In this series, we profile some of the incredible change makers in our community. Find out how they're using their strengths to tackle the biggest societal challenges through a flexible career that works for their lifestyle. Introducing Karimah Hudda, founder of the newly launch illuminate.earth.
When did you start freelancing for sustainability?
I was born into a family of merchants and traders in India. At a very early age, I was exposed to social and environmental inequities. As a result, my personal purpose is to accelerate a world where everyone has the opportunity to rise. I spent the first decade of my career as an intrapreneur, helping build the global Fairtrade movement and the second decade catalyzing Sustainability leadership and transformative collective action across multinational corporations in consumer goods (Mondelez International) and fashion (NIKE). Over the years I realized that it is possible for us to move big things fast in service of people and planet, if multiple stakeholders inside companies and across the sector align and focus their collaboration.
But we need to go ever faster, move even bigger things to solve our existential challenges.
In January 2023 I launched my own entrepreneurial venture, illumine.earth. It’s a Benefit Company whose mission is to illuminate, scale and accelerate solutions to regenerate nature and equity. We do this through leadership and strategy advisory for businesses as well as sustainability experts.
Where do you work right now?
My husband and I are global nomads. Currently that means dividing our time flexibly between Oregon, USA and Ontario, Canada. In the near future we will add Southeast Asia and Central Europe to the list so we can have a truly global life of work and play
What issues are you most fired up about tackling?
I’m most passionate about activating personal purpose-centered leadership among more business leaders and sustainability experts. As sustainability experts we may have the best advice and solutions to offer to our clients, but if those clients don’t know our ‘why’ or if they see sustainability work as tangential to their own personal purpose and the purpose of their business, we will always be advocating from the outside in. I have taken business leaders on journeys to farms and forests, and I’ve witnessed in these leaders major personal and career transformation as a result. These business leaders have then taken bolder steps towards sustainability within their business and their careers. Imagine – if all business leaders were not just ‘bought in’ but also personally aligned with sustainability experts to make the world more sustainable – how much farther and faster we would go toward our planetary sustainability goals!
How are you using your strengths and skills to play a part in changing the world for the better?
I have lived on 3 continents and worked in over 40 countries, worked first in my family’s entrepreneurial ventures, then in international organizations and then multi-national corporations. I have also lived with a life partner from a completely different culture for over 20 years! So, my most useful skill is cultural translation and adaptation. This is the skill I leverage the most to help businesses, Sustainability experts, and multi-stakeholder initiatives to bridge their different perspectives and arrive at common ground to move forward.
What's the biggest challenge when it comes to working as an independent sustainability expert?
Since I’m just starting, I’ve discovered two things:
- It takes a while to establish a rhythm in the workflow so you can have flexibility. If flexibility means you work 4 days a week instead of 5, that’s relatively easy. But if you want to plan a longer-term rhythm where, for example, you’re not working 200% in a 3–4-month period or where the work doesn’t stretch into your vacation, it takes time to achieve that and you need to innovate on your business model.
- I’ve spoken with many freelance sustainability consultants to get advice on how to get started. Many of these consultants are among the best in their fields. But I’m astonished at how many are still in a scarcity mindset, i.e., earning too little once you look at effort vs return, trying to figure out the least they need to survive, etc. Yet, sustainability as a field is booming. So I wonder – who is capturing the value? And how can we get the best freelancers to also get a sustainable, regenerative return for their knowledge and their positive impact? I truly believe that this is a necessary evolution for the best freelancers to thrive, so that they can generate even more impact.
Is there a project that you’re most proud of?
I’m proud of having been one of the forces that made satellite monitoring the norm in the fight against deforestation in the palm oil sector. Whenever I hear stakeholders cite that as a good example I know not only that it’s worth persevering as my colleagues across that sector and I did and continue to do, but that we can solve other challenges too if we collaborate and focus on solving them.
What’s your advice to someone who’s thinking of taking the plunge into freelance or freelancers just starting out?
Know that you’re not alone. Reach out and talk to people – freelancers, former freelancers, mentors, favorite ex-bosses, etc. to get some insights on how to start.
Remember – you can’t be everything to every client. Take the time to chart out your passion, skills, strengths, experience and networks to create your focus area. Leverage your network to find partners for complementary skills or larger projects.
Chart some boundaries – time, minimum fees, rest, anything else that’s of importance – and track how you’re doing to make sure you don’t spend all of your time working.
Celebrate – when you get your first contract, hit a milestone, set a boundary – don’t forget to acknowledge and celebrate yourself.