Francesca Carnibella
Why alice?
Written by Francesca Carnibella

Why alice?

I’m a young woman who campaigns on climate change. I recently counted that in 18 months I had 60 work meetings, only 9 of which were with women. Meanwhile, from the highlands of Bolivia to the fuel poor homes of Britain, women disproportionately bear the burden of the climate and economic crises. These realities, both personal and political, are unjust. And for me, solving these injustices is not just about quantity. It’s not just about reducing the number of women who are affected by climate change and increasing female representation in the workplace. It’s also about quality.

It’s precisely this, the quality of leadership that I encounter and see around me, that spurred me to get involved with alice. Leadership isn’t a term I feel comfortable with in the traditional sense. Until recently I wouldn’t have associated myself with it. I’m someone who cares about solving injustices. We need some form of leadership to do this. But, simply put, I don’t want to compete, I don’t want to get sharp elbows out to get to the top, I don’t want to be a personality with a following and nor do I want to be a follower of a personality.

I recently heard the term “alpha NGO woman” used to describe women who work in the sector, who are good at what they do but who are driven by a personal competitive streak that is intimately related to the reality of a sector which is still male dominated and led.

I don’t want to carry on in a sector where this is a norm. At the least it creates a tense working environment and at the worst it’s perpetuating a form of leadership which is part and parcel of the deeper inequalities that exist in society. And as a young person, I feel I have responsibility to do something about this for both my generation and those to come.

What or who is alice?

Alice started with a launch dinner last November. It wasn’t a normal evening. It was certainly the first time in my life that I’ve had an opportunity to sit in a room with 99 other women, all there to share our stories and hatch plans together. The evening helped to tease out some of the core values that might shape alice. And this helped me to clarify my personal values around this:

Alice is anonymous. Leaders surround us. We just don’t necessarily call them that. My friends, my local newsagent, the nurse who looked after me in A&E after a recent accident, are all leaders to me.

I’m not talking about anonymity in the traditional sense. This doesn’t mean letting one another’s work go unacknowledged. It doesn’t mean that we are faceless or invisible. But rather it could mean a collective anonymity, where personalities, egos and fame are abandoned.

Alice is humble. The alice dinner came in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death. I heard a quote about him being a “great yet humble leader.” And the blurb of Wangari Maathai’s memoir which sits on my desk describes her as “…a hugely charismatic yet humble woman…” Since when was being humble somehow the binary opposite of being a leader? Why can we not have leaders that are great and humble?

Alice is an opportunity to put humility at the heart of what it means to be a leader. But what does being humble look like? For me, it encompasses some of the following:

We are concerned with our collective effort and impact rather than our personal gain. We are modest in temperament but ambitious in our goals. We are not intimidating or overbearing, warding off those who might not have a similar confidence. We are warm, well-mannered and approachable. Movements for change are at their most effective when they are inclusive and, I think, humility goes a long way in creating that inclusivity.

This is just the beginning. We need to shout when leadership fails but we also need to get our vision out there. We need to extend the network, to both men and women, to reach out and take action. We have 100 people ready and waiting to send out ripples and create waves of change. Young or old, male or female, we can’t do this without you. Will you be the 101st alice?