Happy, Sexy, Strong Women: Jean Oelwang
We are delighted to continue our series featuring women who embody the Ramy Brook ideals of "happy, sexy, and strong" with Jean Oelwang. Jean is a remarkable force of nature, using her exceptional skills to help Virgin's businesses prioritize impacting positive change on the world. Jean is the President of Virgin Unite, a non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, and a Senior Partner at the B Team.
Previously a joint CEO of Virgin Mobile Australia, Jean left her position in 2003 and embarked upon the journey of creating what is now Virgin Unite. For more than 12 years, Jean has worked with global partners to tackle social and environmental issues.
In conjunction with World Oceans Day on June 8th, we sat down with Jean and to learn more about Ocean Unite, an initiative within Virgin Unite led by Karen Sack.
Tell us about Ocean Unite and your work with the organization.
As human beings, our lives depend on the ocean. Our ability to breathe, eat, and grow our economies is all directly linked back to this awe-inspiring massive body of water, yet only 3 percent of the Ocean is protected. Yes, you heard that correctly -- only 3 percent is protected. This is a wonderful opportunity when you think about how we’ve been able to ensure that 15 percent of land around the world is protected -- surely we can do the same for the ocean.
Ocean Unite is a non-profit Initiative incubated by Virgin Unite and a group of partners and led by Karen Sack, a wonderful, long-time ocean advocate. It was set up in 2015 to unite and amplify the voices of global leaders and influencers, to protect the Ocean by getting the right people to communicate the right messages at the right moments. There is no debate, the science and policy are clear that there is an urgent need to protect the ocean. The good news is that there is also clarity on what is needed to restore and protect marine life. We now just need to make it happen. Fortunately, there are lots of organizations already doing great work in the ocean community, so part of our role is to unite them around critical opportunities and to get new voices and sectors engaged.
As an example, just recently, Ocean Unite launched the Ocean is Everybody’s Business initiative that encourages companies to embark on a voyage to “blue” (make more ocean-friendly) their business activities. Whether a company’s business activities are linked directly to the ocean or not, there are many actions that can be taken that will have a direct impact on promoting a healthier, cleaner, safer and more productive ocean. Increased business leadership is vital today more than ever in ensuring more sustainable activities, especially in cases where there is an absence of political leadership. We hope many more companies will join us and Ramy Brook on this blue voyage!
What is an important fact about this cause that you think our readers should know?
Whether you live in the inner city, next to the Ocean, on the top of a mountain. or in the middle of a forest, the Ocean touches each and every one of our lives every day. For starters, by providing half of the world’s oxygen, it gives us our every second breath. It gives food and jobs. Almost everything we own has probably been transported over sea. Yet, in return we are harming it. You may not be able to see it from above the surface, but the threats are many and the risks are real: plastics are choking our sea life; pollution is causing ‘dead zones’; overfishing is destroying marine life; and climate change is probably having the biggest impact on the ocean: our corals are dying as waters warm and acidify.
But the good news is it’s not too late to solve this crisis. The ocean is amazingly resilient and could recover, but it needs each and every one of us to play a part.
A key issue we are focusing on is galvanizing government and business support to ensure that 30 percent of the ocean is fully protected by 2030. This provides a clear common goal to catalyze action over the next decade. Right now, only about 3 percent of the ocean is strongly protected, but the science tells us we need to get to at least 30 percent.
So we need political and business action, but there are also many things we can do personally to have a positive impact -- from only buying sustainable seafood, cutting down on single-use plastic, reducing our carbon footprint, and even making sure that the brand of sun cream we use does not harm corals.
How do you inspire people to get involved with your organization? Or any philanthropic organizations?
I think the most important thing you can do to inspire people is to give them a message of hope, help them understand how an issue connects to their lives and then give them some clear ways to act. People want to be part of something bigger. They want to make a positive difference in the world. We now need to get better at collaborating and storytelling. With the ocean, there is no better way to capture people’s imaginations than to get them into the water to see the wonders of this incredible world that we are slowly destroying before we’ve even learned from its wisdom. Less than 5 percent of the Ocean has been explored, with new gifts emerging every day.
For example, those of you who spend time on the East Coast of the US will most probably have seen the horseshoe crab. What you might not know is that this creature was around before the dinosaurs some 450 million years ago. In 1956 humans discovered that the blue blood of the horseshoe crab can quickly identify bacteria and other harmful substances. So these crabs have been “donating” their blood for decades as “safety checks” for the creation of vaccines and the testing of medical machines, saving millions of lives each year.
What is your fail-proof "power outfit" or style?
I get the wonderful opportunity to work by the ocean much of the time and always pack my favorite Ramy Brook outfit, the Lulu one-shoulder jumpsuit. It fits my style of comfortable, hassle-free, and able to flow from casual to dressy.
Since this is a series profiling women we believe to fit our brand motto of "Happy, Sexy, Strong", we wanted to do a quick rapid-fire word association with you.
Happy? Exploring the wonders of this incredible world we live in –- especially when 30 feet under the surface of the ocean.
Sexy? Women who step up and live to their purpose.
Strong? Strength through empathy and vulnerability.