Clare Dubois is the founder of TreeSisters.org, a global women’s movement supporting humanity’s evolution into a restorer species. She is an Earth-loving social entrepreneur and inspirational speaker, known for her direct, catalytic energy; her whole systems approach to behaviour change and her unending loyalty and love for the natural world. In her own life, her aim is to reclaim balance, astonish herself and be ‘walking permission’ for those who are fed up of being held back, and just want to have a go.
Clare talks to us about her background, how she found her passion for environmentalism, and how she overcame the challenges of setting up an organisation…
1. Why do you do the work you do?
I have a wild love affair with the natural world, that very possibly runs deeper in my blood than any other form of connection. Back in my late 20s, I started having dreams, well, nightmares actually, about no more clouds. Being British, the idea of no more rain is unthinkable, but night after night they plagued me. I became obsessed about clouds and also about the reality of how climate change could decimate the landscapes and the forests that I loved. Before becoming an environmentalist, I worked as a medical intuitive and coach. I was fascinated about what makes us who we are, and more importantly what holds us back from bringing our gifts. These two passions, the wild nature of our humanity and our roots in wild nature, began to collide. I discovered a longing to contribute to the rekindling of human relationship to the natural world so that we could wake up from this false separation that sees us consuming our planet and therefore ourselves into oblivion. I saw climate change as a crisis of consciousness, and therefore a symptom of some fundamental part of ourselves held back or stifled. I wanted to bring that part out of the dark, so that we might have a chance to create the kind of relationship with nature that could only see us creating heaven on earth, rather than hell, for future generations.
2. What are the challenges you’ve had to overcome to get you where you are today and how did you address them?
Probably like most women in this world, I have had to overcome huge internal challenges to believe in myself, and dare to step into a role of leadership that I had no qualifications for whatsoever. I had never worked for an organisation, let alone run one. I had no idea about charity law, accounting, staff management, trustees, compliance, or frankly even how to believe that what I was trying to do had any merit whatsoever.
The concept that I was holding pointed at two of the greatest wounds that we have, the desecration of our planet and our mother, and the repression and suppression of the feminine and women. I was drawing a direct parallel between the treatment of women and the treatment of nature. I was making a link between the psychological wounds that we have inflicted on ourselves and our planet, and the core separation and disconnection that allows us to consume our planet as if this ecosystem isn’t the life support machine upon which we all depend. I was saying that unless we reinstate the feminine principal and it’s tendency to intimacy, relationship, love, care and reverence for life, we would simply drive ourselves off a cliff, focusing purely on our bank balances on the way over, and not the screaming children and vanishing species beside us.
There is nothing easy or simple about any of that. Add to it the reality that a vast amount of women are terrified of themselves, each other and their own power and you have a plan of action that had ‘seriously difficult’ written all over it!
I have got over it, one comfort zone, contraction and insecurity at a time. I have built a global sisterhood to ensure that I have a support system in place every time I fall over. This required turning ‘falling over and getting back up again’ into one fluid movement, not unlike a dance! The reality is, any fear I have is a limitation that holds me back, and I do not want to be held back by anything. I love this world too much, and I am too curious about what I am capable of to let fears, that are mostly indoctrinations or inheritances, hold me back. Besides, how can I ask women worldwide to step into leadership and cross over their inner thresholds if I am not willing to lead by example?
3. What unique qualities do you bring (as a woman) that makes a difference in what you do?
My imperfections are a pathway of permission for other women. Countless times I have heard women say to me ‘thank God you haven’t got your shit together because that means I can have a go!’ I cannot tolerate shaming and judgment, and so I hold strong culture within TreeSisters that is inclusive of everything. Part of that everything is simply having a go, without knowing the outcome, without needing anything to be perfect, simply because we have to try anything and everything at this point. So I have a tendency to publicly share and discuss every failure that I have, and my process of dealing with it so that I can make that experience more accessible and less frightening for our network.
I am quite often described as fierce. I would like to think that is fiercely loving, because I do bring a very deeply rooted passion that was probably born out of serious injustice. I was hammered by a misogynistic father, and have had to painstakingly climb out of the pit of unworthiness that he dug for me. That has left me incapable of tolerating any woman in any pit of any so-called lie about her unworthiness or insufficiency. Instead I actively seek for the tuning fork of a woman’s brilliance and her raw authenticity exactly as she is, when she throws off the shackles of conditioned acceptability.
I speak from the heart, because I see no other reason for speaking
4. What advice would you give women who want to create more impact and influence in the work they are doing, creating a greener, happier, and more equitable world?
This may sound odd, but I would ask you, ‘Have you let your heart break?’ If you haven’t let your heart break about what’s going on, then your love and creativity are still limited, when in fact the truth of your feminine heart, is that there is no limit to your love and creativity. Your grief is your gateway to your love and the voice of your soul. In holding back from your grief, you hold yourself back from your joy, audacity and leadership.
Yes, we all need to think big now, but thinking big has to originate from a place of connection to who and what we are, so that our offerings are in line with our mental, emotional and physiological capacities. A feminine response to climate change is one that recognises the limitations of our bodies, so that we don’t burn ourselves out whilst increasing our leadership. Our branches will only grow as tall as our roots are deep, and if we don’t take care of ourselves then we can contribute nothing in the way of healthy leadership.
5. What successes have you witnessed that we should all be celebrating?
For me, some of the greatest successes in a woman’s life are when we learn to say no instead of yes. Every time I witness a woman stepping out of her comfort zone, it is a success. There are huge gestures of that, like Pheonah and Miriam in Uganda who are planting 1 million saplings in a country that murders gay women, or our local Treesisters Grove in Bolivia who are cycling over 1000km to raise awareness around local reforestation.
For TreeSisters it is a success that we are now planting over 300,000 trees a month, in ecosystems all over the world where women are at the coal face of climate change, and that we are helping those women climb out of poverty and into empowerment.
It is a success to me that Rachana has become the leader of our planting project in Nepal, with Eden projects. She has sacked the male workers who refused to work, and hired an all female staff to deliver over 1 million saplings in a year. But equally, I consider it a success for the world that a woman leader called Gail, started a global rebellion against extinction, that a woman called Polly, started a movement to change the law in order to make Ecocide illegal, and that a young girl called Greta, is speaking truth to power in a way that is bringing governments to their knees.
We are surrounded by feminine success, in the face of a world that still prefers things to stay as they have always been; completely insane, unsustainable and disrespectful to life, especially future generations.
6. When it feels like the world is going crazy, what keeps your vision and passion alive?
Simply said, I love this world too much to let it go to rot and ruin just because we didn’t care enough to try. Humanity may look crazy, but deep inside every individual is a river of sanity, because we are made of this earth, we are not separate from Her. Therefore, there is a consciousness that is possible within and through us all that is directly arising from profound nature connection. I call that our authentic feminine nature as women, or the feminine wild as it expresses through us.
I am simply not satisfied to live in a world of women that are held back or sitting on their power and gifts. I have no idea what we could be capable of as a global sisterhood of unleashed women, but I am doing everything in my power to find out!
When I feel myself collapsing under the weight of climate change, loss and extension, I look to the miracle of the feminine heart, how many of us are stepping through our fears and up into leadership, and I feel deeply comforted and on purpose.
In truth, all I have to do is watch the hummingbirds in my garden, listen to the sound of the hawks, witness the staggering beauty of the trees that is vanishing due to disease all around me, and feel the beauty of the natural world that I love so much, and there is no other path available to me. There is simply love in action, and the discovery of all I can be on behalf of all that I love.
7. Who inspires you and why?
My husband Mark Dubois is the greatest inspiration in my life because he has a greater reverence for the natural world and a sense of the sacred than anyone I have ever met. He is incapable of wasting anything, he pulls his presence and attention into everything that he does, and he lives like a waking prayer. Living with him is a transformational experience, that reflects me back to myself on a moment to moment basis and calls me to be the truest expression of myself, as a being of love, that I can be.
Polly Higgins, Gail Bradbrook, Vandana Shiva, Wangari Maathai and Greta Thunberg are my heroines. These women have walked unmentionable paths to speak truth to power. I am in awe of each of them. Knowing that women like this exist, or have existed, provides a pathway of permission for myself to believe that I can achieve more than my fears would have me know. Role models are like living pathways of possibility. We all need them.
Without Wangari in my sights, I would never have dared to try TreeSisters. Now there are over 8 million trees planted across 10 tropical ecosystems and treesisters in over 200 countries in the world. She never knew me, and yet she was holding my hand, and still is.
Polly left us last year through cancer, and yet we are all still fighting for the law making Ecocide illegal because she dared to do what was needed to carve that path.
Gail is activating the rebellion against extinction that finally has governments acknowledging climate emergency. Vandana is holding seed sacred in a world of gene splicing, speaking truth to the likes of Monsanto.
Greta is being herself – a truthful child speaking the truth in an insane world. She will grow up knowing that she did everything she could to turn the world around.
8. What is the question you wish people would ask you? What is your answer?
Q: How can I discover what is mine to do at this time?
A: The fastest way to discover our gifts and our purpose is to be honest with ourselves. Radical honesty. The kind that most of us avoid at all costs because it sometimes requires change to be made in the foundations of our lives.
Honesty can start with allowing yourself to feel your genuine longings. What do you long for? What do you love? What can you not bear to live without in this world? How deeply can you allow your heart to open? How fully are you living your life? How much of yourself do you know that you are holding back? How willing are you to acknowledge why you hold so much back?
We are here to have lives that are fully lived, and that means finding ways to bring the absolute uniqueness of ourselves fully into expression. Wherever we are held back, there is grief. Therefore, grief is a gateway back to ourselves.
If you can allow yourself to really truly understand what is happening to our world, and the fact that no child born today will ever know what those of us born 40 years ago experienced as a norm, then your grief has an opportunity to open your heart in ways that display aspects of yourself that hitherto may have been hidden. Necessity is calling us into leadership and action. Our leadership needs to be an expression of our hearts, not just our heads. The trap we can fall into, is comparing what is rising through us to what is rising through another. Let your heart sing it’s unique song, but make sure you drop the shadow of comparison from your internal world completely. It will never honour the truth of who you are.
Founding CEO of TreeSisters, Claire Dubois is an Earth-loving social entrepreneur known for her direct, catalytic energy, her whole systems approach to behaviour change, and her unending loyalty and love for the natural world.’ ‘Grow Your Own Forest’ with TreeSisters and you can fund tree planting across the tropics in diverse forest environments, including mangroves, rainforests, dry deciduous forest, agroforestry and more. To find out how you can contribute to restoring and protecting the global tropical forests, visit the website www.treesisters.org or Facebook page www.facebook.com/treesisters/