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"Leading the Change: Anja Caron's Vision for a Circular Economy"

Updated: May 15




In a world where sustainability is not just a buzzword but a necessity, visionary leaders like Anja Caron are driving transformative change. As the founder of President & Founder THEIA International, Global Chairperson for Circular Economy (G100),G100 Global League of Women Leaders (IN),100 Leaders in Global Education (UAE),100 Women in Global Trade (GWIT)

Advisor of Global Sustainable Women Leaders’ Council, prominent advocate for circular economy principles, Ms. Caron has dedicated her career to pioneering innovative solutions that foster environmental stewardship and economic resilience. Join us as we sit down with this trailblazing woman leader to explore her journey, insights, and vision for a circular economy future.

1.Can you share with our readers your journey into the circular economy space and what inspired your interest in this area?

My journey into the circular economy stems from my appreciation for life's circular systems and our connection to the natural world. This understanding guides my professional path and passion for a sustainable, regenerative future. The lake's ecosystem later in my school years sparked my fascination with the interconnectedness of life. Observing the intricate relationships within the ecosystem showed me how everything plays a role in maintaining the whole. This laid the foundation for my journey into the circular economy. I recognized our economic systems could embrace natural cycles, promote sustainability, and nurture interconnected systems. This perspective underpins my passion for the circular economy, which aims to create harmony between human progress and environmental health. Early in my career, I explored retail, petrol industries, and emerging technologies like solar energy and biomedicine. These experiences deepened my understanding of how various sectors intersect with the circular economy. My travels exposed me to sustainable, self-reliant communities closely connected to nature. These experiences showed me how respecting the natural world serves as a foundation for innovation and sustainable living. Collaboration with forward-thinking individuals and organisations worldwide has marked my journey. My involvement with G100 and Dr. Harbeen Arora Ray offered opportunities to engage with women leaders across disciplines and contribute to the circular future. A circular business model aligns with my vision for a future that balances human progress with the health of our planet. By learning from tradition and nature, we can create a resilient economy that supports current and future generations.

2. As a woman leader in the circular economy field, what unique perspectives or approaches do you bring to the table?

Systemic Solutions: The circular economy requires a holistic view of how different systems interact, including business models, product design, legislation, and urban planning. As a leader, I focus on managing the complexities of systemic change, ensuring all aspects are addressed cohesively, and synchronising both internal and external processes. Philosophy of Circularity: My leadership is grounded in the philosophy of circularity, focusing on life cycles and our role on the planet. This includes product development and understanding the relationship between happiness, healthy living, and consumption habits. This perspective enables me to transfer insights from the individual to the collective level. Focus on Material Life Cycles: Understanding the complexities of material life cycles involves recognising the limits of material reuse and recycling. Addressing the challenge of products and materials with dispersive uses requires exploring alternatives that minimise environmental impact and loss. This is why I prefer starting from scratch and incorporating traditional and indigenous knowledge alongside diverse teams. Learning from Complexity: I acknowledge the complexity of transitioning from a linear to a circular economy and approach this change with a willingness to learn and adapt. By understanding the nuances of the system and embracing its evolutionary process, we can explore innovations we never imagined, perfectly aligned with our environments. Challenging Narrow Perspectives: I bring a broader perspective to discussions about the circular economy, going beyond recycling and closed loops to consider the broader impacts and relationships within economic and ecological systems. This approach can be challenging, but with small-scale trials, excellent analysis and reflection systems, and holistic partnership structures, it becomes more accessible. Being a pioneer means embracing this journey.

3. What are some of the key challenges you've faced as a woman leader in this industry, and how have you overcome them?

In my role as an advisor and partnership builder on the local and global level in the circular economy field, I recognised key challenges that are unique to women leaders. Here are some of the challenges I think of and some options for how you have overcome them:

1. Gender Bias and Stereotypes: The circular economy field, like many industries, can exhibit gender bias and stereotypes. These stereotypes are often rooted in a linear understanding of industries and reflect on both internal and external organisational structures, as well as the ethics and communication culture within companies. This mixture creates the perfect environment for resistant stereotypes to persist. A new understanding of leadership and mindset is required, and anyone can become an ambassador for this change. It requires time, confidence in transformation, tolerance, and respect. By demonstrating expertise and knowledge, advocating for different viewpoints, and providing insights that establish competence, women can influence and shift existing stereotypes.

2. Underrepresentation in Leadership: Women leaders face underrepresentation in decision-making roles within the circular economy. This is a complex issue due to the intertwining of women's roles in family, social relations, and career development. Synchronizing these aspects demands orientation and reflection, as well as a supportive network. Successful men in leading positions often rely on a solid support system within their inner and outer circles. Education plays a crucial role in fostering competence, confidence, and relationship building. Women can counter underrepresentation by participating in professional networks such as WICCI, G100, and local initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion. This ensures their voices and ideas are heard in important conversations. Additionally, bridging the gap to leadership positions is essential, which is why I founded Circula Nexa—an advisory, coaching, and business unit that helps women access the next level in their career development and become leaders in circular economies.

3. Balancing Work and Life: The shift from linear to circular models requires significant commitment and effort. Achieving a work-life balance involves setting clear boundaries, prioritising tasks, and effectively managing time to sustain productivity without compromising personal well-being. Access to Funding and Resources: Securing funding and resources can be challenging for women leaders in the industry. Building strong relationships with stakeholders, showcasing the value of your initiatives, and leveraging your network to connect with potential investors and partners can help overcome these challenges.

4.Could you highlight some of your notable contributions or initiatives within the circular economy space that have made a positive impact?

Every woman who engages in establishing circular systems within their business or business unit is a success story in the making. I want to first highlight the accomplishments of women leaders within my circular economy network around the world. These women serve as role models in their respective fields, such as agriculture, herbal tea product development, toy innovation, recycling, mining, sustainable fashion, green cities and architecture, research and analysis, and more. I aim to support these women and raise awareness about the importance of gender equity in circular sectors. Being acknowledged as a Woman of the Decade has been an honour and a reflection of this ongoing work. At this stage of my career, I engaged in global partnership building and capacity development for women and youth. Today I see the big picture and understand how the different paths of my diverse journey interweave and contribute to one overarching vision and purpose in life. CirculaNexa is my latest initiative, focusing on career readiness for women in circular sectors, offering executive board bridging opportunities, impact investing, and mentoring. It serves as an incubator for the pioneers who are leading the way in these fields. My foundation, Theia International (www.theia-international.org) supports the younger generation's involvement in green cities and architecture. Through our Youth for Circular Future initiative (www.y4cf.org), we have created the first platform and community dedicated to equipping youth from around the world with skills to access decent job opportunities in future-oriented fields. Community work and grassroots initiatives are at the heart of circular innovations. In various projects, I collaborate with local communities and explore their solutions to urgent challenges resulting from climate change. For instance, in West Africa, we worked with over 1,000 youth and involved over 400,000 civil engagements in a three-year programme for clean and healthy communities. We initiated behavioural changes, integrating traditional practices and new eco-designs to reduce single-use plastics and fashion waste. In Malaysia, I am deeply engaged in advancing the circular economy. After launching the first inaugural forum for circular and sustainable fashion, we are now planning a holistic initiative in eco-tourism with global and local support




5.How do you see the role of women entrepreneurs evolving in shaping the future of the circular economy?

The role of women entrepreneurs is crucial in shaping the future of the circular economy. As the world transitions towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns, there are several key areas where women's participation and leadership can have a transformative impact: innovation and eco-design. Women entrepreneurs can bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the development of circular products and industrial eco-design. Their creativity can lead to the creation of products and processes that reduce waste, improve resource efficiency, and promote sustainability. Representation Across Sectors: While women have traditionally been involved in lower-value circular activities such as recycling and waste management, their involvement in higher-value circular activities, such as advanced technology sectors, is essential. Increasing women's participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields can empower them to take on leadership roles in areas like renewable energy, green technology, and sustainable manufacturing. Leadership and Decision-Making: Women should be represented in decision-making positions across all levels of the circular economy, from executive boards to senior management roles. This representation can help ensure that circular economy policies and practices consider diverse perspectives and prioritise social and environmental responsibility. Empowerment and Equal Access: To foster a just and inclusive circular economy, women need equal access to education, training, and resources that enable them to become leaders and entrepreneurs. This includes access to financing, networking opportunities, and mentorship programmes that support women in pursuing careers in the circular economy ctor. Consumer Behaviour and Advocacy: Women, as primary decision-makers in many households, can drive demand for sustainable products and services. Their advocacy for eco-friendly practices can influence producers to adopt more sustainable methods and create a market for circular economy products. Policy Development: Women entrepreneurs can play a key role in shaping policies that promote gender equality and inclusion in the circular economy. By advocating for equitable policies and practices, women can help create a more sustainable and inclusive economic future. Overall, women entrepreneurs have the potential to be key drivers of change in the circular economy. By increasing their participation and leadership across various sectors and levels, the transition to a more sustainable and inclusive economy can be accelerated. The role of women is changing within this system. Women will lead the radical shift in the circular economy, transforming industries with restorative practices that balance profitability with ecological regeneration and social equity, ensuring a future where abundance and sustainability are intertwined

6.In your opinion, what are some of the most promising opportunities for women-led businesses within the circular economy framework?

Women-led businesses have a significant opportunity to thrive and shape the future of the circular economy by leveraging their unique perspectives, creativity, and resourcefulness. Here are some promising opportunities for women-led businesses within the circular economy framework:

Sustainable Fashion: Women-led businesses can cater to the rising demand for sustainable fashion by creating ethical, eco-friendly clothing and accessories. These businesses can embrace slow fashion principles like durability, recyclability, and responsible sourcing.

Green Manufacturing: Women entrepreneurs can lead in sustainable manufacturing by using renewable energy sources, reducing waste, and creating products with end-of-life considerations in mind, such as easy disassembly and recycling.

Circular Agriculture: Women-led businesses can advance circular agriculture practices such as regenerative farming, agroforestry, and aquaponics. These methods promote biodiversity, soil health, and resource efficiency while producing high-quality crops and livestock. Recycling and Upcycling Innovations: Women entrepreneurs can create businesses that find innovative ways to recycle or upcycle waste materials into valuable products like furniture, home decor, or construction materials.

Waste Reduction and Management: Women-led businesses can implement innovative waste reduction and management strategies such as zero-waste solutions, composting services, and waste-to-energy technologies.

Sustainable Packaging: With increasing demand for eco-friendly packaging, women-led businesses can design and produce sustainable packaging solutions made from biodegradable, recyclable, or reusable materials.

Sharing Economy Platforms: Women entrepreneurs can establish platforms that facilitate the sharing of goods, services, and resources, such as clothing rental, car-sharing, or peer-to-peer lending, reducing overall consumption and waste.

Green Finance and Investment: Women-led businesses can provide finance and investment opportunities for circular economy projects, supporting other entrepreneurs and businesses in this space.

Community Engagement and Empowerment: Women-led businesses can engage and empower communities to participate in circular economy practices, promoting local circular initiatives and creating awareness about sustainable living.

Policy Advocacy and Legal Consulting: Women-led businesses can specialize in policy advocacy and legal consulting for circular economy initiatives. They can help shape legislation and regulations to promote sustainability and circular practices in cities, such as waste management, recycling programs, and sustainable urban planning.

Urban Planning and Design: Women entrepreneurs can lead firms that specialize in sustainable urban planning and design. This includes developing plans for green infrastructure, walkable neighborhoods, and mixed-use developments that promote resource efficiency and reduce waste.

Real Estate Development: Women-led real estate development companies can focus on building sustainable, energy-efficient, and resource-friendly housing and commercial spaces. This includes incorporating recycled materials, green roofs, and energy-saving technologies into new developments.

Transportation and Mobility Solutions: Women entrepreneurs can develop innovative transportation and mobility solutions in line with circular economy principles, such as electric vehicle sharing programmes, bike-sharing schemes, and last-mile delivery services using eco-friendly transport options.

Smart Cities and Technology: Women-led businesses can integrate technology into city planning to create smart cities that optimise resource use, reduce waste, and improve overall quality of life. This includes using IoT devices, data analytics, and other digital solutions to enhance city services and sustainability.

Green Infrastructure and Urban Agriculture: Women-led businesses can develop and promote green infrastructure projects such as green roofs, urban gardens, and rainwater harvesting systems. These initiatives improve urban biodiversity and resource management. Legal Services for Circular Economy Ventures: Women-led law firms can specialise in providing legal services to circular economy ventures, offering guidance on compliance, intellectual property, contracts, and other legal matters related to sustainable businesses.

Eco-Tourism: Women-led businesses can promote sustainable travel experiences that minimise environmental impact and support local communities. This includes eco-friendly lodging, sustainable travel agencies, and community-based tourism initiatives.

Sustainable Fishing Practices: Women-led businesses can focus on sustainable fishing methods such as selective fishing gear, catch limits, and seasonal fishing to preserve fish populations and ecosystems.

Aquaculture and Mariculture: Women entrepreneurs can establish and manage aquaculture or mariculture businesses that prioritise the responsible and efficient production of seafood while minimising negative impacts on marine ecosystems.

Value-Added Products: Women-led businesses can create value-added products from fish and seafood by-products such as fish oil, fish meal, or pet food. This reduces waste and adds value to the catch.

Eco-Friendly Fish Processing: Women-led fish processing businesses can prioritise energy-efficient facilities, water recycling, and waste reduction to create a more sustainable operation. Supply Chain Transparency: Women-led businesses can implement traceability and transparency in the seafood supply chain to ensure sustainable sourcing and ethical practices.

Community and Coastal Conservation: Women-led businesses can engage in coastal and marine conservation projects, including habitat restoration and community-based management initiatives.

Education and Advocacy: Women-led businesses can educate consumers and stakeholders on sustainable fishing practices and advocate for policy changes to support marine conservation.

Sustainable Mining Practices: Women-led businesses can prioritise sustainable mining techniques, including minimising land disturbance, reducing water usage, and implementing biodiversity protection measures.

Mine Rehabilitation and Restoration: Women-led businesses can focus on mine closure and rehabilitation practices, working on restoring ecosystems and repurposing mined lands for community use.

Circular Supply Chains: Women-led mining businesses can work towards creating circular supply chains by reusing and recycling mining by-products and materials to reduce waste. Value-Added Products: Women-led businesses can create value-added products from mining waste, such as using slag or tailings in construction materials or other applications. Community Engagement and Development: Women-led mining businesses can prioritise community engagement and development initiatives, supporting local economies and ensuring fair labour practices.

Technology and Innovation: Women-led businesses can adopt new technologies and innovative practices to improve resource efficiency, reduce environmental impact, and enhance safety.

Policy and Advocacy: Women-led businesses can advocate for sustainable mining policies and regulations, including fair labour practices and environmental protection measures.

Eco-Friendly Toy Sector: In the toy sector, women-led businesses can drive positive change by using eco-friendly materials, creating durable and long-lasting toys, and promoting sustainable practices in design and production.

Rental and Sharing Models: Women-led businesses can create toy rental or sharing programmes, allowing customers to access toys without the need for ownership, reducing consumption and waste.

Second-Hand and Upcycled Toys: Women-led businesses can promote the sale of second-hand or upcycled toys, encouraging the reuse of toys and reducing the demand for new products.

Eco-Conscious Packaging: Using minimal, recyclable, or biodegradable packaging can reduce the environmental impact of toy products.

Policy and Advocacy: Women-led businesses can advocate for policies that support sustainable practices in the toy industry, such as stricter regulations on materials and waste management.

7.How can businesses, governments, and society at large better support and encourage women's participation and leadership in advancing the circular economy agenda?

Involving women in the circular economy is essential for establishing effective circular systems. Promoting awareness of sustainable consumption and fostering their leadership and management participation can help drive transformative change. This is not just about changes at the local and national levels but also on a global scale, involving industries, communities, and individuals. Achieving a just circular economy transition requires a comprehensive approach and a willingness to find solutions that provide a sustainable future while redefining wealth and prosperity.


Each continent and country may be at different stages of circular economy implementation, so it's crucial to have a shared vision of the world we want to create. Transparency and collaboration across all levels, from macro to micro, are essential for making progress.


Failing to adopt a gender perspective in circularity-related public policies risks perpetuating existing gender inequalities. This includes disparities in women's participation, leadership, and access to opportunities within the circular economy. Furthermore, gender equality is a central pillar for achieving sustainable development, which aligns with the ultimate goal of the circular economy.


STRATEGY - The HOW


A strategy to support and encourage women's participation and leadership in advancing the circular economy agenda must encompass bold, systemic actions that challenge existing power structures and promote transformative change. This approach focuses on shifting power dynamics, dismantling structural barriers, and fostering a more inclusive and equitable circular economy. The strategy includes the following key elements:

Implement Quotas and Targets


Establish quotas or targets for women's representation in leadership positions and decision-making bodies within businesses, governments, and civil society organizations involved in the circular economy. This can accelerate gender equality and drive meaningful change.

Leverage Intersectionality


Take an intersectional approach that considers the diverse experiences and identities of women, including race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, and more. This ensures that initiatives address the unique challenges faced by different groups of women and create equitable opportunities.

Rethink Value Chains


Design circular economy value chains that prioritize women's participation and leadership. This involves actively recruiting and empowering women across all stages of production, distribution, and consumption, ensuring that women's expertise and perspectives are integrated into the entire process.


Reallocate Funding and Investments


Redirect funding and investments toward women-led businesses and initiatives in the circular economy. This shift can redistribute economic power and support innovative solutions that advance sustainability and gender equality.


Challenge Discriminatory Practices


Advocate for policy changes that challenge discriminatory practices and structures that hinder women's participation in the circular economy. This includes addressing systemic issues such as pay equity, workplace harassment, and access to resources.

Disrupt Traditional Industries


Promote the creation of new, women-led industries and business models within the circular economy. This can challenge existing power structures and create opportunities for women to lead transformative change.


Create Radical Education Programs


Develop and implement education programs that challenge traditional norms and promote gender equality within the circular economy. This includes training future leaders to think critically about sustainability and gender justice.


Foster a Culture of Accountability


Establish mechanisms to hold organizations and leaders accountable for their commitments to gender equality in the circular economy. This can include regular reporting, public disclosure, and consequences for non-compliance.


Rethinking the Financial Sector


Gender-Responsive Investments: Financial institutions should prioritize investments in women-led and women-focused initiatives within the circular economy. This includes providing funding, loans, and grants to businesses and projects that empower women in circular practices.


Drive Policy Change: Advocate for policy changes that promote gender equality and circular economy practices in the financial sector. This can include tax incentives for investments in women-led circular economy projects and requirements for gender diversity on corporate boards.


Champion Intersectional Approaches: Embrace intersectional approaches that consider the diverse experiences and identities of women in the circular economy. This ensures that initiatives address the unique challenges faced by different groups of women and promote inclusivity.


8.What advice would you give to aspiring women leaders who are interested in pursuing a career or business venture in the circular economy sector?


Build a Strong Knowledge Base by Doing and Connecting: Learning of circular economy principles, practices. Stay informed about the latest research, technologies, and policies that influence the sector.


Network and Collaborate: Connect with other professionals, leaders, and organizations in the circular economy and sustainability fields.


Leverage Your Unique Perspective: As a woman leader, you bring a valuable perspective to the circular economy. Leverage your experiences and insights to innovate and create solutions that are inclusive and equitable.


Take Risks and Innovate: The circular economy is an evolving field with ample opportunities for innovation. Don't be afraid to take risks, experiment with new ideas, and challenge the status quo.


Invest in Continuous Learning: Stay curious and committed to lifelong learning. Continuously update your skills and knowledge to remain adaptable and responsive to changes in the sector.


Cultivate Resilience: Pursuing a career or business venture in the circular economy can come with challenges. Cultivate resilience and perseverance to navigate obstacles and setbacks.


Create a Positive Impact: Focus on making a meaningful and positive impact through your work. Prioritize projects and initiatives that align with your values and contribute to a sustainable future.


Support Other Women: Pay it forward by supporting and uplifting other women in the circular economy. Share your knowledge, provide mentorship, and collaborate to create a supportive and empowering community.


Remember, the circular economy sector is a space where creativity, innovation, and sustainability intersect. By embracing your unique strengths and pursuing your passion, you can make a significant difference in shaping a more sustainable and equitable future

9.Can you share any personal experiences or anecdotes that have shaped your understanding of the importance of sustainability and circularity in business?

My understanding of the importance of sustainability and circularity in business has been deeply influenced by personal experiences that highlight the regenerative approach and the rediscovery of traditional cultural practices. Diving deeper into cultures that embrace closed-loop systems has provided me with invaluable insights into how people can live in harmony with nature and manage resources sustainably.


For example, my work in collaboration with indigenous communities in Africa and India has revealed the wisdom embedded in their traditional practices. These communities often hold a profound respect for natural resources and have developed ways to live in balance with their environments for generations. Whether it's their methods of conserving water, managing soil health, or utilizing renewable resources, these practices offer us a model for regenerative and sustainable living.


One particularly poignant moment in my journey was engaging with a community in India that had perfected rainwater harvesting techniques for centuries. They demonstrated how, through understanding the land and climate, they were able to thrive even in challenging conditions while respecting and preserving their natural surroundings. This experience underscored the importance of learning from those who are most vulnerable to climate change yet possess the treasure trove of solutions we must rediscover.


At the same time, I have seen how these traditional practices can be harmonized with modern innovations to create a more resilient and regenerative approach to business. By integrating this knowledge with circular economy principles, we can close the loop, minimize waste, and maximize value across production and consumption processes.


These experiences have heightened my consciousness and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all living things. They remind me that true sustainability and circularity go beyond environmental benefits to encompass cultural, social, and economic dimensions. We must respect and learn from the wisdom of traditional cultures, especially those who live simply and sustainably, as they hold the keys to our collective future.


My journey has taught me that a regenerative approach is not just about minimizing harm; it's about actively restoring and enhancing our ecosystems and societies. As we move forward, we must work together to bridge the gap between tradition and innovation, recognizing the value of both as we strive for a sustainable and equitable world.

10. Looking ahead, what do you envision as the future of the circular economy movement, and how do you see women playing a pivotal role in driving its growth and innovation?


The future of the circular economy movement envisions a radical shift in industrial development towards regenerative and restorative practices. Women are set to play a pivotal role in this evolution, guiding the transition toward circular and regenerative economies that not only minimize environmental impact but actively restore and ecosystems.


This shift will involve a reimagining of industrial processes, where women will be at the forefront of disrupting traditional industries with cutting-edge strategies. They will champion the adoption of sustainable materials and closed-loop manufacturing systems, pushing industries to operate within the planet's natural limits.


Furthermore, women will lead the way in redefining what constitutes economic success by prioritizing purpose-driven enterprises. These enterprises will balance profitability with ecological restoration and social equity, emphasizing community-centric approaches and inclusive practices that benefit all.


Innovative approaches such as biomimicry and regenerative design will be championed, leveraging the wisdom of traditional cultures and indigenous knowledge to develop future-facing solutions that heal and enrich the planet. Women will also advocate for radical transparency, holding corporations accountable for their impact and driving ethical standards across industries.


In this future, women will be instrumental in fostering a regenerative mindset, transforming waste into resources, and revitalizing communities. Their leadership will be essential in creating a circular economy that is not only sustainable but also enhances the natural world and human societies, ensuring a legacy of abundance for generations to come.


Published By She Business Time






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