Seeking Leaders for Global Change

A new era of female leadership for Greenpeace in North America: recruiting Annie Leonard and Joanna

Written by Emily Davila

Having been privileged to recruit for Greenpeace offices all over the world, we’re especially proud of two of our recent recruits. Both executives are female and both represent a new kind of leader for the environmental movement.

Joanna Kerr, Greenpeace Canada’s new executive director, was previously global CEO of ActionAid International, and before that was executive director of the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID).

Like Kumi Naidoo, the anti-poverty activist who is now executive director of Greenpeace International, her appointment reflects a growing awareness by “green orgs” that climate change and conservation are linked to development and poverty.

It’s not just organizational strategies that are shifting, so are the attitudes of the leaders themselves. Many working in global development or even humanitarian spaces see linkages to the issues of climate change and will consider taking a position in what was previously seen as a completely different sector.

Joanna Kerr underscored the connection: “For over two decades I have worked for economic empowerment and human rights for women and the most marginalized people around the world, an agenda now undermined by climate related causes.”

In the U.S., the appointment of Annie Leonard also reflects a new approach by environmental activists. With contentious debates over issues like fracking, the Keystone oil pipeline and climate change, Greenpeace has to think carefully about their campaign strategies and possible new alliances. 

Greenpeace recognizes that it needs new and compelling ways to engage people today. Leonard, who began her career at Greenpeace twenty years ago, just might be able to pull this off. She is best-known for creating “The Story of Stuff” in 2007, an engaging 20-minute animation which shows the social impacts of the “stuff” we buy –- where it comes from, and where it goes when we dispose of it. Still popular today, it has over 40 million views.

As one of the first social justice videos to go viral, The Story of Stuff marks Leonard out as one of the most successful and innovative environmental communicators.  Leonard went on to create an organization and a bestselling book with the same name, and made eight more videos including The Story of Bottled Water and The Story of Electronics.

Indeed, both Leonard and Kerr are externally facing leaders: media savvy and creative, they thrive in public spaces. Increasingly, we are finding that many of our clients are seeking these qualities. There is a move away from internally focused leaders and towards those who are great communicators, strong networkers and able to build alliances to create change.

We’re excited to see what both Kerr and Leonard will accomplish in their tenure and only wish that we could be a fly on the wall when they meet for the first time!

Emily Davila, Head of Research