Emma Chow: My Life on Purpose
Emma Chow leads the Food Initiative at Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an organisation that works with business, policy makers and academics to promote the circular economy. She is also an artist and a meditation teacher.
TBT: What does purpose mean to you?
Emma: Sourcing fulfillment from my everyday.
TBT: What is your idea of professional fulfillment?
Emma: For me, there’s not really a line between personal and professional fulfillment. What I find fulfilling is working with people to grow a connection within themselves in order to unlock their potential and explore new realms of possibility. I love working at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation because I am able to make a difference – reimagining the food system to benefit people, business and nature. This carries through to my personal life, where I’m a meditation teacher.
TBT: What leader most inspires you?
Emma: Brené Brown. Her work has been a huge source of inspiration to me on what sort of leader I want to be.
TBT: When do you feel the most purposeful?
Emma: When I walk away from an interaction and feel energised, as though I’ve made some kind of positive impact on that person. It doesn’t have to be an immediate concrete outcome; it might just be making something click in someone’s mind—a new understanding or way of thinking. That’s something I’m fortunate to do every day within my role at the Foundation—we come with new ideas and then work with very diverse stakeholders to go on a journey together towards a fundamentally different food system where nature-positive food is the norm.
TBT: What do you find hardest about being purpose-driven?
Emma: There’s a couple of things. One is burnout, which is something I’ve been through myself. It’s so easy to run your batteries dry in pursuit of something you care deeply about and is a good cause, so I’m now working actively to prevent it.
Another thing is accepting that what you’re doing can be really hard. In Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, the CEO of Acumen, Jacqueline Novogratz, writes about embracing the beautiful struggle. If you’re resistant to that, it can make the day-to-day brutal. So being able to just name it, and acknowledge that tackling deep systemic issues is going to be really, really hard—is important.
TBT: What are your hopes for the future of business?
Emma: I believe that every organisation, regardless of what their history and impacts have been, has an opportunity to rethink the way they operate and be a part of the solution. That may mean resetting their overall ambitions and goals, or redesigning their business models, product systems and services.
“I believe that every organisation, regardless of what their history and impacts have been, has an opportunity to rethink the way they operate and be a part of the solution.”
TBT: What qualities do you most like in a person?
Emma: Self-awareness and the ability to pause and think deeply. We live in such a reactionary world, and there’s a realm of possibility that so many of us in society haven’t yet tapped into. Another one is having a growth mindset—being open to what is possible rather than getting stuck in old ways of doing things.
TBT: What cause are you really passionate about?
Emma: Shifting mindsets. The work I do at the Foundation is about tapping into industry-driven solutions to rethink an entire sector; in my case, it’s food. How do we create a food system that’s a top part of the climate and biodiversity solution, rather than what it is today: a top driver of climate change and biodiversity loss? Outside of work, this is why I dedicate time to meditation. It all comes down to self-awareness of mindset, which is what we need in order to rethink systems.
TBT: Has there ever been a moment where you felt like giving up?
Emma: There’s definitely moments of being defeated or exhausted. I’ve learned these are signals that something’s out of balance, and I need to recalibrate.
TBT: What keeps you motivated on tough days?
Emma: My team. And being committed to the challenge at hand, and the mission we’re working on.
“How do we create a food system that’s a top part of the climate and biodiversity solution, rather than what it is today: a top driver of climate change and biodiversity loss?”
TBT: What gets you up in the morning?
Emma: I’ve tried to find ways to enjoy the process, while still pursuing a really ambitious final product and outcome. At the moment I’ve been working on cultivating curiosity—being a questioner rather than a knower, so thinking: let’s see what I’ll learn today, or what today has to offer.
TBT: What do you want to be remembered for?
Emma: Being authentic. And creating a path that is in alignment with wherever my inner compass is guiding me. My north star may deviate and evolve—that’s normal —but I want to continuously check myself and recalibrate that trajectory.