Meet the women making a difference in climate action accountability

  • Article type Article
  • Publication date 12 Mar 2022

Women are already driving powerful acts to defeat climate change as leaders, defenders of the environment, and guardians of accountability.

For Helen, Lisa, Bayaraa and EY, the action begins with supporting the work through integrity and ensuring that corruption does not stand in the way of climate action.

Strength in stereotypes

Qun Helen Zhang is an Investigations Officer at the Independent Integrity Unit (IIU). Coming from China, she joined the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in 2019 and fondly recalls the robust office life before COVID-19 when everything shifted to virtual work.

As an investigator, Helen’s responsibilities include receiving and analyzing complaints, conducting interviews, gathering information, and developing recommendations based on the outcome of the investigations.

She found her way to integrity and climate action via her background in law. “I find conducting investigations are more exciting than a lawyer’s day-to-day work as I get exposed to a variety of types of cases such as fraud, corruption, conflict of interest, bullying, sexual harassment, and others.”

In Helen’s point of view, some common stereotypes of women can be a challenge in any workplace. One example is the impression that women are diminutive by nature, soft-spoken, and friendly. In her work as an investigator, Helen believes that sometimes these perceptions create opportunities for her to adapt to any given scenario, which can be advantageous. It allows her to set a more welcoming tone during potentially stressful investigations. This is especially important, considering the diversity in people and personality types in an organization.

Helen further emphasizes that in conducting an administrative investigation, everyone, including the alleged subject, deserves to be treated with respect, dignity, and, very importantly, provided the protections of due process. “After all, a presumption of innocence is a fundamental legal principle,” she explains.

For women who are interested in this career, reframing stereotypes could work. “I see much potential for women as we are capable of building rapport and earning trust fast.”

Balancing passions

Lisa Elges is an international human rights lawyer passionate about environmental issues and helping people stand up to injustice. Working in the IIU for five years, she supports the implementation of integrity policies at GCF and efforts to strengthen operations through peer learning and proactive reviews of projects.

“Right now, I am focused on what I can do to inspire greater integrity in decision-making that leads to unprecedented emissions reductions and climate-resilient development for vulnerable people within the next decade,” Lisa shares. “I cannot say exactly what moved me to focus my career on seeking accountability for the harm caused to innocent beings (people, wildlife, nature), but I cannot imagine doing anything else.”

When asked what inspired her to pursue this direction, Lisa points to her family as a significant influence. “My father always challenged me to question the way things are, think non-conventionally, and search for the truth while my mother has been patient and caring. My children are constantly pushing boundaries and reminding me of what really matters. And, I guess my husband is all of these things for me.”

In this demanding line of work, one challenge she sees is balancing an equally demanding role– being a good mother. “For many people, it can be hard to keep a good work-life balance, especially when they are passionate about work,” she observes.

In the mission of climate action, Lisa believes in the potential for women to make a difference in helping humanity prevent irreversible environmental change. “The possibilities are almost limitless. The point is that women should have a fair chance to develop their abilities and interests, free of discrimination or bias, and in safe spaces.”

Reflecting on leadership

Bayartsetseg Jigmiddash or ‘Bayaraa’ works as a Senior Prevention Specialist leading prevention-related activities such as proactive integrity reviews, awareness-raising, and capacity-building programs to support the integrity framework of the GCF.

Before her role as the lead in the IIU’s Prevention workstream, Bayaraa served as state secretary and legal advisor to the president in the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs of Mongolia.

As one of the few women in government, Bayaraa faced challenges fitting into the traditional command and control leadership style and often confronted stereotypes and biases about women in the patriarchal security sector. “As a woman leader, I had to double my efforts to prove myself constantly,” she explains. Staying true to one’s commitments, values, and moral compass while making difficult decisions and avoiding compromises was also a part of the struggle.

“My leadership journey is a continuous process of mostly learning by doing,” she says, reflecting on her career path. To her, leadership is not merely managing performance or deliverables but also connecting as a human and a team member to give motivation. “I believe in the power of human connection, collective optimism, and also managing high expectations from ourselves and others.”

Bayaraa cautions that placing women in leadership seats should not be a mere act of tokenism. “Diversity is having a seat, inclusion is having a voice, and preventing bias does not mean hearing only what you want to hear.”

“Women have been a major player in driving change in climate action and championing integrity. This needs to be recognized and amplified more.”

Supporting growth and empowerment

Eunyoung 'EY' Lee is an Integrity and Compliance Officer at the Unit. She is currently developing Proactive Integrity Reviews designed to assess risks in climate projects. Aside from providing guidance for policy development and implementation, she also coordinates with partners from Accredited Entities to build accountability and integrity capacity.

She expressed her excitement in seeing female leadership grow in the Fund. Supporting the work for women is crucial for the success of climate action. "May the GCF stay ahead of changes and continuously endeavor to create a workplace where female colleagues are empowered to use their voices in decision-making processes and an enabling environment for women to realize their full potential leveling the playing field."


Illustrations by Matt Hebrona/IIU.