Kim with Julia Bishop and Melanie Bishop of Living Seawalls.
©Kim Graham-Nye
Location icon Switzerland

“We need more leaders who have the ability to be vulnerable”

Kim Graham-Nye, Leading Women Fund member shares what happened when she rubbed shoulders with the great and the good at the World Economic Forum.

The World Economic Forum (WEF), held annually at Davos in Switzerland, hosts 2,000 of the most celebrated thinkers, politicians, business people (think Bill Gates and George Soros) and innovators. You can’t buy a ticket, you have to be invited – and this year, LWF Founding 50 donor Kim Graham-Nye was on the guest list.

Kim, the co-CEO of non-plastic compostable nappy brand gDiapers, has been recognised as one of the world’s Top Innovators by the World Economic Forum (WEF). She joined a group of 20 entrepreneurs, drawn from around the globe, at the four-day summit.

Kim says it was an incredible experience, as the entire town is given over to the event and everyone there is at the top of their game.

“I don’t think we slept more than four hours a night,” she laughs. “As elitist as it sounds, everyone is absolutely qualified to be there. They’re the leaders or experts in their field, which makes every conversation exponential. You might walk into this tiny shop for a seminar and there are 10 people there, but one is the Japanese Foreign Minister, another’s a leading CEO. You want to make the most of every opportunity.”

For Kim, that was meeting some of the most influential people in the environmental space, including Peter Thomson, the UN’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, and Andrew 'Twiggy' Forest, businessman turned environmentalist, who interrogated her product fiercely before giving her his card.

“I liked his scepticism – we need more of it,” she says of their encounter. “The entire Davos experience has given us a new level of momentum as we roll out this solution.”

Kim with Julia Bishop and Melanie Bishop of Living Seawalls.
©Kim Graham-Nye
Kim with Julia Bishop and Melanie Bishop of Living Seawalls. ©Kim Graham-Nye

So, tell us how you managed to be on the invite list for Davos?

I was invited by the WEF’s UpLink Program, which is a platform established two years ago to tackle some of the world’s most urgent problems – like ocean pollution – by connecting innovators with people who can help them. They post various challenges: gDiapers entered the ‘Global Plastic Action’ challenge and was selected from thousands of applicants worldwide as one of the eight Top Innovators in the fight against plastic. A group of us were then handpicked from across all challenges to attend the WEF in May.

How did that feel?

Incredible. Having that validation from the WEF was huge – as was the chance to meet other innovators and enjoy the camaraderie that came with that – because being an entrepreneur, especially in the impact space, is exhausting and isolating and challenging. We were all talking about it. You feel like you’re in the ring with Mike Tyson, constantly getting knocked down by the bigger brands and the system they control. It’s not easy. But none of us are interested in doing anything else!

What are some of the challenges for a business like gDiapers, which is competing in a category dominated by some huge global players?

One of the main issues is that the circular economy looks great on paper, but when you’re competing with companies that use a linear model, you run into problems. The true cost of a disposable nappy – in terms of its environmental cost, mainly the price of cleaning up the plastic waste it creates – is about $3 per nappy. But companies don’t pay that cost. They just produce the nappy, sell it, and don’t have to deal with what happens to it when it’s discarded. As a circular business, we create nappies and then deal with their disposal. It’s not a level playing field for us.

And this is to everyone’s detriment. Yes, these companies achieve their financial targets, but they’re contributing to the environmental devastation of the planet. It’s not a minor consequence. Business doesn’t self-regulate, which is why I believe governments have to provide those guardrails.

What stage are you at now?

We’re currently fundraising to expand our successful Indonesian pilots. Indonesia has a huge problem with nappy waste – 21 per cent of the country’s ocean pollution is nappies. But what we’re showing with our Indonesia scheme is that we can deliver, collect and compost nappies in the community.

Kim with other WEF innovators from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, USA, Switzerland and Netherlands.
©Kim Graham-Nye
Kim with other WEF innovators from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, USA, Switzerland and Netherlands. ©Kim Graham-Nye

How much did the situation of poorer nations – and refugees – feature on the Davos agenda?

Hugely – everyone was talking about the Ukraine crisis.

Did it make you reflect on the Leading Women Fund?

It definitely demonstrated the value of bringing people together to discuss the issues that matter. That, for me, is the promise of the Leading Women Fund in bringing together these great women who share common values and a desire to make change.

Who was the most inspiring person you met?

That’s such a difficult question! All of the Innovators in our group were so inspiring. I also loved Associate Professor Melanie Bishop, co-leader of Australian initiative Living Seawalls, which was one of three finalists globally in the prestigious Earthshot Prize.

I also had an amazing moment with Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank (this is the kind of thing that happens at Davos). We happened to be walking next to each other on our way to a talk and her security fell back until it was just the two of us on the path. I turned to her and said, “I just have to say thank you for all the work you do. As a woman, it’s so good to see someone like you in the position you have.”

And she stopped walking, turned to me and took my arm, and said, “Thank you so much for saying that. Because it’s a hard fight.”

And we ended up talking for the 10 minutes it took to get to the building and we just went so deep and so vulnerable, so quickly. It might have been because we were both exhausted, but we really connected. We got through security and parted ways, but she gave me this really big hug, like the hug a mum gives you when they want you to know it’s ok.

I got so much energy from that tiny interaction. It made me think we need more women like that in positions of power – more leaders who have that ability to be vulnerable.

Kim with the Norwegian Environment Minister and other innovators.
©Kim Graham-Nye
Kim with the Norwegian Environment Minister and other innovators. ©Kim Graham-Nye

Learn more about the Leading Women Fund