1 Dec 2016
Cities Programme researcher joins world’s largest all-female voyage to Antarctica

RMIT urban resilience researcher Dr Niina Kautto is one of the 77 talented female scientists on voyage to Antarctica as part of a new global leadership program, Homeward Bound.

Regions of Antarctica are currently exhibiting some of the most rapid responses to climate change, causing critical changes to its physical and living environment.

The Australian-led initiative Homeward Bound will take the largest all-female expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula to undertake a state-of-the-art program in developing leadership and strategic capabilities, as well as to study the role the continent plays in the climate system.

Joining some of the best and brightest women in science from around the world is UN Global Compact – Cities Programme research associate and College of Science, Engineering and Health academic Dr Niina Kautto.

“In our fast urbanising world, we are increasingly encountering complex challenges such as climate change and decreasing biodiversity,” Kautto said.

“We need the brightest minds to address these challenges, and this requires collaboration from diverse teams where there are no boundaries on gender, culture, age or discipline.”

The snowy landscapes of the south have long captured the imagination of many leaders in the past, but it’s the crucial insights into global-scale change and the influence of human activities on environmental change that has enticed Kautto to the 20-day expedition.

Recently, she has been investigating local-level urban resilience with the RMIT Climate Change Adaptation Program and examining the opportunities that enhance public-private partnerships and address extreme heat in the Melbourne CBD with UNGCCP Chair Michael Nolan, as well as providing research services and technical advice to UN Global Compact – Cities Programme Leading city, Rotorua.

“The mentorship and interesting opportunities I’ve received from the team at the Cities Programme to connect with city-level actors have been important in preparing me for this unique leadership training program,” Kautto said.

Homeward Bound, founded by Dattner Grant partner Fabian Dattner together with marine ecological modeller at Australian Antarctic Division Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas, is a 10-year outreach initiative aiming to enhance the influence and impact of 1000 women in science, and elevate their role in leading the world towards a more sustainable future.

Globally, women are underrepresented in leadership positions, particularly in science, with women only representing 28.4 per cent of the world’s researchers and 11 per cent of the top-level scientists in the European Union.

“At the heart of Homeward Bound is the question – what if balancing the gender voice at the leadership table was one of the most effective ways to influence environmental sustainability and reduce human impact on the global environment?” Kautto said.

“When women are provided with leadership and strategic skills, they are able to take on leadership roles affecting decision making around the sustainability of our world.”

Kautto says she is incredibly excited that the expedition will provide her and her peers 12 days of leadership and strategic planning training, followed by six days of science education program about the state and functioning of the planet.

“We are supported by a world leading faculty that consists of filmed and on board experts, including British primatologist Dr Jane Goodall, Australian singer and activist Claire Bowditch, and Former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres, to name a few.”

“The journey will also involve the filming of the documentary Beautiful Minds (working title), which aims to challenge the world to think about the role of women as leaders.”

Self-funding the trip, Kautto has now raised half of the needed funds by organising two fundraising events, successfully meeting her crowdfunding goal thanks to over 110 generous funders with strong investment in this cause, and receiving support from RMIT.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Science, Engineering and Health and Vice-President Professor Peter Coloe said the University was delighted to hear Kautto had been selected for this expedition.

“RMIT has always been fully committed to removing the barriers for women to advance their careers at the University,” Professor Coloe said.

“We see this as a great opportunity to connect the RMIT efforts with this extraordinary initiative and we are very pleased to support Niina on this journey.”

Kautto said she was very pleased to have the support of RMIT behind her to continue her passion of promoting women in science.

“I am extremely grateful to Professor Peter Coloe, RMIT and the many others who have recognised the significance of this initiative, and supported and funded this endeavour,” she said.

“I am eager to spread knowledge about female leadership and gender quality, especially in the context of my field, and bring forward RMIT’s role in promoting women in STEM fields and gender equality.”

Follow Niina’s journey to Antarctica via the Homeward Bound website and Facebook.


Story: Chanel Bearder