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235: Female Leadership Can Unlock Systemic Change (International Women's Day 2024)

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About this episode

Get ready to celebrate International Women's Day with Tom and Christiana on Outrage + Optimism! We're discussing the fallout from Super Tuesday and the uphill battle for female parliamentary leadership. Plus, don't miss our exclusive interview with the incredible Gaia van der Esch! Tune in for insights, inspiration, and empowerment!

Gaia van der Esch, is an executive in the non-profit and public sectors, a policy expert and author, and we discuss her book, "Leading Our Way: How Women Are Re-Defining Leadership". She is currently the Managing Director of a large international foundation working across 40+ countries to build a world with zero exclusion, zero carbon and zero poverty. 

Laura Lucas closes this week's episode with her beautiful song, ‘The Sun Touches Everything’. Laura’s introspective songwriting is delivered by delicate vocals and dreamy instrumentation rooted in a warm, modern take on the indie-folk genre.

And remember, if you'd like to be part of our miniseries, Our Story Of Nature, Christiana and Isabel will be answering your questions in a special episode on Thursday 21 March. Submit your questions now by emailing contact@globaloptimism.com with 'Audience Q&A' in the subject line. You can send your question in writing or as a video or voice note.


Gaia van der Esch, CEO, Author of "Leading Our Way", Policy Expert
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Leading Our Way: How Women are Re-Defining Leadership, also available on Amazon 

Laura Lucas
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Submit your question for Christiana +  Isa’s Q+A here

Check out Climate Clock's Gender Parity Lifeline  which tracks the global averages of women in all national parliaments.

Learn more about the Paris Agreement.

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Full Transcript

Tom: [00:00:00] Hi listeners, so we've got a great episode this week for you, just Christiana and I. But before we get into it, we have coming up a Q&A on Christiana and Isa's Nature series about how we become one with nature again. This is a beautiful series. You must listen to it if you haven't. And if you have, we want your questions. Christiana, what do you have to say about this?

Christiana: [00:00:20] Well, we've had lots of beautiful feedback, from the three episodes. But we would also love to get your questions because, it is new space, it's new head space I think, it's new heart space for all of us. And, honestly, even if you have a question to which there is no answer, it's just the question that you are mulling for yourselves and chewing in your own, in your own soul and heart, share that. Because that would be, instructive and enlightening to, for all of us.

Tom: [00:00:56] There you go, thank you. Check the show notes and you will find ways to submit your question. We will crack on and get to them in the upcoming Q&A. We really appreciate it, always love hearing from you. So thanks so much. Thanks, Christiana. And on with the episode. Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism, I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Christiana: [00:01:24] I'm Christiana Figueres, and there's no Paul Dickinson today, is that right?

Tom: [00:01:28] There's no Paul Dickinson, it's a very rare event, he doesn't often miss the podcast, I don't know what he's doing, it must be very important. But he's not with us, and we're going to do an episode today looking at International Women's Day and a range of issues around there. And, Christiana, you have conducted an interview with Gaia van der Esch and we have music from Laura Lucas. Thanks for being here. Okay, so this week we are going to mainly play this brilliant interview that you did with Gaia recently, Christiana talking about women leadership all over the world, but first listeners, you will be hearing this on Thursday the 7th of March. We're recording it on Wednesday the 6th. And tomorrow, Friday, March 8th, is International Women's Day. Now, this has become a big deal all around the world celebrating female leadership, but also pointing out, and we're going to get into some of this, the ways in which the world has not transformed fast enough in recent decades. But before we get into that, Christiana, what do you want to say about International Women's Day to kick us off? Load More
Christiana: [00:02:34] You know, Tom, I would like to say something that is slightly, if not totally controversial about that. 

Tom: [00:02:40] Oh okay, good.

Christiana: [00:02:41] And that is, that it is my hope that we will soon, sooner rather than later, get to the point where we celebrate International Women's Day, because we have normalized the impactful role of women, not because we use it as one day to elbow the space for women around the world, which is where we are now. So, you know, when we celebrate, I don't know, International Grandparents Day let's say, nobody is fighting for the rights of grandparents, right. We just know that they are amazing in our lives and that they have this very special role. But International Women's Day, we're still fighting for women to be recognized with their potential, and with the contributions that they can make to society. So it's my wish that we will be able to celebrate it as, yeah, normal is the word that comes up for me, not as a controversial or not as a conflicting issue.

Tom: [00:04:01] That's really interesting, I hadn't thought about it in quite that way. So do you think that there are segments of society, I mean, actually, I know this is true. So, you know, on International Women's Day, there are always millions of men all around the world who whenever about anything about International Women's Day come up, they say, yeah, well, there's no International Men's Day. And it sort of is regarded as this tense thing that exists in this kind of like zero sum conversation. Shout out, actually, to the British comedian Richard Herring, who every International Women's Day spends the entire day on Twitter answering each one of those messages, saying, actually, there is an International Men's Day, it's on the 19th of November and just goes through and points out that actually that is a spurious argument, that comes against it. But why do you think that is that that has become or maybe always been like that?

Christiana: [00:04:44] Like that, meaning that we, that it's an elbowing thing?

Tom: [00:04:48] An elbowing thing, right. That it feels like it's a zero sum thing. Whereas if you talk about Grandparents Day, it's just about celebrating.

Christiana: [00:04:54] Well, maybe because for thousands of years, men have hogged all of the, all of the educational opportunities, all of the. 

Tom: [00:05:04] Do you think that's connected, do you? Yeah.

Christiana: [00:05:06] Oh no. Do you not think so? Maybe because, you know, because we still live in a patriarchal society that we have inherited from thousands of years ago. And the fact that we still operate in that, that we still think in that, that we still act in that in so many different ways to continue to suppress any balancing act that anyone might want to put forward. That's why it's a big issue because of the supremacy of and, the incredible, overwhelming power of patriarchal thought that an action that comes forth from men and from women, right. Because we also participate in that, we also do. So it is a completely shared responsibility here.

Tom: [00:06:12] Yeah, yeah. But I agree with you. It's been slow, right. I mean, if Paul was here, he would tell us that in the first days of CDP when he had to write a, write to every single fortune 500 CEO in 2000, he told me that in the first year they did it, there was one woman out of 500 CEOs. In the second year there was zero. And in the third year there was one again. So that was the unbelievably low bar from which we started. This year or actually 2023, fortune have been crowing about the fact that they have now reached the threshold of 10% of women CEOs, that's pathetic really, that we're only there a quarter of a century later, we've now managed to get 10% representation. So, and that's just one statistic. Parliamentarians around the world, 26.9% women now, that's up 0.4% on last year. I mean, some people talk about these numbers and look at the trend and they say we can be encouraged, but the absolute numbers are still shocking that we haven't made more progress in these issues, and.

Christiana: [00:07:09] And the progress cannot be linear right. Because then we still stay in this pathetic. So, you know, shout out again for exponentiality, because the progress has to be exponential. We can't continue like this.

Tom: [00:07:24] Exponentiate, this part of the world.

Christiana: [00:07:27] Exponentiate yes, thank you very much.

Tom: [00:07:28] Now, could there be a more egregious example on International Women's Day 2024 that we're recording this on Wednesday, day after Super Tuesday. We now have seen the last woman in the race, Nikki Haley, challenging Donald Trump for the party's nomination. Cede the race, not endorse Trump, step out Post-super Tuesday defeated very significantly by him by a misogynistic, climate denying president, who we remember too well. I mean, do you want to say anything about that before we move on?

Christiana: [00:08:02] Well, and despite the fact that 67% of polled voters in the United States reported that they are sick and tired of the same old candidates, and yet that does not get expressed in voting when they have actually a pretty gutsy option. I mean, if there's anything that you can say for, Nikki Haley, gutsy, determined, very, very brave, very brave to stay in until she has stayed. And so presenting Republicans with a very, I would think, a very enticing option, and yet not being picked up by voters. What the hell. 

Tom: [00:08:48] Yeah, yeah. So there's going to be a lot more in this obviously, we're now facing a rematch from 2016, and it's going to be bloody throughout this year, appalling, as you say, that this reasonable and pragmatic alternative choice that probably if Nikki Haley had been the presidential candidate for the Republicans, I don't know, it strikes me that there would have been, a genuine choice between two pragmatic leaders and potentially they would have won. But let's see what happens with Donald Trump. There's going to be a lot more to get into this. Clay, our producer tells me that now people in the US are considering, when they look at their aged parents between nursing homes and presidential or perhaps Senate candidacy. So that's maybe a new route for the extreme retired people. Now, anything else to say before we go to your conversation?

Christiana: [00:09:30] Well, I think we should say that we will be interviewing Gina McCarthy next week and going much deeper into this. What does this mean? What does it mean for politics in the United States? What does it mean for global progress on climate change? So we will go in depth into this, but we wanted to delay the in-depth conversation until we speak to Gina McCarthy next week.

Tom: [00:09:59] Absolutely, fantastic, all right. Thank you for that reminder. So we're going to go now to your conversation with Gaia. Would you like to quickly introduce her Christiana.

Christiana: [00:10:08] Yeah, so I met Gaia, as you will hear in the interview in London, last year, you will hear that story. Gaia is the Managing Director of 3ZERO, an organization that works toward zero carbon, zero poverty and zero exclusion. Very interesting interrelationship between the three issues. And, it is an organization that cuts across countries, generations, sectors of work. She's basically putting her shoulder to the not so easy wheel of reinventing a society on the human and environmental scale, safeguarding humanity and safeguarding our planet. So quite an ambitious, quite an ambitious, NGO that she leads there. And she, before founding 3ZERO, she was leading G20 empowerment alliance. She worked with G20 heads of state. She has been, quite a force for social and environmental change, especially from women's perspective. And she has just published the book that we're going to be discussing now, in the interview. And the title is Leading Our Way, and we will put it in the show notes. Here is the interview.

Christiana: [00:11:44] Gaia, it's so wonderful to see you again. Last time I saw you was in London I believe in some dark little hotel lobby or something. Wasn't that right?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:11:55] It was. It was a very London ish, with the dark walls and the wood and not much light. But, I mean, we're both very cheerful person, so I think that helped put some light to the day.

Christiana: [00:12:08] So we brought the light into the room. But Gaia, here's the deal, I remember that you were doing the interviews for your book I believe, I was one of the first interviewees. You were planning a wedding, and both of these were to, the publication of the book, and the wedding were to occur in the shortest period of time that I have ever heard. And now you tell me that you are pregnant. So talk about a woman living on the acceleration, I mean, honestly.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:12:47] It's life, right. We need to take what comes and yeah, move ahead with age and do the most out of it. So, and we managed to do everything. The deadline of the book was the day before the wedding, and I managed to submit it two days before the wedding, and I was super proud. And then they, the publisher Wiley wrote back saying, ah, you didn't write your, you know, foreword or thank you notes, there were some parts missing that I didn't know. And I remember I put half an hour on my watch and I was like, I have half an hour to write it. I wrote it, sent it, and I was done. And then it was all about partying and having fun.

Christiana: [00:13:28] Well, speaking about multitasking, I mean merely pretty amazing. We should talk about whether it's healthy to do that much multitasking. Spoken from a multitasker myself, but, Gaia, your book Leading Our Way, we will definitely put it in the show notes for all of the listeners to refer to it, buy it, read it, enjoy it. But you know, what I think is very fun is that we with certain frequency, we interview authors of books here on the podcast, but we have never done what you and I are doing now, which is you're the author of the book, you interviewed me as one of the seven women for the book. And now we're turning the table and I'm interviewing you. So that's actually a quite fun, change of dynamic. How do you feel about that one?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:14:21] I feel excited, I feel happy to see your face and to see you again and to be, on Outrage + Optimism, because I'm a big listener, so it's actually funny for me to know that I usually have it in my ears as I go grocery shopping or something. And next round it's going to be me.

Christiana: [00:14:41] You'll hear yourself, yes exactly. 

Gaia van der Esch: [00:14:44] I'll hear myself. But it's fun to turn the tables and to learn from each other, right. That's finally what all of this is about.

Christiana: [00:14:50] Indeed, indeed. So, Gaia, let's just go to the very beginning of the story that you tell in the book, you ended up interviewing seven women from many different parts of the world, from many different, schools of thought, if you will, certainly many different sectors. You went all the way from scientists to athletes to fashion, guru-ess, journalists, peacemakers. I mean, what a collection of different interests and experiences you put together. But remind me, why did you even start on that project? What sparked your interest to begin to dig in to female leadership if I can use that word? And how did you go about choosing these seven women?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:15:56] Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, it's really a personal journey, right. And it's a book that is the result of my personal journey. I'm not a writer, I'm not, I mean, I am an author, but I'm not a writer, in my life. I'm not a journalist, I'm a manager, I'm an executive. I actually, it's interesting because I identify a lot in yourself because we both have been in international relations sector. We both were in and out, I don't know UN, I was with international NGOs, and it's really a personal journey that I had as a manager, as an executive, as someone that quite early on got into leadership roles and I started questioning both myself and the many, let's say, so-called leaders that I had around myself. I realized when I was also quite young that I was put into management positions and I would be told, you know, you need to be more assertive, you need to be more competitive, you need to be more this and more that. And I did that, I did that.

Christiana: [00:16:58] All the traits that have been.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:17:00] Exactly.

Christiana: [00:17:01] That have been at the core, yeah.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:17:03] And I also lacked confidence compared to, you know, myself now as a 36 years old. So I was just following the older people telling me, you need to be more this, more that and more bossy. And, I never really found myself in those shoes that well. And I also felt, is this really the type of manager I want? And is this really the type of manager I want to be?

Christiana: [00:17:28] And is it the only type? 

Gaia van der Esch: [00:17:31] Exactly, is it the only type? And that was my big question. I was like, can we not do things differently? And it's okay to be, I don't know, kind to the people you're overseeing. It's okay to involve them in decision making. It's okay to be way more transparent. It's okay to speak about moments of doubt. So where we really don't know. And I wasn't incentivized to do that at all. But I felt that that's actually what I appreciated most with for people around me, and that I wanted to model a different way, let's say, of leading. And that's when I started a bit wondering why don't we have this more, I don't know, why don't we speak more of these different models? Why don't we incentivize different traits around leadership? And the big turning point for me was actually when I after many, many years of career abroad, I worked in humanitarian crisis settings in the Middle East and Africa. And I returned to Italy to work with the G20, and I was the sherpa for gender equality. And all of a sudden I never looked into gender equality before. But all of a sudden I realized that all the experiences I've had were not Gaia's experiences, but were a systemic issue behind the experiences I had right. So I started pointing the finger and understanding, okay, the fact that I was paid less at that stage of my career, and I figured out that the guy that took over my position was paid double than me, was not my personal issue was a systemic issue. And that's when I was briefed constantly on gender equality. Because I was leading the gender equality portfolio, I realized that there were broader systemic issues, and I started connecting the dots of a different type of leadership and the dot of, you know, women, and what is it that we can bring that is different to the table. And that's how then I came to write this book, because I wanted myself to continue on this journey and speak to women, as you said, from all parts of the world, from all different sectors, to reflect with you all, how is it that we can rethink leadership for women and for men. It's everybody's job to do that. It's not only a woman's job to do that, but what is it that as women we can bring to the table, and how is it that we can work together to push this shift in what leadership looks and acts like.

Christiana: [00:19:43] That is so interesting, Gaia, that you point out to that, to the systemic and structural. Because I think what you're beginning to set up here conceptually, is that we have lived for thousands of years in a society, an economic, a political, a social structure that has obeyed the rules of patriarchy, and that therefore, leadership and performance has also obeyed those, the rules that serve that system, that structure and those traits have been honed by, certainly by men, but also, frankly, by women who want to move forward within that patriarchal structure. And so that I would say, is your experience of being told you have to be competitive, you have to, you know, not share your emotion, you know, don't show empathy, etc., etc. because those are the rules, the patterns of behaviour that obey and support, actually, the patriarchal structure. And now it's very interesting that we're beginning to be much more aware of that as a systemic structural issue. And now the question that we're asking is, how does the individual now take it upon herself, himself, themselves to be able to begin to unpack that structure through personal behaviour and through different traits. And I believe that that is at the core of the book that you have written to ask the question, how do we unpack that? And how do we begin to, if you will soften that, knot and begin to open space for, yes absolutely different behaviours, different leadership styles, but ultimately the formation of a different system, of a different structure. Have I captured that right?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:21:58] You said it very well. I should hire you as my PR for the book, definitely.

Christiana: [00:22:03] Happy to do so. This is part of your PR.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:22:08] And that's really why I wanted to write this book, right. I wanted to write the book that I wish I would have had when I was maybe already a student, or when I was a young professional feeling different and feeling a bit lonely in being different, because maybe we didn't dare to speak about it with each other, because I'm sure most people feel that right. It's not at all the exception, it's the norm. It's just that we don't dare to say it. And it's really the book that I also wish I would have now as an executive, to get inspired to get ideas on how me personally, and how each of us personally can make a difference, has that power to make a difference. And it's not only about getting to the decision making table and playing by the rules of the game. It's about getting to the decision making table and changing the rules of the game.

Christiana: [00:22:57] And Gaia, the obvious question is, you interviewed only women, which is interesting. Did you do that because you feel that this new type of behaviour, new type of leadership is emerging only in women? Or do you see it also emerging in men?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:23:22] It's actually a doubt i've had throughout writing the book the fact that I was interviewing only women. I think I started much more convinced that I wanted to bring a different perspective to the table. And I think many women and the women I chose, including yourself, are women that to me haven't played by the rules of the game but have done things in a different way, but during also while I was writing, I thought, but it's not exclusively something that pertains to women, both in terms of bringing different traits and currently bringing different traits to the table, but also in terms of the responsibility and the burden to do that moving forward right. We shouldn't think a woman now need to be empathetic and need to show collaboration and always need to play by that set of rules and men are completely fine to continue with the old rules of the game, right. We need to work together to make this change. And I think there are definitely examples of male leaders, and I've had that in my own life. I've had some very bad male leaders, and I had some very good male leaders that taught me, those type of traits right. So I don't think it's such a gendered discourse, but I do think that we are all on a grey scale, that there are some men that are very empathetic and probably don't manage to find their space, in the workforce because of that. And they should feel more free to bring that diversity to the table. I think there are women, as you also said, that play by the rule of the game and are not redefining leadership. And I think many women are. And I think what's very difficult in this type of narrative is that there is a part which is nature, and there's a part that is nurture, and you never know where this nature and nurture stop right. And I, of course, based on my experience, I'm also the daughter of biologists. I'm, I don't know, a fan of people studying chimpanzees and bonobos and understanding also the dynamics within primates in terms of gender differences. I think that there is a part of biology, but I don't think that's where we should or can stop because there's a huge part of culture, and we are educated as women or as girls to be more relational, to be more kind, to be more calm. And we educate boys, to be more competitive. And we can't be surprised if then over the years, that leads to a huge difference in terms of attitudes. So I do think stereotypically, yes, women maybe on average bring more empathy, bring more collaboration, bring more long term thinking, maybe also because of biological functions that we have in terms of reproduction, which I'm living through right now. But I don't think that should then be the conclusion that it's women only everybody can bring that. And we have a responsibility not only of educating girls more like boys, but of educating boys more like girls. Everybody should be educated to empathy, to kindness, and to working together. And we don't do that enough.

Christiana: [00:26:27] So let's go through a couple of those traits that you mentioned, Gaia, because you say empathy has been disregarded for insensitivity. Competition has overridden collaboration, moral values have been side-lined for profit. And those are sort of the traits and the behaviours that are at the root of what we have known for hundreds, if not thousands of years as leadership. Now, what I think is interesting is to go back to where you started this conversation, which is individual leadership for what or in what direction toward what systemic change, toward what structure, because as we said, the kind of leadership that we have seen from men and women, had a very clear purpose, which was to sustain the patriarchal structure. Now, if you're saying, look, there are little shoots here emerging of a different type of leadership that can and should come from both men and women. My question to you is that new kind of leadership that you describe throughout the interviews and in your book is a leadership toward what? What do you see as the alternative or the substitute of a patriarchal structure? Because clearly it's not just about changing the leadership. The leadership is in service of the ultimate goal, the ultimate outcome that we wish, which is the systemic change of the structure of society that we're hoping to normalize.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:28:11] Definitely. And I think if you look at today's world, if you look at all the global challenges we're facing. For me, that's the result of a leadership failure in the sense that it's because we've been thinking about profit, because we've been thinking about our short term personal positioning, or personal profit because we've been thinking about competing rather than, you know, working together for a greater good. We live in a world which has created a lot of different consequences, be it inequalities, poverty, be it the wars that we see right now and egos fighting against each other and using older citizens to be put in the middle of the personal fight, of course, they don't go to fight themselves to just, you know, use de facto who can't get out of it to put their life at risk for their country or for a specific ideal, be it climate change, all these huge poly crises we're facing are the result of this short-sightedness of leadership, of how we interpret leadership and for what right. We've been advancing in a direction which to me is not leadership. It's dangerous leadership without this empathy, leadership without this common good at its core, it's dangerous. And I think the world we're seeing and living in today is a proof of the fact that we need to rethink leadership if we want to indeed lead and go in a different direction. And we need to rethink the incentives behind what are we leading for, which direction are we going towards. And for me, what is at the core is our common interest, right. It's humans. It's just the humanity. We're all humans. Like, no matter where we live, in which countries we live, the colour of our skin, or any type of marker that we're putting on ourselves. The bottom line is that we're all humans living on a planet with nature. I always feel very connected to nature, maybe because of my name, I by default.

Christiana: [00:30:18] It's a beautiful name. So listeners, please, you know, underline here Gaia's name is Gaia, which means, Gaia how do you interpret Gaia? I want to hear it from you. Sorry that I interrupted you, but it's such a good point, such a good point.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:30:33] It's the Mother Earth, Gaia is the Mother Earth from Greek, which is Gaia in Greek. My parents, I already mentioned were biologists, so they were in love with this theory of Gaia, which is from Lovelock in the 80s. It's a theory that claims that everything is interconnected, which by now we're like, yeah, I mean, at least we are by now we're like, yeah, of course. 

Christiana: [00:31:00] Yeah, we finally understood that.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:31:01] We finally understood that. But back in the 80s, it was a new theory. And my parents were in love with this theory of Gaia, where everything is interconnected. And that's why I've been called Gaia. And also in Italian, Gaia means happy, a happy person. So it has this double meaning. Somehow I always felt I related to it a lot, both in terms of feeling, you know, when I was a kid, I would think I was like Pocahontas and, you know, connected with nature because of my name, and maybe that's also why I'm a big optimist like you. Maybe because my name says I'm happy and optimistic as a person. But yeah definitely.

Christiana: [00:31:39] It's beautiful. I must say, here's a little secret, Gaia, when I got your first email about interviewing me, I went like, hmm, do I really want to do another interview. And then I saw your name and I went, yes, with that name, I definitely want to go and meet her.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:31:55] So then for everyone listening, you should call your daughters Gaia. You're going to open a lot of doors for them. 

Christiana: [00:32:00] There you go, there you go. Secret, secret here.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:32:04] Yes.

Christiana: [00:32:04] Gaia, can you, sorry that I interrupted you, about your beautiful name. Could you think back to some of the interviews that you did and give us a couple of the most salient examples, of stories that you heard from these women that buttress what you're saying, the new behaviours, the new attitudes. Can you tease some of those out?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:32:36] Yes, definitely. There are so many. One that just comes to mind straight away, as we were saying, leadership for what, is actually Tawakkol Karman, she is, she was one of the leaders of the revolution in Yemen, that led to the fall of the dictatorship in 2012. And she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, because of her role in just being in a square and leading the protest, being put in and out of prison. She really paid a very high personal price for it. And something that she says in the book is that if you don't take the responsibility on your own shoulders, you're leaving the responsibility to someone else to change what is wrong. And that's something to me that really speaks to this idea of leadership for what right. It's not leadership for profit. It's leadership for the responsibility of maintaining a world of saving what we can save of our world of giving a better world to the future generations, of protecting nature, of creating a harmony somehow, a harmonious way and a harmonious system that can sustain itself over time. And that is fair for everyone. I'm someone that is very triggered by unfairness, and I think a lot of you portrayed in this book finally have that common trait with me, which is maybe why I was attracted by you all, but it's really this idea of each of us be it a small or big gesture at any level, even when we are at no interns or when we are the heads of a state, we each have a responsibility and the power to change things.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:34:14] And it can be a small change. It can be a big change, but every change counts and it's not to change for the sake of changing, it's to change, to really put at the centre of what we do, the impact that it's having on people around us, on nature around us, on future generations and trying to do something better with it. So Tawakkol for me, of course, she led a revolution, which for me it's, you know, unthinkable to do something like that. And she's also known as the Iron Lady. So of course, and she is an Iron Lady, like, she was a difficult one to get through on a more empathetic level because she really, I think to do such a type of work, you really need to be very clear and very stubborn on your objectives and very strong from, you know, all the external interferences, but she's someone that really, for me, spoke to the love she had for freedom and the readiness she had to take that responsibility on her own shoulders and not put it on the shoulders of someone else and not let someone else do that type of work. That's an example.

Christiana: [00:35:22] And then you also interviewed somebody so completely different. This is what I love about your book. That is so many different, viewpoints and experiences. You also interviewed Becky Sauerbrunn, for example, an athlete, why did you choose her?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:35:36] Completely different. And it was, we had such an amazing time me and Becky, I think we were 3 or 4 hours on the phone, for the interview because I didn't manage to travel to the US to see her. So she's the captain of the US National Soccer for Americans, football team for non-Americans. And she's completely different. But that's exactly why I wanted her, because I wanted to think of leadership from many different perspectives, not only from my own perspective. Otherwise I would have taken copy paste people a bit like me. She is someone that on top of leading her team and they won a lot of I mean, she has all sorts of Olympic medals and they won not the last one, but the two previous, World championships. She's a very fascinating leader because she's an introvert, which I actually think few people in the book are introverts, like, we're definitely, I would say, at least I can't speak on your behalf, I would say both of us are definitely not on the introvert scale. She's very introvert.

Christiana: [00:36:37] Well, I will surprise you by saying I am an introvert, but I do a pretty good job of pretending I'm an extrovert. And that happens with many introverts who pretend they're extroverts. But carry on.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:36:49] That's fair. But she's an introvert that really is introvert, and I found that very, very fascinating because it's a different, completely different way of leading than myself right. It's this capacity that she speaks about of being like a fly on the wall and seeing all her team of super extroverts, you know, she's very close to Megan Rapinoe. She's very close to these very extroverted personalities, kind of throwing ideas and saying things and arguing and being very loud. And then she's this fly on the wall that manages to see it all and take the best ideas out of it and then develop the strategy right. And so for me, there's so much you can learn in terms of endurance, in terms of, really like, her chapter's title is consistency because each of you has a key word, a key trait of leadership that is your chapter title. And it's really about how you show yourself every single day to continue in the direction you want to go. But what's interesting of Becky is that on top of her athlete experience and being the captain of the US football team, she's also one of the people, one of the women that brought forward the battle for equal pay in the US between male and female athletes. And that's what for me, made her the one I wanted to interview. Because it's not only about leading on the field and leading within her sector, but trying to have an impact, right and trying to change things for all the athletes that will come that are with her right now, but that will come after her. And they were the first team that managed to switch up after years, years, years, years, decades where the other, women footballers tried to create equal pay and they managed to get there. And to me, that is a very interesting perspective on how someone that is not into gender equality per se as a sector, but they still can have an impact, a way broader impact to make things more fair for them and for the people around them and for the generations to come.

Christiana: [00:38:56] So, Gaia, what does all of this that we have discussed have to do, in your view, with leadership in the climate change field that we share?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:39:04] Well, in the climate change field is a field where everything we've just said is applicable. It's a field where we need to think about our well-being, the well-being of the ecosystems we have around us we live in, it's not even around, right. We live in nature. We live on the planet, we are just part of it, and we need to think about future generations, and we need to think about the people that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, to the consequences that we've created with our own actions after decades or centuries of poor choices with concern to all these different people, be it, people living in specific countries that are heavily affected by climate change or be it the future generations. So to me, it's very intrinsically linked in the sense that it's all the traits that we need, to see in the climate change movement. And it's about this capacity to shift, when we look at the just transition that everybody is speaking about, when we look at loss and damage and the responsibility of different countries, is this capacity to shift mentality and to shift how we work together across countries to fix a broader, common, huge challenge that we are all facing, and we're all on the same boat and we need to fix. And that's also the challenge, though, right. Because of course, short term interest, re-election of politicians, profits of companies are still extremely present and they're still extremely dominant. I was also at COP, this year in December, I know Christiana, you didn't come in person. I know your colleagues were there, and, of course, you still feel that that pressure of the short term interest of so many different entities is constantly there, and it's still heavily dominating the narrative and the decision making. But that's what needs to change.

Christiana: [00:41:08] So is it the long term, is it the long term view of what we're really working to that is missing or, what could you, if it's possible, what could you specifically pinpoint to that is missing in the climate conversation or in fact, in climate leadership to change the current conversation?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:41:31] I think that the long term view is there in terms of the overall long term awareness that we do need this change to happen. I think what is not there often from, you know, whoever is in a decision making position and around the decision making table is their boldness and their capacity to prioritize long term over specific short term choices that they are under pressure to make or that they have an interest in making for themselves. That's what for me is not happening yet. The awareness is there, the science is there, the facts are there, even I would say the understanding from many leaders that this is having huge implications for specific countries, for specific people and for the future generation is there as an awareness but not yet urgent enough to become the most important thing. We're still considering short term too important compared to what we need to consider important for the long term.

Christiana: [00:42:43] So can I summarize that by saying being aware of the long term, but deciding according to the short term?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:42:50] Perfectly summarized.

Christiana: [00:42:53] How sad, how sad Gaia and may we be able to change that in the short term.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:43:00] In the short term.

Christiana: [00:43:01] And not in the long term.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:43:03] Yes. That's the, that's really, that's always a challenge right. And that's also something that we speak about in the book is this, and that, I think each of us has in our own life is whatever is urgent in our daily life takes over whatever is important in the long run. And it's not easy to do that shift, but that's the shift we need to see in the climate change movement and the climate change leadership in the negotiations. How is it that we can build that pressure for the long term to become urgent and for the long term to become the priority that takes over everything else at the decision making table.

Christiana: [00:43:45] You know Gaia, I wish we could go at least a little bit into each of the other seven people that you interviewed, but we won't be able to do that. But before we end, I so want you to say a few words about the youngest woman that you interviewed who is, I believe, still under 20 years old, isn't she?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:44:05] Yeah, she's definitely under 20 years old, she was 17 when I interviewed her. She's now at MIT. So we're speaking about Gitanjali Rao, so Gitanjali was the first ever kid of the year of TIME magazine, age 14. She had already done over ten different inventions. And she's a girl passionate about STEM and innovation. But again, not just for the sake of STEM and innovation, but for the sake of doing something good for the world and of taking that responsibility in her hands and fixing the problems she sees. And she's very fascinating because, I mean, she's clearly very clever, like, when I spoke to her the day I interviewed her, she woke up, like, at eight to speak to me, and then she was going to have her pilot test class because she was learning how to fly. And then she had all these other types of activities. And like, when I was a 17 year old, I would never get out of bed before 10 or 1030 on a good Sunday. And I would definitely not go for my pilot test, which is very fascinating. But what I really like about Gitanjali is that she has this passion to fix the world, and to do it by using innovation, by using STEM, and by feeling that even as a kid, you could make that difference no matter the age. You can go there and innovate and try and find solutions for things that you feel are unfair or things that you feel should be fixed.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:45:29] But what I really thought was very interesting about Gitanjali, which is why I picked her out of, you know, many different young, emerging leaders that we see around us, especially when you look at the climate change movement, is the fact that she's very nuanced, she doesn't have a thing that huge anger that many of the younger generation, rightly enough, have, she's very nuanced in, you know, what the previous generations did. It's not that everybody is bad and everybody should be put in a black box, like many people are good, try to do things good, and probably many people didn't know. Some people did, and then they need to be kept to account. But not everybody did. And how is it that we can now reassess the situation of our world, and how is it that we can work between the older generations. Also the wisdom, the experience that of course older generations have, and kids and young people and teenagers that have ideas that think outside of the box, that bring innovative approaches and that also have the long term interest that by age definition, they have stronger at heart because it's their future, much more than the future of someone that is now 80 or 90 year old. And how is it that we can build alliances between different generations and work together to really innovate and try and build new models and new answers to fix the global challenges we're facing. And to me, this nuanced approach is something that comes out throughout the book.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:47:00] It's something that I care about. Again, the book is a book that has voices of women, of women leaders, but it's not a book for women. It's a book for everyone. We need to work on this together. It's not a matter of being one against the other. It's a matter of joining forces between generations, between countries, between men, women, between whoever wants to join forces for change, towards a world that functions for everyone, that is fair for everyone and that is fair also for nature. And that's really the message of the book. And it's a book that I hope will inspire many people to become part of this change and will give tools and practical insights and funny stories also about failures, about what went wrong in the life of you and many other women, because everybody had a lot of failures before getting where they got. That's part of the journey, but you can be part of that journey and you can make that difference. And I really hope this book can inspire, you know, everyone that will read it to really become the change they want to see. That's really what we need right now to fix the world.

Christiana: [00:48:08] Brilliant Gaia, totally love that, totally love that. And we will certainly, be doing our part in recommending the reading of this great book. Congratulations again for that vision and for the message that you're sharing with us now Gaia. Sadly, my last question, we have a, if you're a listener to Outrage + Optimism, you know what is coming. The tradition that we have of asking our wonderful guests at the end what they are, still outraged about and what they are optimistic about. And I would love to hear your answer to this question with respect to leadership, because you did interview women from many different walks of life, from many different regions of the world, from many different cultures, from a very broad spectrum of ages, generations. So very, very broad, and I would love to know if that broad spectrum leaves you with something that you're still outraged, frustrated by. And, where is the light that you derive from the tunnel?

Gaia van der Esch: [00:49:26] I mean, the light, honestly, it's already this chat and speaking with so many people also, by bringing this book around, by doing the work I do again, and I'm still managing a large international organization, I encounter so many people that for me, that's the light that gives hope, right. It's people that want to do good, that want to put themselves, in a different, they want to lead in a different way, and that are searching for tools to make that happen. And the hope is that this book can be one of the many tools that people can refer to to make it happen. And for me, that's really the light, right. Change is something we all feel is needed, and many people are looking, searching for ways of making that happen and of being part of that change. And that's what really gives me hope, like as we manage to get these people up the career ladder, in the right positions in different organizations, as we manage to redefine leadership, that's going to create different outcomes from the companies we work for, for the countries we live in. We're going to see a difference in outcomes as we get better people that have a different understanding of leadership and of impact and of common good compared to what we've had so far right. So I'm confident that this will happen. I'm still outraged, because I still think, unfortunately, this change is definitely not fast enough, I still think that, speed there is, and it's okay in a sense that, you know, change takes time, cultural change. And this is what we're really talking about is what takes most time and effort. And it's never the easy route. But I still think there is a lot of organizations that claim they're changing that claim they now care about the environment, or they care about gender, they care about inclusion. I think, though, the real change is very slow to happen. I think there's a lot of statements, not enough action and not enough courage, I would say. And that's what makes me upset. There's not enough courage in really being ready to walk the talk, putting a different type of leader that does things differently and giving that promotion. I still think the old structures are holding this change backwardly slowing it down way more than we think. I see it within my own work environment. I see it around my colleagues that when you are trying to do things differently, you get a huge amount of backlash. So it's not easy, it's lonely. And that's what makes me upset because I really feel our world needs this change fast and need this different type of vision, and people that can carry a different type of vision fast. And we're still not managing to put them and position them and promote them and empower them fast enough, and we need to continue pushing all together.

Christiana: [00:52:32] Gaia van der Esch, author of Leading Our Way, thank you so much for joining us on Outrage + Optimism.

Gaia van der Esch: [00:52:40] Thank you so much Christiana, it was great.

Tom: [00:52:49] So what an interesting discussion with what a brilliant woman. What did you take from that conversation that you had Christiana?

Christiana: [00:52:56] Well, first of all, I mean talk about multitasking capacity, which usually is ascribed to women, but this is really quite the example of just amazing multitasking success that she went through there with us. How she managed to do book, marriage. Et cetera, et cetera all at the same time. But also how interesting that she chose, women from many different walks of life from many different regions, continents, cultures, and yet they all come together with this, I would say unifying force for a different way of doing leadership, a completely different set of principles that underpin leadership and through so doing a different set of principles that they all or we all, because I'm also in the book, would like to underpin society. So it is not just that she is bringing forth those different way of acting and doing things, but also which would be the how, but also the what we want and we're working toward a different society that is a much fairer, a much more resilient, a much more regenerative society in many different ways. And, how beautiful that she comes to that message by bringing together in concert these very, very, these many very different voices.

Tom: [00:54:43] Yeah, absolutely. No, I thought it was amazing to have that. And I think that one of the things that I got from that and also from, other times we've had these conversations around International Women's Day is, is the role of men and of others for standing up for women's rights. I remember a few years ago, Emma Watson, the actress launched this thing called HeForShe, which I thought was really inspiring, actually, where it talked about the fact that equality actually is an objective for the whole of society, and there's a role for everybody to play. I think that too many men see themselves as bystanders in that journey, and that this is something for women to do, to kind of carve out a role for themselves in society. Actually, we are aiming for a different kind of society so well expressed in your conversation, in which we have a deeper level of equality. People appreciate that there is, that there are just different dynamics that need to happen there, and that is a role for all of us to make that kind of transformation. This wonderful quote that I'm sure you remember from Desmond Tutu, who you, of course, knew very well, 'it is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men'. I think that actually we need to have that kind of conversation more, because it softens that sort of carving out space element that can be sometimes part of this and makes it an all of society endeavour.

Christiana: [00:56:02] Yes. And now I would like to ask you a personal question, Tom.

Tom: [00:56:06] Okay.

Christiana: [00:56:07] You as a completely brilliant, young.

Tom: [00:56:14] Not really anymore, but thank you, yeah.

Christiana: [00:56:16] Yeah. Young, well compared to me for sure. Young white male. How do you enter this conversation? Because it cannot be an easy conversation. The part that is easy is what Desmond Tutu, you know, the quote that you've just said. Yes, standing up for the rights of girls and women. And I have seen you personally do that so beautifully, both for your wife and your brilliant, your brilliant wife and your brilliant daughter. And also, does this not put men who have inherited many positions of power and leadership and influence, etc., etc.. Does it not put you into a sort of a uncomfortable position?

Tom: [00:57:05] So I think that's a very deep question, I'm happy to answer it, that I think covers a lot of different pieces right. And as you know, I have a kind of acute relationship with this because I am also descended from colonialists. And so I've been grappling with some elements of how do you live your life in full view of other things that have created structural inequalities and, some people kind of become a bit of a victim of that. And they say, well, these things happen. They weren't my fault. But it's also ridiculous to kind of become a bit of a victim of that because you're also benefiting from structural inequalities. So what I try to do is to live my life in a manner that attempts to take account of those structural inequalities, and one of the objectives is to try to correct them. But where it can be difficult is where leadership is.

Christiana: [00:57:59] Sorry, correct them how? How do you correct them in your life? Because the structural inequalities are inherited, right. Thousands of years, whole of society. So you in your life how do you try to correct them? I'm asking you this question, Tom, because I think you do it beautifully. And I think it would be actually quite inspirational for our listeners.

Tom: [00:58:22] Okay, so three things I would say, three practical things. One is a sort of crunchy day to day thing, I refuse to appear in public in anything that doesn't have equal representation. So I will turn down speeches, panel opportunities, other particular things. Secondly, if I'm asked to appear or take some kind of position, like on a board or something like that, I will always try to advance a woman in place of myself, or ideally somebody also from an ethnic minority. Third, I will always try to make sure that those other voices are heard ahead of mine in meetings. And finally, it's actually changed my personal ambitions in life. So I used to assume that I would end up going through my career in the climate movement and other things leading, you know, some organization, an NGO, an international organization, something like that. And that would be the apotheosis of my career as it was, as it has been for yours. And as we went through this whole process over the last decades, it changed my expectation around my own career, and it freed me from the need to do that. I now actually don't feel like I will ever be in a position of personal authority in a government or an organization, because I will find a way to deflect the necessity of that and try to instead promote somebody who has been historically underrepresented in those roles. And actually in making that change to my own personal ambitions, it's made me happier. It's made me more of service.

Tom: [01:00:06] It's made me feel that I am freed from the necessity of doing something that I kind of felt I had a responsibility to do, but sort of wasn't necessarily in my personality. And it's enabled me to play a role where I try to elevate others, and I'm more in service of brilliant people in the movement who have not historically had those opportunities. Now the challenge comes that sometimes leadership is required of me. Sometimes I still do need to step up and be seen and play a role. And honestly, that's a kind of day to day journey. I actually don't really know how to do that, because to completely hide myself under a rock and say, oh God, I'm a white heterosexual man. I kind of can't do anything or be involved in the world at all would also, I think, be sort of not appropriate for what the world maybe needs at this moment. You need to still stand up and do something. And that bit I really struggle with my personality is such that I can sort of see that this worldly injustice needs correcting, and I will sort of wade into that with ideas and structures and changes and put myself into a different position in relationship to it, which has been positive for me. But I don't really therefore know how to still lead and how to still like play that role of putting myself forward when it's necessary. And that can be really complicated. And sometimes you can get that wrong.

Christiana: [01:01:28] I'm so glad I asked you that question, Tom. I'm so glad and you have said it really beautifully, and I have watched you move into that role with such grace and with such power that I just really wanted you to share that. And the reason why I think it's so important to hear that from you, Tom, is that, in my judgment, and I will be very honest and say it is my judgment, in my judgment, most men who are in who have inherited privileges, whatever they are. And I use that word very carefully because it is so loaded, but, you know, either it is racial privileges, socioeconomic, where you were born. Da da da da da da da da da, fall into two traps that are at opposite ends of each other, either the trap of continuing to act consciously or unconsciously with mythical authority and power over other people, which makes them very difficult to like. Or they fall into the other trap of feeling so guilty and so, you know, yeah, so guilty that they don't want to stand up at all. And so what I think is, so beautiful about that middle way that you are carving out and in your own words, you continue to carve it out every day because it is not a road well travelled.

Christiana: [01:03:08] It is a road that needs to be carved out. It needs to be explored, it needs to be lived into, and it's very much of an emergent, I think, road for both men and women. And, so what I think is so beautiful is that realization that falling into either of the two extreme boxes, A, is not healthy for any of us, B it does the world in society no service. Those are the two easy boxes to fall into, frankly. Those are the two, you know, easy boxes. But they do not denote any self-awareness. They do not denote any challenge to self to form and crystallize a different way of being, a different way of seeing, a different way of speaking and acting. And so that's why I really wanted to ask you the question, Tom, because I think the way that you do this is so beautiful and and unknown, by your own admission, you kind of have to figure it out day by day. But the principle, the North Star in you is very clear. And so I just wanted to hear you hopefully inspire others.

Tom: [01:04:25] Thanks Christiana, thank you very much. I really, really appreciate the question. And it's, I think maybe we should do like a Q&A on this at some point because I think it's something that is going to be a generational transition right. And transitions are messy and you don't know what you're doing a lot of the time. And you can and also there's a lot of anger so you can get it wrong, I mean, I've sometimes sort of been on the sharp end of things. And it makes you want to then go and hide under a rock, but you need to make sure you then come back and say, well, actually, that's because there, you know, it's messy for them too, and nobody really understands. But ultimately, I think thoughtful people want what you've described, right. Which is the middle ground where there is an appreciation and an attempt to find a way forward that recognizes and corrects historical injustices but doesn't sort of, you know, push, you know, you don't want the victim to become the oppressor. And then you flip from one thing to the other, such as we so often see, right. We need to go into balance, we don't want to.

Christiana: [01:05:23] The seesaw, the seesaw.

Tom: [01:05:25] The seesaw, exactly. Sadly, we're seeing that in certain parts of the world at the moment. I think we need to realize that we don't have to do that, and that's on all of us. That's on women and men to make sure that we're a bit brave with it.

Christiana: [01:05:37] Thank you Tom.

Tom: [01:05:38] My pleasure, my pleasure. Thanks for the question. Okay, so I think that's it. I think we're going to have some music from Laura Lucas, The Sun Touches Everything, which is a beautiful piece of music. I hope you enjoy. And we will be back next week with Gina McCarthy. And, of course, the one and only, the Paul Dickinson. Bye.

Christiana: [01:05:54] Bye.

Laura Lucas: [01:05:57] Hello, my name is Laura Lucas. I'm a singer songwriter from Winnipeg, which is on treaty one territory in Canada, and I'm sharing a song that I wrote called The Sun Touches Everything. And it's kind of about, the female personification of nature. So nature as mother and kind of interrogating this gendered idea of the natural world. And it actually started as a poem that I wrote in response to another poem, which was written by the wonderful Mary Oliver, the poem is called Some Questions You Might Ask. And in the poem she's asking all these questions around, like, what is a soul and who has one and who doesn't. And why should I have one. And not the trees or the grass and the anteater and the camel and all of these things. And yeah, I was just really inspired by her work. And I think it's important to use art to ask questions. So yeah, that's kind of where this song came from. And I hope you enjoy, thank you. 

Clay: [01:09:20] So there you go, another episode of Outrage + Optimism. I'm Clay, producer of this podcast. That was Laura Lucas. One to watch, her track The Sun Touches Everything, a special live tracking just for this podcast. We love that, like I said, one to watch her EP, The Dreamer EP, which you can check in the show notes is one of the best mixed records I've heard in the last year. Laura has really stood out with her level of expertise in her genre. I put on the EP song two, I close my eyes and I didn't open them until about a minute after the last song finishes, she really took me somewhere. So Laura, thank you for that. Again, her name Laura Lucas looking forward to more music from you. Would absolutely love to have you on the podcast again anytime. Listeners, you can go follow and hear more from Laura Lucas by clicking through the show notes. The Dreamer EP is perfect for an early spring. Take a speaker to the park. Put it on play. Don't touch your phone. Spectacular. Truly, I was blown away. Very, very impressed with this piece of work. Wow. This is a record I would purchase and keep in my home. Thank you Laura.

Clay: [01:10:52] And thank you to our guest this week on the show, Gaia van der Esch. Christiana's interview with her today was a spectacular pre listen to her book, a great promo for it. We've put a link in the show notes to purchase. It's titled Leading Our Way: How Women Are Re-Defining Leadership. Gaia was so nice to meet. Thank you so much for coming on. I'd love to have you back. Okay, so this week we are celebrating International Women's Day. And you need to know that behind the audio that you're hearing right now here, working around the clock to bring you an episode each week is a team of amazing women. This podcast, along with our social media, publishing, written content, promotion, and coordination arrives to you on time because of the women who show up every week to make it happen. Mandy Clark is our production coordinator, Kam-Mei Chak is our social media manager, Katie Bradford head of operations, Jenny Dare producer, and Sarah Thomas is executive producer. If you like this podcast, you can thank these women for delivering it. Creative, gifted and accomplished is how I would describe each one of them. And they're the force, the grace, and the fun behind the magic that appears every week on the show. I couldn't be more proud to be included on this team. Thank you to them. Okay, real quick before my last announcement, thank you to the listeners who emailed me their music suggestions after I asked for them last week on the show.

Clay: [01:12:29] I have not been able to get to every email yet, as there were quite a few, but so appreciated. And you all have great music tastes. If you're still wanting to submit music to be featured on the show, my email inbox is open clay@globaloptimism.com. Literally part of my job is to listen to music you send in for consideration. So, you know, get me out of meetings. I mean, I can just say I'm working, but I'm just listening to music. Save me from too many zooms, please email me. And lastly, before I go, as you heard at the beginning of the show, we need your questions for the upcoming Q&A. Now, my favorite way for you to submit a question is by sending a recorded voice note I've set up an online voicemail inbox where you can record your question from any smart device you have. Here's the website speakpipe.com/outrageandoptimism. There's a link in the show notes to that. Here's your opportunity to get your voice and your question on the podcast. Thanks for submitting those. All right. Happy International Women's Day on Friday. Hope you will be observing and celebrating. Go enjoy your weekend. We'll see you next week.


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