After Bellagio/

Mary Robinson and Connected Women Leaders

Founded in 2017 by Pat Mitchell, Ronda Carnegie, and Hafsat Abiola, Connected Women Leaders (CWL) is an organization that convenes international cohorts of distinguished thinkers. 

With an intersectional approach to collaboration in leadership, CWL is tackling the world’s long-standing threats, such as economic inequality and climate change. The group convened at the Bellagio Center in 2019 and 2022. Among the leaders at both convenings was Ireland’s first female president (1990-1997) and Chair of The Elders, Mary Robinson. 

Here, former President Robinson shares her experience of partaking in the CWL’s convenings at the Bellagio Center, during which time she reiterated the urgency of the climate crisis and challenged all in attendance to join forces with a single common goal: to make the planet safe for all future generations. 

The second time I went to Bellagio was in 2019. Pat Mitchell, whom I’ve known for a long time, invited me. I went with intent: to emphasize that tackling the climate crisis requires a climate justice approach. Climate justice insists that solutions to the crisis not only reduce emissions but do so in a way that creates a more equitable world for the communities most vulnerable to climate impacts. Right now, I think it’s important to harness the trust that exists between women leader networks and young people to tackle the climate crisis together because there’s very little trust in our world. There’s a deluge of fake or grim news every day that people don’t know how to address. 

During the CWL convenings at the Bellagio Center, there was a diversity of experiences and perspectives. When I talked about why we need the climate justice approach, it connected seamlessly to the subjects we were already discussing, like health and food security. There was an inherent capacity to understand the intersectionality of these issues, which I really appreciated because it’s not always there. 

I wanted to express to the women leaders at the meeting the extent of the many injustices involved in this issue. The climate crisis affects the poorest countries and communities, small island states, and indigenous peoples – who are the least responsible. This is a racial justice issue, because these are black and brown people. There’s also the great gender injustice: women have less power, less influence, and there are fewer of us at the top tables. Some women lack rights, such as land rights, and yet they have to keep putting food on the table and making their communities resilient, which they do despite all of these handicaps. 

Then there’s intergenerational injustice and the injustice that comes from our different pathways to development. Industrialized countries built their economies on fossil fuels. Our task now – the just transition – is to honor the workers in coal, oil, gas – and, in my country, peat – but also to say, “that time is gone now, you and your communities must be part of the future.” And we can help developing countries by providing them with the technology for clean energy. That’s a transfer of technology, skills, and investment. 

Then there’s the injustice to nature, the loss of biodiversity, and the extinction of species. And unless you’re grounded in that sense of injustice, I don’t think you get the right approach, which is bottom-up; it’s very diverse. The climate justice approach hears and respects the voices of those most affected. The Northern Hemisphere is being affected now, but the Southern Hemisphere has been affected for decades. So, they have far more experience, knowledge, and awareness. We need to bridge that gap between knowledge and resources. 

Thanks to the CWL, we have access to both. I found that the organization is impactful in its own right, due to the wealth of networks in its community. The women leaders were open to the idea of climate justice and its relevance to tackling the climate crisis. The founder of CWL and my friend, Pat, found the convening particularly instructive:

  • We have to create a moral force of persuasion through connection, amplification, discussion, and funding - and always from the bottom up.
    Pat Mitchell
    Co-founder, Connected Women Leaders

That’s one of the things that’s helped with my climate justice work: strong, diverse networks. It’s the strong bond that Pat, Ronda, and Hafsat have created. There was such enthusiasm for a hands-on approach at the convenings.

At Bellagio, I was very passionate about delivering the message of climate justice because I felt that the CWL is the group to make things happen – due to their inter-connectedness and the wide-ranging influence they have with many international women leaders. They had an influence on my own thinking. I was talking about a “moonshot mentality”, but I got pushback because space exploration – Kennedy, the Russians, Sputnik, etc. – was and continues to be fraught with competition and machismo. I had to go back to the drawing board and come up with something more feminist, more akin to collaboration. The sheer intellectual diversity of this group, and the process of talking with them, modified my thinking. 

  1. First, let’s make the climate crisis personal in our own lives. Let’s each own the problem. That means doing what we weren’t previously doing, like recycling more efficiently, using different transport, and even adapting our diet. We all need to change our behavior to meet this crisis. There are lots of apps now to calculate your carbon footprint. 
  2. Secondly, get angry about those who aren’t doing enough. That’s governments, but it’s also the fossil fuel lobbies and the financial sector. It even includes towns and cities that haven’t planned well.
  3. Thirdly, and most importantly, we have to imagine the world that we need to be hurrying towards. With a cleaner, healthier world, cities will be wonderful places to live in. They will have farms and gardens and the air will be wonderful; meanwhile, the rural countryside will be rewilding. This will mean returning to a proper connection with nature, which indigenous peoples have been telling us is so important. 
  • We have to create a moral force of persuasion through connection, amplification, discussion, and funding, and always from the bottom up.
    Mary Robinson
    Council, Women World Leaders

To solve the climate crisis and climate injustice, we have to work together, without hierarchy and without ego. And without all the things that promote macho approaches to the climate issue, like particular technological approaches that aim to reinvent the world in a way that might help the rich in the short term, but could be devastating to the poorer parts of the world. We must always be aware that the most important thing is to ensure we have a safe future for the next generations. 

Our objective is to create moral pressure on those who are resisting change – that means governments and investors who are locked into fossil fuels. These things are detrimental. They’re destroying us. We have to create a moral force of persuasion through connection, amplification, discussion, and funding, and always from the bottom up. 

Explore more

We’d like to thank Mary Robinson and CWL for their continued contribution to the network. To find out more about their work, read the Connected Women Leaders at Bellagio blog, or visit the CWL website.

For more information on Mary Robinson’s climate work, explore the archive of the Mary Robinson – Climate Justice Foundation, which ran from 2010-2019.

You can also read more about the CWL founders Pat Mitchell, Hafsat Abiola, and Ronda Carnegie.

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