Sole Riestra: Women Leader in Sustainability
Founder and Director of Ecoed Life, Sole Riestra is an organisational development and learning professional, sustainability practitioner, cultural and societal change seeker, with 15+ years of experience and a lifelong commitment towards helping individuals and organisations bring about change within themselves and in society.
Back from maternity leave with the second of her two girls, we caught up with Sole as Ecoed launch their exciting crowdfunder to bring the gamification of environmental education into more schools.
1. As a change maker within your industry, tell us a little about your background?
My background is in Organisational Development, particularly in the areas of learning and change. I have worked for more than 15 years in roles and/or consultancy projects within Human Resources, people development, diversity and inclusion and individual and collective behaviour change.
My passion though has always been sustainability, particularly the natural environment. So around 7 years ago I started ‘using’ my expertise and experience in the fields of learning and behaviour change in service of the sustainability agenda, trying to create an approach towards environmental awareness, education and action that people would find fun, inspiring, user friendly and thus engage more and more with it. The question I was holding at the time (and still do!) was ‘how can we make the biggest challenges of our times accessible, down to earth and practical for each and every one of us to feel that we can, not only understand them but also contribute in a positive way? This is how Ecoed was born.
2. What are the challenges you’ve had to overcome to get you where you are today and how did you address them?
Well, time and resources are certainly the two most critical challenges. Time because as a wise mentor of mine told me once, it doesn’t matter how many people you throw at it, a baby will still take 9 months to form and be born – this was her way of explaining to me that I had to be patient, and understand that every new initiative takes time to take off, this being years, not months! -. And resources because as the project develops – i.e. the baby ‘forms’ – it needs to be sustained financially; it needs people and supporters to spread the word, etc.
How did I overcome them? Well I wouldn’t say I have yet, it’s an ongoing process. But I did learn to be more patient, to respect that things take time, to find allies and supporters that hang in there with me and make this sprout grow and blossom every day (thanks Zoe and Carolina, the two directors of Ecoed Life CIC UK!). I also learned that believing and trusting in what we are doing helps me, the team and Ecoed develop that resilience to keep going.
3. What unique qualities do you bring (as a woman) that makes a difference in what you do?
This is a difficult question as it’s challenging not to fall into stereotypes of the attributes of women and men at work. I would choose to answer this question by saying that I believe the unique qualities I bring are, firstly my passion and love for life and for the environment, and this urge to protect it, for the present but most importantly, for our future generations. The greatest leap I took with Ecoed was to personally fund the development of the Ecoed game app – our main tech tool that gamifies the learning experience on personal ecological footprint and how to shift towards more sustainable daily habits –. I made this decision during my 8th month of pregnancy of my first daughter, and I acted on it right after my daughter was born. To me this is not a coincidence. There was something about becoming a mother that urged me to take this big step forward in what I believed could make a huge difference in how we transform our lifestyles: fun, engaging, inspiring education. And being a mum, now to two small girls, continues to push me to help create a better future for them.
Other unique qualities that have sustained this project so far have been perseverance, drive, conviction, collaborating with other people and organisations, and of course, multitasking – a critical one when running a startup and a family!
4. What advice would you give women who want to create more impact and influence in the workplace?
My first advice would be to first and foremost, find yourselves and your voice. What do you stand for? What do you believe in? This is crucial groundwork because these are the foundations upon which everything else is built on. So, find your centre of gravitation. Connect with what’s truly important to you.
And then find your voice, as in, your words, means and ways to speak up, to be heard, to transmit what you stand for. And this is quite unique to each individual. It doesn’t have to be preachy or pretentious, nor patronising. It simply has to come from that centre, from the heart of who you are. When it’s authentic, you become what you stand for and then it’s much more about showing rather than telling.
Lastly, find allies, supporters, people that can help you reflect and learn as you go. Never lose sight of who and where your audience is in the change process. Remember that we all don’t know what we don’t know. And for some people and under certain circumstances, change can be more or less difficult as well. Try as much as you can to never lose your curiosity – especially over quick judgement or cynicism.
5. What successes have you witnessed that we should all be celebrating?
Well, I think that globally the sustainability agenda is growing and spreading. The amount of news, articles and reports being posted on a daily basis, documentaries done by celebrities and public international figures, the power of social media being used constantly to mobilise people and institutions, as well as the latest massive peaceful movements like extinction rebellion and the students’ strikes to fight climate change… all of this – to me – represents a powerful wave of change that’s still growing and will hopefully continue spreading its reach and influence. But if you look at these phenomena in retrospective, 5 or 10 years earlier, there’s been huge progress in mobilising people and in developing a global call for action, at least from a grassroots perspective.
Technology is also being shifted towards the creation of more sustainable ways and means of living – from waste-to-energy generation to more sustainable alternatives to plastic, and the very recent news that the world’s largest ocean clean up will be taking place soon, with the aim of collecting 1.8 trillion pieces of trash from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (source: forbes).
All of these are successes worth celebrating, and also inspiring stories that give me hope to continue doing the work that we do which is to help people of all ages transform our lifestyles towards more sustainable ways of being and living.
6. When it feels like the world is going crazy, what keeps your vision and passion alive?
Connecting with people I can trust, with a shared vision and common passion, that keeps me sane and keeps me going. Also the few hours of disconnect – just doing some sports, or laying on the floor playing with my daughters and dogs and cats (we’ve got both permanent residents and the regular fostered ones!). Going for a walk and paying attention to the baby snails growing on the edges of the walls, or the lizards that quickly run and hide from a trail, or anything really that acts as a doorway to how perfect and beautiful life manifested through us and others can be, also keeps me going.
7. Who inspires you and why?
People like Greta Thunberg, Jane Goodall, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., inspire me. And to me, they have in common their non-violent, authentic voice, and their devotion to their beliefs and causes, as well as the ideal of being able to inspire true systems change by being who they are and harnessing the power of human will and conviction. Behind their lives and work there is a message about each and every one of us contributing to building our own individual and collective future together, step by step, action by action, and I’m inspired by them every day.
8. What is the question you wish people would ask you?
Why do you do what you do?
What is your answer?
Because I cannot not do it.
Find out more about Ecoed and their brilliant crowdfunder here.