How founder of 1 Million Women, Natalie Isaacs, makes it matter
How do you give it mouth?
I started 1 Million Women back in 2009. Our whole reason for existence – indeed, my whole way of life since then – has been to fight the climate crisis through the way we live.
Our mission is to empower, inspire and motivate women and girls around the world to do that.
Our vision is to have a world where millions of women are living net zero carbon lives and influencing others to do the same.
That’s it in a nutshell.
So can you tell me a little bit about your journey from being a cosmetics manufacturer to being a climate change activist. That’s quite a leap. Was there a catalyst for your decision or was it a more gradual development?
See, I was detached from the idea that we could solve the climate crisis. And in truth I didn’t do anything about it.
So when I was a cosmetics manufacturer, everything was about over packaging. I never thought about waste. My whole working career was about how I could get someone’s product off the shelf so I could replace it with mine.
And at home, I didn’t even have recycling sorted.
I was really removed from the connection with the earth.
It was in the middle of 2006 that I got the point on climate change. And lots of people will say that was the big year for change. The media got the message. Al Gore released his documentary. And to top it off there were massive bushfires here. So you couldn’t actually listen to the radio or watch the news or open a magazine without it being about climate change.
When I tell my story I always say it was an epiphany. Because I did go to bed one night thinking I was one way, then woke the next day knowing I was another. There was of course a gradual bit-by-bit change in my thinking over the course of the year leading up to the epiphany, but then it was this definite “Oh shit” moment that caused me to take action.
Was your epiphany a result of the cultural shift or did something happen to you personally to give you that wake up call?
So what gave me the wake up call was that, Murray, my husband was writing a book about climate change. I was editing his book and offering feedback and so on. Murray was at the same time consulting to an organisation that puts free energy efficient light globes in houses. The organisation was also using my skills in marketing to teach their staff how to engage and sell. So I was getting involved in the industry in that way.
My “oh shit” moment came one night when this organisation was celebrating installing their one millionth light globe. There were two hundred people in that room from all walks of life.
I looked around and realised that of them, only one person wasn’t doing anything to stop climate change – and that was me.
The next morning I woke up and knew I had to change.
But what started 1 Million Women was something so simple. I got my electricity bill down by 20%, just by simply being a bit more vigilant. I also cut down on food waste in the house. Those two things made me start 1 Million Women. Because it was those two things that actually changed my life. I knew I needed to change, but it wasn’t until I did something and saw a result that I did change.
Behaviour change is really such a hard thing to do, because it occurs within a very strict framework of society. Unfortunately, this is a high-consumption society – it’s hard to change the way you live.
But once I did those two things, it was easy.
So I thought if it’s simple things like that got to me there must be millions more women like me. I set about to find it a way to emotionally connect with them.
I knew it had to be a million women because anything less did not respond to the emergency.
Why women particularly? Why are women so important to this?
It was a strategic move to speak to women. One of the main reasons is that 85% of consumer decisions that affect the carbon footprint are made by women.
Plus, there are 1.5 billion households in the world, and 70% of the world’s global emissions come from households. Right here in our houses is a really big space in which to fight climate change!
Also, in affluent parts of the world, over consumption is a major contributor to climate change. And women are a powerful niche market, you know, we’re 51% of the population and hugely influential in the market place. In terms of the developing world, women and children are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
Truth is, being a women’s movement has catapulted us into the main arena quite quickly. I think if we’d have been a generic movement our voice would have been gobbled up by all the others out there.
I knew we needed to find a way of connecting to women. But that doesn’t mean we’re anti-bloke. It means simply that we’re directly dialing up the strengths of women.
1 Million Women really does harness this collective spirit doesn’t it? Why is the collective so important to social movement?
I am no expert. I have been learning this as I go. I’ve never created a movement before, I’ve never been an activist…
I love that so much, “I’ve never been an activist before, so I’m just going to found this amazing international movement for social change.” It’s great – that attitude.
It’s true. It’s almost like we have just been learning as we go.
But we went from zero members and we now have 450,000. And last year our blog got 4 million views – we also recently won an award from the UN for our achievements.
One thing I absolutely know from witnessing the growth of 1 Million Women is that the collective is vital.
When you think you’re one person doing something it’s easy to put off change, or to lose momentum – you know – you put things off; things seem hard.
We focus on the collective impact – how if a million of us did this one small thing, it can change the world.
But it’s also the support, the sharing of solutions, challenges and stories that say you’re not alone in this. And I think for women it is one of the ways we work. Women are different to men, and we do things differently. And it’s our ability to share and to unite in the journey that’s powerful.
Why is empowerment so important?
Empowerment is such an interesting thing. Because empowerment comes from confidence.
I know from my own personal story that I wasn’t doing anything about climate change for two reasons. One, because I wasn’t engaged. But also I didn’t have confidence – I didn’t know what to do. And when you don’t know enough about something – it doesn’t matter what it is – it is so much easier to do nothing.
Seriously, you’ve just got to get over that when it comes to climate change.
Just get on with it do something. It doesn’t matter what it is. You do one thing and you see a result and it leads to something else.
And at 1 Million Women we work on giving women bite-sized chunks with very tangible results. This method motivates them to do more.
That’s what your new app’s about isn’t it? It gives you feedback on what you did and the results from your action in terms of slowing climate change.
Yeah, our new app will hopefully be launched at the end of the year.
We created a crowdfunding campaign for the app and raised all the funds we need. We’ve done three crowdfunding campaigns now, one for saving the Great Barrier Reef and the other was for our anthem. But this was our biggest response. For an app!
There’s this real need from our members for direction: show me what to do, tell me what to do, show me the plan.
The app is very natural progression because most of our viewers access us on their phones.
And as a movement you have to keep up with growth and change.
With the app we’ll communicate more immediately. Best thing is, we can glean insights in direct ways. For instance, it might be insights about delivering advice to policy makers. Women are a powerful group to glean info from. And we can use the data we get through the app to further combat climate change.
Is creativity important for promoting social impact. What role does emotion play in persuading audiences?
We’ve done our job properly if you’ve changed the way you live. So we need to keep you coming along on the journey.
And to do that we need to really get to your heart. And connect.
Which something like a song does …
Yes! We really wanted to dial up our message before the big Paris conference conference on climate change last year. And we knew we could get our message out through the power of music.
We spent a year trying to work out what the best song would be. Then we thought, why not You’re the Voice?
What was the process of getting the rights to the song like? Was it difficult?
It was difficult because I just thought I could go to John Farnham and say “could you give us the song.”
But it wasn’t that easy because it had nothing to do with him, so we had to go to writers and agents and so it took longer than I thought it would.
But in the end we got the rights and nearly everyone worked pro bono. Andreas Smetana is Australia’s best fashion photographer and he made the clip for us for instance.
We wanted to show women from all walks of life singing this really powerful song. It was so much fun.
What are your three pieces of advice for founders of social movements?
Stay on purpose. Really clearly define your mission and your purpose. There were times we went off-track, and when that happens it takes longer to get back on track again.
Find ways to emotionally connect. It can be quirky and fun, but it doesn’t have to be. Just be honest and real.
Tell the real story. That’s how people connect. If you’re trying to tell a story tell it through storytelling. Climate change is a big issue, so it’s easy to slip from denial to despair. Storytelling keeps climate change very personal.
Become part of 1 Million Women here.