Leading the Fight Against Climate Change Like a Woman

Ten years ago, one question had Radhika Lalit re-evaluating her career path.

At the time, Lalit was working for a non-profit that devised solutions for sustainable agriculture in the Himalayas. As she conversed with local villagers to learn of the problems they are faced with when farming, one woman turned and asked her, point blank: “What are you going to do to help?”

In that moment, something clicked for Lalit. She felt a new sense of purpose and determination. Instead of helping people adapt to a changing climate, she was going to stop it from happening. That year, she founded Youth for A Cause, an organization invested in educating the youth in India about social and environmental issues and the impacts of climate change.

In 2015, I got to enter Lalit’s story. We met three years ago at the start of her EDF Climate Corps fellowship—a first of its kind fellowship program that places graduate students into top companies to help accomplish their sustainability goals. She was bright-eyed and sharp as hell. Her summer would be spent finding energy-related opportunities at Blue Shield of California, a health plan provider serving over 4 million members.

Radhika Lalit.

In those ten weeks, Lalit lent her fresh eyes, energy and ideas to her project—leaving the company with an actionable foundation for its renewable energy strategy. Just this past month, the same company unveiled its newest solar installation; three years later, her project has come to life! The installation will save over 3.5 million kWh of electricity annually, the equivalent of taking more than 550 passenger vehicles off the road each year.

Since her fellowship, Lalit has joined the EDF Climate Corps network of over 900 alumni—a strong, smart and diverse group of people united in their mission to take climate action. As manager of this alumni network, I take pride in following their careers and staying on top of the impactful projects they are a part of.

I also love the window I get into this field. We’ve got experts across the board; I see more women joining sustainability industry every day. It’s so awesome that, when asked if I know any female EDF Climate Corps alumni leaders, I can honestly respond with “which one?” or “what topic?”

Lalit is a leader and an innovator, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. I can point to a million reasons why women can make great leaders, but when I think of effective female leaders like her, three characteristics stand out: they’re good communicators, good connectors and good collaborators.

Lalit listened to the priorities of the employees at Blue Shield of California, gaining an understanding of the company’s values and mission. That equipped her to show them, in their own language, how the company could reduce operational costs related to energy so more money could be spent on what was most important: providing affordable, high-quality healthcare. She got the needed buy-in by framing the conversation and communicating the impact in a way that resonated with her audiences.

Lalit has grown in her career since her time as an EDF Climate Corps fellow, and she makes time to help others do the same by forging connections. Last year, she participated in the EDF Climate Corps mentorship program. She regularly lends her expertise to other network members. Mentorship and community connection are extremely important ingredients for success in the pursuit of progress on climate, especially for women. We need to build a network—of men and women—where we can connect with each other to exchange ideas and solutions.

In her current role with Rocky Mountain Institute, Lalit is taking collaboration to a whole new level by spearheading the Global Cooling Prize—an international competition that is harnessing the power of innovation to develop efficient and affordable air conditioning solutions, especially for communities in less developed countries. Innovators from around the world will catalyze the development of technology that will consume five times less energy, prevent one degree Celsius of global warming by 2100 and provide millions of people around the world with improved quality of life. This collaborative effort is yet another project with enormous potential to make real impact.

It’s been 10 years since that woman asked Lalit what she intended to do about the problems facing communities around the world due to climate change. In the time since, she has helped dozens of companies across the globe rethink what it means, and takes, to be a sustainable business—by communicating, connecting and collaborating.


Yesh Pavlik Slenk manages the EDF Climate Corps network of more than 1,600 sustainability and energy management professionals worldwide. She oversees national network events, industry-led professional development opportunities and climate advocacy trainings to facilitate collaboration, share innovative ideas and advance solutions energy-related problems across sectors.