Women Innovators in Climate and Travel Share Their Perspectives
In January 2020, Casey Hanisko, President of Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), introduced Tomorrow’s Air to ATTA team during a marketing workshop. Christina Beckmann, Co-Founder of Tomorrow’s Air, dialed in to present a pitch deck she and Co-Founder Nim de Swardt were working on that described the concept of Tomorrow’s Air. From my first introduction to Tomorrow's Air during that presentation, it was clear that this group of women had a vision for a better future of travel and determination to do something meaningful about the climate crisis.
When the pandemic hit, Christina doubled down on Tomorrow’s Air. With the support of Nim, Casey, and the Tomorrow’s Air team, the collective gained momentum–call after call, connection after connection. Last month, Tomorrow’s Air won the Visionaries award in Newsweek’s Future of Travel Awards 2021. Christina was also recognized as an individual finalist in the Visionaries category.
The work that connected that pitch deck vision to an esteemed award for the same vision is truly remarkable; however, it required more than hard work and vision to launch Tomorrow’s Air. It takes unique leadership qualities and diverse perspectives to build collective action around a mission. Looking through the lens of women in leadership, the AdventureTravelNews team was interested in hearing from Christina, Nim, and Casey about their leadership styles and how their perspectives and strengths as women may have contributed to the growing success of Tomorrow’s Air.
Nim and Christina, do you think the fact that you are women gave you any special, or unique perspective as you were conceiving Tomorrow’s Air?
Nim: As a female founder team, I think we have an incredible ability to multi-task and wear 'all and many hats.' We have built Tomorrow's Air by openly encouraging collaboration, promoting stability, unity, and dedication to our bigger vision. Also, I would say that the differences in our skill and experience sets as co-founders have brought in a range of perspectives–we have diversity in age, work background, and life experiences. One thing that I admire most about being an all-female founding team is our willingness to ask sometimes emotionally rooted questions in the work context and naively ask questions to indulge our curiosity!
Christina: I don’t often consider whether being a woman is a guiding factor in my approach to work, but reflecting on this now, I can definitely point to something often associated with women that is, of course, not exclusive to women–our acceptance and willingness to acknowledge the relevance of relationships. Relationships and understanding underlying drivers for climate action (in contrast to simply the science-based drivers for action) are the foundation for our work. When Nim and I were sitting around my dining room table, I distinctly remember having a sense of togetherness in the project that went deeper than just the words we were wrestling onto the page. We were working on a name and brainstorming the concept on walks around my San Francisco neighborhood and that process was so rooted in our relationship as friends. I think our willingness to integrate the emotional context of how we felt about climate, and about each other as friends, sent us off on a different trajectory than if we had approached it without the relational, emotional foundation.
Casey, as the President of the ATTA, your support has been central to incubating Tomorrow’s Air successfully, and one of the first public promotions for Tomorrow’s Air was actually a poem you wrote. What did you see as critical to helping it gain internal support last year? Do you think your leadership style as a woman helped shape the ATTA's support of Tomorrow's Air at the start?
Casey: Tomorrow's Air gained early support because it was an innovative concept–offering a new and necessary (in the sense of promoting a collective) angle toward solving travel's climate problem. Incubating it as another brand within ATTA really allowed it to blossom and grow under Christina's passionate leadership. As a woman, I was able to focus on the connected fibers of the idea that are so entwined with ATTA's mission and to lead knowing that Tomorrow's Air's positive approach to climate solutions would resonate with travelers and our business community. As a woman and a mother, I liken it to the emotional bond you have with your child. We have forgotten that bond with Earth and that humans need it as much as the planet. This past summer, I did a meditation exercise where I hugged a tree. I never had before and thought it would be interesting, though of course a little odd and vulnerable. I felt the ground beneath my feet, the roots spreading wide and deep, and the solid wide girth of the trunk under my arms. The tree said to me, "I am here for you." It reminded me how fragile we are as human beings and how little we acknowledge the power and strength of nature. Yes, I know “treehuggers,” but really it was a profound experience.
Neurological research has identified a few inherent advantages of women when leading towards solutions for complex problems. When it comes to empathy and collaboration, women tend to show strengths. Share a little about how you see these areas manifesting in Tomorrow’s Air with us.
Nim: I definitely see our empathy at play in our evolving messaging. One of the things that has not worked when it comes to climate solutions is promoting them based on measurable, non-emotional features and benefits alone. It’s not that we dismiss science–we are rooted in scientific realities, of course. But ignoring the heart space of why we want to take action, emphasizing the science first has not been effective. I think our female team could easily move in a more empathetic direction naturally, and we saw this as an opportunity area where Tomorrow’s Air could contribute. We’re empathizing with our audience and what they’re passionate about–people and their families, precious friendships, outdoor places they love, wildlife interactions that inspire them–and trying to focus on this. We will build our collective based on one thing every person can relate to, which is love.
Casey: Collaboration is key to Tomorrow's Air's success; its vision is ultimately for the climate problem to be solved. For that to happen, there is a need to understand other businesses' motives, needs, and ability to integrate into Tomorrow's Air carbon removal ecosystem without competition getting in the way. Historically the complexity around measuring one's carbon footprint has caused guilt and inaction. As women driving Tomorrow's Air, we want to remove the barriers and the complexity and create action and inspiration–one important way this finds expression is through Artists for Air. This creative and emotive part of the community comes from a more feminine place to emotionally connect with people who care about air and want to do something now.
Christina: I certainly know a lot of women who naturally approach complex problems through the lens of partnership and collaboration. I imagine that one reason women are good at this is because we have had to be. We have internalized the moves of partnership and collaboration because we have often historically not been able to take direct action. We’re not invited to the board meetings where big decisions get made; we’re not even in that room most of the time, even still! The only way we’re going to get the results we want is to make sure the people in the room see our goals as vital to achieving their own. So we know, inherently, how to consider a range of incentives. Women are accustomed to advocating for their cause by appealing to the motivations and goals of others and embedding our goals with those of others who have leverage, finding strength in numbers, and through creative persuasion. In the case of Tomorrow’s Air, we’re embedding our goal of clean air and a stable climate for everyone in with travelers’ desire to explore the world and share about it, with business’ desire and need to market themselves and sell, with destinations’ desire to promote their uniqueness. The notion of being in a collective vs. being "the hero" also feels like a very female experience to me and, on reflection, maybe at the core of the Tomorrow’s Air collective. It has to be all of us coming together.
In their own words, Casey, Nim, and Christina each noted that acknowledging the strategic importance of personal perspectives and relationships is a differentiating approach for them as women. This, combined with empathy and recognizing emotional drivers are just a couple of the many reasons why women in leadership bring innovative solutions forward. Collaboration and connection are also key themes, though not surprisingly, as Christina pointed out.
Climate innovation requires more than science and facts–it has to be fueled by vision and people who can build connections to that vision. One of the things I admire most about this group of women and Tomorrow’s Air team is that they leverage their unique strengths, relationships, and vision to innovate and drive change in their respective realms of expertise. While this approach may seem subtle, it is proving to be impactful.
To learn more about Tomorrow's Air and how you can get involved, I invite you to connect directly with Christina Beckmann.