Oh, yeah. I mean, totally. Me too. always learning, always learning, which is a good thing. Right? So I’ve got one question for you. Before I jump into some rapid fire questions, but of all the things you’ve done, and all the things that you are doing, what are you most proud of?
Christine Amour-Levar (41:38)
Well, definitely without a doubt. And I often say this to people that what I’m the most proud of is the community that we built with Women On A Mission and Her Planet Earth and the impact we’ve had, even though in the scheme of the world, it’s maybe just a drop in the ocean. It’s still something and I’m so proud of it. It’s really my legacy, I feel and my team’s legacy and my partner’s legacy, because it’s worth, it’s not just me, it’s a whole team behind this amazing group of women who have become such dear friends over the years, I have so much respect and love for them. They’re my tribe, you know, so. So that is probably what I’m the most proud of, of course, I’m a mom as well. So my children are my, my, my everything. I have four children, two of them are now living in London, and two are in Singapore. And I’m so proud of them.
And I’m excited about what’s next in terms of my career now where I’m suddenly finding myself in finance. It’s quite exciting. I never thought I’d end up in finance and venture capital building and in the VC space impact investing, where I really can see that finance can be a force for good and can help me have more impact in the direction that I want to impact the world in. It’s an amazing discovery. And it’s an area I’m learning a lot about, and also working with really talented people in the space.So yeah, so so that hopefully answers your questions.
Chris Edwards (42:57)
Oh, it does. It does. Oh, it’s so inspiring. All right, let’s jump into it. I know I can’t keep you here all day. But honestly if I could, I would. So I’ve got about five rapid fire questions to round out on chat today. Firstly, do you have any business advice or mantras that you live by like?
I put it on my Instagram and I often bring it up on my keynotes is “we rise by lifting others.” It’s such a simple quote, and I don’t even know who said it, it’s not me, it’s someone it’s out there. You know, on the internet, we rise by lifting others. It’s so true, because I’ve seen it in my life time and time again. You know, you try to do your best to help a friend, to help your community, to help a charity. And suddenly you’re rising not just because of the feeling of fulfilment that it gives you but it actually advances you and makes you more successful in life. And
I feel all the opportunities. One thing I forgot to tell you is that all these opportunities, and maybe you realise that when I was telling, you know, the story of my consultancy work is that I’ve never had to look for work. It’s always come to me, and I feel very grateful for that. But I also feel it’s because I put my passion really at the heart of what I’m doing. And I’ve developed a brand around that, you know, some sort of brand around that, that, you know, I care about female empowerment and I care about the environment. It’s simple things but they’re important to me. And as a result it has attracted work in this space in some capacity. And so the quote, ‘We rise by lifting others’, I feel I’ve risen thanks to the passion and the work that I’ve done to try to make a difference. So I live by that and I think and I can tell every single one of our listeners you the more you do for others to empower others, and I don’t mean being a carpet because I talk about that in my keynotes too, It’s use via giver support people be open with your network, your your social capital, your experience, but you know, there are people who take advantage of that right so you have to be smart
You have to be smart with your giving. It’s not just giving and being a carpet letting people walk all over you, you have to also be careful about the intentions of others. But if people need help and support, give it with a generous heart. And so much will come to you so much will come to you. I’m living proof of that.
Yeah, I think you are too. And I feel also as you get older, you, you, you test this in life, and you you go and be generous or give your time or help someone out. And you get so much back. And I feel like that’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve had in the last five years has been how much joy I get from helping others and creating things.
And also working on things that are aligned with your interest and your values. That’s also a big one, you know, when opportunities come your way you can evaluate them, you see how you feel in your gut and in your mind as well. But also make sure they align with what you care about, and what you know, what are your values? Does it make sense for you, you have to be smart about choosing that because you’re going to put time and energy around it right. So make sure that you feel comfortable and you’re aligned. And then if the alignment is Good, you’ll be more successful, you’ll be better at it, you’ll be happier, happier doing it, etc, etc. It snowballs into ripple effects of positivity.
Chris Edwards (46:20)
Okay, tell me which of these expressions hits you more: luck favours the open mind or fortune favours the bold?
Christine Amour-Levar (46:35)
I think Fortune favours the bold. Definitely bold for me means being courageous. And taking chances and you know, not being too afraid to try things that are making you uncomfortable. And if you don’t do that enough, you stay very comfortable in your small circle and you don’t grow – miss out on so many opportunities. I really believe that. So be bold, be brave, you know, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You know, every time I go on an expedition, I’m always a little bit afraid. And it’s a good thing being uncomfortable when I take on new challenges. Be very aware of what you know. And you don’t know. That’s okay. Right? That’s okay. I mean, there’s so much we don’t know, it’s the capacity to learn that is important. So definitely connect more to that one.
Oh, I love that. Okay, and what does community community mean for you and your business?
Community is everything. And I’m a big believer in collaboration. And actually, I’ve been talking about collaboration now as I enter the VC venture building space and venture capital space, because Singapore is a very small ecosystem. So I believe in collaboration and community with my nonprofit work, which has been part of its success, I feel, you know, having that community of supporters and friends and family who have helped us raise money and come to our events and support the women who come on my trips, but I also see it in business. And community is very important. You know, collaborating, co investing in initiatives that we feel could be good and could have an impact. And so I hope to do a lot more of that in the venture capital and venture building world. And that’s very much my philosophy. So as I said, I’m already involved with one Venture Capital Group called Investable. And then another I’m joining a venture building group from Holland called Venture rock as they’re one of their partners for Asia. And so I believe that we should continue to collaborate and my aim will be to do that very much. So in many capacities, not just investments, but in partnerships, in communication in support for different ventures. I will try to instil that spirit.
Chris Edwards (48:38)
Hmm, yeah. I love that. And I think it’s so valuable for entrepreneurs at every level, you know, there’s so much you can create through collaboration and community. Do you have a favourite business book and we will, I’m gonna guess I’m gonna guess.
Might be Let my people go surfing. We were talking about Patagonia earlier.
I did and I love that man. Actually. I’m a huge fan of what Yvon Chouinard has done with Patagonia, of course. But there’s so many other, you know, good ones out there. Malcolm Gladwell is also one of my favourites, the outliers. It’s a great book, to find a lot with what he says about outlet outliers, people who are a little bit a little bit on the edge. Definitely, if you haven’t read that one. It’s excellent. Simon Sinek leaders eat last.
There’s so many good ones. You know, I have I don’t know if you can see behind me, but all this there is all my library. And oh, yeah, my favourite books, of course. But I have a lot. And I have a lot of
Oh, that’s good. There’s some good ones there. And my last question is at Launchpad. We believe a rising tide floats all boats very, very similar to your mantra. But do you have an entrepreneur that you admire that we should invite onto this podcast?
Christine Amour-Levar (50:00)
Oh, of course. I have many depends on what kind of area you would like to, you know, to explore, you know, because you, I do know, many entrepreneurs and obviously I work with a lot of startups too. So these are all amazing founders. Yeah, hearing in particular that, yes.
So I mean, the podcast is called good business. And I, you know, my goal of the podcast is to highlight people who are creating businesses that are good for people, planet and profit line. So I’m really looking for entrepreneurs that are leading the way in Asia.
There’s this great business worked with, actually for a little bit of time, during the pandemic.
So she’s a founder of a company called ‘Force for Good’ – Lucy Bennett Baggs, she’s British. And she has been a serial entrepreneur because she also had another business in Hong Kong that brought corporations on expeditions to raise funds for charity. So that’s how we connected because we had that in common, but she was doing it more as a business. And she would take much bigger groups and both men and women, so she would take hundreds of people from Goldman Sachs, Barclays and all that. And she has also started a white labelling app that helps companies connect their CSR with their employees.
So you should check her out and obviously happy to introduce you. She lives here. So she’s a great and inspiring leader. Oh, thank you. Thank you, Christine. That was amazing. It’s been such an honour to spend the last 50 minutes with you and I could keep going and I could.
Christine Amour-Levar (51:31)
I’ll give you my book. How about that?
I’d love that. I’d love that. But yeah. Are you such an inspiration? Thank you so much for sharing your story today. I’m really, really, thank you. Yeah, wonderful. Okay, thanks.