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  • Nicole Richards

Leading for the greater good

“Homeward Bound is about leading for the greater good,” co-founder and social entrepreneur Fabian Dattner says simply.

A 10-year initiative, Homeward Bound aims to build the leadership capacity of 1,000 women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine), with the end goal of helping them take up leadership roles across the globe and proactively contributing to a more sustainable world.

“Every single woman has the capacity to be a leader in Homeward Bound, that’s one of our founding principles,” Dattner says.

“I believe that if you create a commonly held strategy and you bring in the right people and give them the tools and opportunities and then you get out of the way, you can create a phenomenon.”

Homeward Bound’s brand of non-hierarchical, global contribution and co-ownership has delivered impressive impact since its inaugural expedition to Antarctica in 2016.  

Every single woman has the capacity to be a leader in Homeward Bound, that's one of our founding principles.

“Nearly 1.3 billion people have heard about Homeward Bound and these women are now leading and influencing dialogue far and wide. These women are incredibly qualified – they are astrophysicists, theoretical physicists, they might be a specialist in monitoring penguins in Antarctica, they might monitor the plastic breakdown in the waters off Britain and its impact on Arctic wildlife. When you sit down at a Homeward Bound table you might be sitting next to the chief physician of the US Army, or the woman who’s leading the UN response to food distribution to Africa.”

Participants take part in an extensive 12-month program which culminates in an expedition to Antarctica, which Dattner describes as “the most remote and impossibly beautiful part of the world. It’s a place that takes your language away.”

We need leadership that is collaborative, inclusive and legacy-minded.

Homeward Bound’s story of ‘ice breakers, risk takers and change makers’ is captured in the documentary The Leadership which will have its world premiere at the (virtual) Sydney Film Festival this month.

Fabian Dattner shared her thoughts and aspirations for Homeward Bound and the newly established Homeward Bound Projects Fund, in this recent conversation.

You’ve built your life’s work around leadership. What does good leadership in 2020 look like to you?

FD: It’s both a simple answer and a complex one. The simple answer is that we need leadership that is collaborative, inclusive, legacy-minded and can be trusted with assets – both money and people. If we were to follow that sort of leadership, it will deliver to human beings the future that we want. But, we’re at a crossroads. The leadership model that’s prevailing in the world is about personal power, self-aggrandisement and competition, and it’s hierarchical, intimidating and predominantly male. In reality, if we stay with this model, we will probably live out the next 50-100 years in rapid environmental decline.

Do you feel that we’re making inroads when it comes to more women in positions of leadership?

I want to say yes, but I’m running a marathon not a sprint. I love Jacinda Ardern and I admire the Nordic countries greatly, but Finland’s population is roughly 5 million people and New Zealand’s is 4.8 million. Contrast that with China and India which both have a population of over one billion and the US which, although its influence is diminishing, still has a population of 300 million. So, if you look at countries that are able to influence the dialogue of the planet, and ask yourself are those countries changing, the answer is no.

I hold hope in one hand and fear in the other. I’m not naive about the challenge and I will continue to help women and men find enlightened paths to leadership until I draw my last breath.

Ultimately, we can solve a problem we have the courage to look at. We’re much stronger together than apart.

Why have you set up the Homeward Bound Projects Fund? How will you use the funds raised?

There are two key principles that explain why Homeward Bound has had such a big global impact.

The first is that diversity of nationality and science are critical to what we stand for. Real diversity and different ways of seeing things. On our first trip in 2016 we had 8 nationalities and 15 sciences; today we have 57 nationalities and 36 sciences.

The second thing is that there is no hierarchical leadership. Homeward Bound has a truly global structure that’s more akin to the structure of the human brain with neurons connecting and firing and connecting to other neurons and stepping up to take the lead. We have a global mentoring program and collaborations happening all over the world because when a participant signs up, they’re joining a 10-year initiative. They own the name Homeward Bound, their email can sign off with Homeward Bound, they can make a presentation on stage in Finland, they can go online and do a presentation to UNESCO and throughout there will be other Homeward Bound participants on WhatsApp sharing research and doing all they can to help. From this comes a storm of global media coverage, generated by the women for the women.

More than anything, we need a funding partner and support that can help us elevate the visibility of these women.

With the Homeward Bound Projects Fund, there are three things we hope to achieve. The first is that more than anything, we need a funding partner and support that can help us elevate the visibility of these women with a global communications campaign.  

The second is a scholarship fund. Right now, we have a strong global Indigenous focus and I would love for somebody to fund a scholarship for an Australian Indigenous Elder to join our faculty, and scholarships for Indigenous women with a STEMM background to take part in the program.

And if I was really honest about the wish list, the third thing I’d love to fund is a CEO position. I donate my time and I can’t pretend to be a good CEO – I’m not a good CEO and I don’t want to be a CEO. I donate that skill but we’re now at such a size that we truly need a funded position.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned about social change?  

Don’t try and initiate a change you’re not personally and intentionally committed to. If you want to be effective, you must know yourself first and foremost and be ready, willing and able to change. You have to change your own behaviour and style before you expect it of others.

Collaborate – create a vision then let it go and be prepared for others to change it and take it forward.

Foster a legacy mindset – no one is out there, as the famous Carl Sagan said, to rescue us from ourselves. Each of us has to live knowing we leave the planet better than when we were born.

And finally, treat every single woman you meet as precious. She has a story tell – listen to her story.

Learn more about Homeward Bound.

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