Lucy von Sturmer is the founder of The Humblebrag, an impact-driven thought leadership agency committed to business as a force for good. She is dedicated to help change-makers, game-changers and creative innovators to raise their voice, and in a one hour phone conversation, we talked about her deep connection with nature, the consumption generation, and the importance of having bold and brave leaders to help save life on Earth.
What are you raising your voice about?
My personal mission is to help individuals, organisations and brands to make positive impact. To build their visibility and amplify their voice in order to be braver and bolder in what they say and how they act. The issues that I tend to be vocal about are both the climate and ecological emergency, and issues around diversity and inclusion and social justice.
Why those specific themes?
Coming from New Zealand, I have a deep connection with nature and I’ve grown up at a time where consumption has accelerated at a mind blowing rate. A few years ago, I became frustrated with what I observed as a lack of action from institutes and people in power to protect our planet. So sustainability is a big driving issue for me.
As a leader and an outspoken young woman, issues of gender and equality are also quite personal. I want to see more women at the top - and according to the World Economic Forum if nothing changes, it will take 200 years to achieve this.
Recently I read an article on De Correspondent which drew a comparison between racism and climate change. What’s your view on that?
In New Zealand we are taught that when European settlers came there wasn't a word for ownership and property. Māori had a totally different world view; mountains have a spirit for example and humans must act as custodians. In the sense sustainability isn’t a concept, but a way of living. Māori understand that if you pollute the river, then your people are sick. So it’s a logical and necessary way of operating: to care for your environment.
Do you work with leaders who still embody a more capitalist mindset?
I work with a lot of optimistic pragmatists. They’re very focussed on the business case because it’s important to understand the system that you’re in, and I agree. I also find it exciting to support these leaders, and also to challenge and encourage them to be bolder and braver in how they position themselves. People are often surprised by how receptive audiences are when they’re transparent and speak from the heart.
Patagonia and their former CEO, Rose Marcario, is a great example of this. Every time she steps into the light to criticise Trump, or the brand takes an activist stand, their profits go up. It’s clear that there’s a business case for defending your values, as long as you’re consistent. What we've seen in recent weeks is that CEOs and organisations that don't know how to defend their values, find themselves in hot water. I believe that learning how to be outspoken is a critical business skill, and then of course you need to back it up with action.
Can governments and corporates work together to create the necessary change?
We can’t put all of the responsibility on governments to regulate and protect society. Businesses have increasingly taken on a custodian role in society, showing huge power and being able to quickly enact change. In addition, certifications like B Corp are helping a lot of people and organisations to become more impactful, and there’s power in numbers as more companies join this movement.
Leaders can raise their voice in the outside world, but how does that work within their organisation, amongst their own people?
I think it's an interesting challenge. I’ve just landed a new assignment with an organisation that’s a frontrunner within sustainability. Their CEO is so inspiring and outspoken that I often quote them in my presentations. The question from their team then is is: "How can you help our middle management, and those that don't feel as empowered, to raise their voice and be change-makers within our organisiation?"
My first reaction was: If your CEO is so outspoken, then that surely gives you the autonomy and power to raise your voice. But it’s not that simple. A lot of people don't feel connected with the company mission or even their own. So it's really important that leaders encourage a level of trial and error and even playfulness so people can start to raise their voice.
It’s important leaders help employees find their voice; engage with what they're saying; make the vision of the organisation personal. Your employees can be great brand ambassadors, and that’s priceless.
What kind of sound do you think leaders and organisations need to make right now?
I think people are looking for both vision and action. Following the murder of George Floyd, brands have been scrambling to figure out what their response was - and their place within the Black Lives Matter movement.
Those that already knew what they stood for and had impact on, have been much more visible in terms of what they've been able to do and achieve. People want to see what you're doing. Staying silent isn’t an option anymore.
What’s your tip for leaders around the glove?
Realise that you’re powerful. CEO’s are often aware of their power, but others are not. That’s why I like the quote, "If you think you're too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito." First focus on your community and your sphere of influence; it’ll have a ripple effect.
Words by May Putman Cramer