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Manjula Lee on finding your purpose and sticking to it even when laughed out of a room.

SALLY EHRMANN - August 4, 2021

They say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. And while there are certainly busier days for Manjula Lee, the CEO of World Wide Generation, she finds fulfillment in her career by constantly remembering the purpose of her work.

World Wide Generation is a group of technology and sustainability experts from all over the world who have created the G17Eco platform, which aims to accelerate and scale the financing and delivery of a sustainable planet this decade. G17Eco is a multiple app and stakeholder platform that enables users to map, monitor, measure, manage and market sustainability performance.

“People will say, ‘Well, how are you guys different?’ ” Lee said. “I don't know about everybody else, but I can tell you that we genuinely care to get this colossal problem solved. We will walk the journey with people until we land this thing. Coming into G17Eco is like coming into a sustainability gym. We have the very best digital tools, practitioners, programs and solutions to help you get to sustainability peak performance. We genuinely want to make the process of reporting and decision making literally … SIMPLE (strategic, interconnected, meaningful, long term, educative).”

What exactly is the “getting all of this solved” that Lee talks about?

Making the world a more equitable, sustainable and joyous place for all.

Lee began her career at the oil and gas giant Shell, where she was on track to be a leader in the large corporate world. But Lee felt like something significant was missing in her career. She decided to take a year sabbatical to find her purpose and calling. Lee jokes that her one-year sabbatical turned into 17, trying to find the missing piece of why the world had poverty, inequality and environmental degradation.

Lee grew up in Sri Lanka. Over her life, she lived in a lot of different places — like Zambia, apartheid South Africa, Australia and now London. In that time, she saw a lot of horrific sights — poverty, oppression, injustice, environmental horrors and everything in between. Lee felt like she couldn’t just sit back and be a spectator, but she wanted to use her experience, talents and network to do something about it and actually be the change she wanted to see in the world in her lifetime.

During her 17-year quest to improve the world, she met with a wide variety of people — everyone from presidents, influential leaders, captains of industry. The more she researched the bigger the problem got. Very few solutions were working. So, it was this epiphany that led Lee to create the G17Eco platform.

Lee presented the economic argument of sustainability first to the investor community, where she told them that this was the trillion-dollar opportunity. Companies that are sustainable will become the most successful, but they told her all their pain points came out of dated, untrusted and incomparable data.

Second, Lee went to companies (public, private, small and medium-size enterprises) with her ideas for sustainability. Many didn’t even know where to begin. But not only that, some companies worried about being “named and shamed” in the sense that if a company does anything wrong, they immediately get picked on in the public eye. So, Lee needed to find a way to convince the companies that this was a worthwhile effort.

Finally, Lee approached those in the middle — the auditors, assurers, rating agencies and the like. This group felt that they were held back by how expensive so many solutions are. So, Lee set out to find a solution for this group as well.

“I thought, ‘Okay, what if we created a technology platform that could standardize and streamline all this alphabet soup of standards, frameworks, policies. Collect data directly from the companies with evidence, the immutable chain of provenance and transparency, calculate their social, economic and environmental impact for them, then enable them to disseminate that in real time between all their stakeholders, and aggregate this to global target something?’ That was the thesis,” Lee said.

Lee took a piece of paper to draw up her vision — and started to design and invent the G17Eco platform, using data bot and distributed ledger technology. She took it around to different people but was literally laughed out of the room with disbelief that such a system could be created. She felt down, until she got a call from the British government. Someone there understood the vision and wanted to help Lee develop her plans further.

Not having a technology background proved to be another obstacle Lee had to overcome. But she kept putting the vision out there, and soon hundreds of people from around the world were drawn to the purpose of the World Wide Generation movement. Five years later, the G17Eco platform was born.

“When companies onboard, they use the Company Tracker App to help them create an automated digital survey to collect their sustainability data,” Lee said. “We automatically map them to globally recognized sustainability metrics, including the sustainable development goals (SDGs) so they don’t need to worry about having to do this themselves. A company may want to track carbon emissions, or their diversity, equity and inclusion performance, or track their impact on water or education — whatever social, economic or environmental impact they want to measure, the system will automate this for them and produce the results in real time.

“A data bot sits behind every single metric in the system. So, if you get a question that you can’t answer you can delegate those data bots to anyone in your organization, your suppliers and even your supplier’s suppliers. So, you can say ‘Hey, you're our supplier for water here, can you please answer this question?’ ”

World Wide Generation is now a global team across EMEA, APAC and AMERICAS, with many specialty organizations and partners signed on to track sustainability performance. Lee is especially proud of how purpose-driven the company is. Everyone involved with World Wide Generation is truly doing it for the betterment of society — so the planet is in good shape for the next generation.

“So, one of the issues with ESG is that we've separated the financial from the non-financial. So, sustainability is like this huge mystical thing that you kind of do on the side, which at the moment feels like high risk, low reward. One of the principles of G17 was to make the financial and non-financial integrated and we say we want to help stakeholders SEE through a holistic SEE (social, economic and environmental) lens. We've really created a disservice to our humanity by separating it.”

In her time coming up with the G17 solution, Lee was often the only woman, let alone woman technology CEO in any meeting. It could be intimidating for many women, but Lee kept her purpose in the back of her mind. She always went back to purpose.

Lee believes in her purpose and the purpose of World Wide Generation. She truly believes having trusted data at your fingertips for procurement and supply chain decision making can truly change the world. But the time to act is now. The solutions are out there.

“We really are the last generation that can solve this,” Lee said “We need to take action. We need to move. We have built a platform that takes all the complexity out of being sustainable and achieving regeneration today — we are motivated help you SEE clearly to SEE change.”

Words by SALLY EHRMANN - August 4, 2021



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