All is Bright Campaign featuring inspirational women - Tessy De Nassau of Luxembourg
To celebrate the strength, bravery and light of women around the world, we've interviewed a collection of truly inspiring women to share with us their journey, inspirations and advice for the future. Today's guest is the Co-Founder and President of Professors Without Borders, was awarded 'Woman of the Decade' in 2017 by the Women Economic Forum and was given the Freedom of the City of London this year. We are humbled to introduce, Tessy De Nassau of Luxembourg.
Q: Tessy, you are involved in a lot of different causes and do some incredible things but one thing people may be surprised to learn about you - could you tell us a little about your time in the military and what that was like as a woman?
A: It was a path creator for me. It paved the path that I’m walking today. In the military I learned a lot about how men and women compliment each other. I met incredible men who support women amazingly, but also met some men that showed why peacekeeping at the UN is under fire for sexual assault... I was so young and the only woman in my draft with a lot of men, but it was the right time. It was the moment I was deciding what should I do next? It showed me my weaknesses and my strengths and I learned how a policy paper translates on the ground and it showed me how grateful I should be for the life I have in Luxembourg, compared to women in war zones. It humbled me and made me realise my unearned privilege to be from Luxembourg and what that means and how I can use my experience there to make the world a better place for women without the same opportunities. I believe there should be more women in the forces because they have some excellent skills and we need that balance.
Q: In 2017 you were awarded ‘Woman of the Decade’ from the Women Economic Forum for your work in female empowerment (a huge congratulations!) - what type of work were you doing to receive such an accolade?
A: It was mostly for my work in the educational space. In 2017 Professors without Borders was 18-months old and I was working in Sierra Leone but the charity was expanding and entering places like Thailand. It was also for my work in the military and being the only woman - it combined a lot of things and my work at VICE media as Director. I think it was the boldness I represented at the time, including my work in India - culminating in working for equalling the odds for my fellow sisters and that’s been reflected in everything I do.
Q: Growing up, did you have a female icon and is there anyone you look up to now?
A: Hmmm, of course when I grew up I always watched the news, I always watched politics and knew all their names by the age of 6. As such, female leaders in Luxembourg and the ones around me all inspired me - I wouldn’t say there was 1 alone when I was a child because I was already a serial entrepreneur and I needed the stimulation of many people to form a holistic approach and not just one person’s voice. My inspiration came from a few channels, the news, my friends, my Mum and that is who inspired me then. It was men and women though that inspired me. Right now, there are a few women that inspire me. One is Melinda Gates - how she has used her name to make a difference in her own right. Also Ellen Degeneres is amazing. She makes a big difference to a lot of people and I like that she just goes for it and doesn’t care what people think. Jacinda in New Zealand embodies leadership - she is elegant and feminine while being a strong leader and she didn’t compromise her identity or mould herself to fit in that environment. Also shout out to RBG - she was incredible.
Q: You’ve recently launched a sustainable fashion brand (another congratulations) - obviously at Origin we’re using the sale of sustainable clothing to fund community-owned projects in Africa and directly helping women upskill themselves and lift themselves out of poverty. How do you think fashion can be a force for good and do you have any thoughts on Origin’s approach?
A: I think people are judged by the way they dress. Fashion is such a messenger - it shows culture, mood, so many things about a person's personality. One should never judge a book by its cover but the first impression comes in how you look. Fashion is such a tool to empower because you can express so many things without words. What we and Origin are doing, is empowering women from the start of creation - manufacturing - to the sale. Organic materials, we know where it all comes from - it’s about bringing back the beauty of the craft of making something. Nowadays, everything is just so fast and fashion is the same. Cheap brands just want to accommodate 10 seasons a year (even though we only have 4) and it’s such a waste. People don’t invest into something good and will remain for years but rather that constant change because that’s what society has taught us. Politics, social media etc. It’s a hamster wheel. Fashion can create a sense of belonging. What Origin is doing and what we’re trying to do is make people realise it’s better to buy something that will last, you know where it’s come from and it’s OK to wear it next season too!
Q: We’ve been asking all of our incredible female leaders and I’d love to know your thoughts on this. 2020 has been a crazy year - for those of us and especially any women reading this and looking to a better 2021 - what advice would you give them and what are you hoping for, for next year?
A: 2020 was the year of the phoenix. There were a lot of bad things, the economy is struggling, people are scared and lonely, people are stuck indoors, families are separated, it has been hard. I lost some people that were close to me BUT in looking at all of that. I still see the signs of the phoenix. There have been so many new discussions, politicians have been forced to address the problem and look at the community. The pandemic has exposed bad practice, consumerism way over the top, exposing the domains that are not needed anymore. People are now thinking, maybe we can do things differently and maybe there are more important things that matter to us. Cooperation, innovation has been birthed in what happened. We’re asking ourselves - what am I doing, what do I want? Communities have come together through this and countries have come together too. People are thinking about what they have and how they can use it for the better. For 2021 - how can we take these learnings. How do we fix society, what do I want to do to upskill myself and contribute. There are so many courses online now that if you really want to - you can reinvent yourself - make your stand, play a significant part in society. 2021 is a year of renewal - the biggest inspirations happen in times like these. The ground is the most fertile after a fire - the question is what will your next move be?
We hope you've enjoyed this interview as much as we did! Thank you, Tessy for your time with us and for your inspirational words.
This series is celebrating the launch of our Brave Woman t-shirt. You can get yours here!