There is a substantial difference between being present and having presence, and if anyone embodies the latter, it’s Musonda Mumba. Even two years into a pandemic when Zoom fatigue is at a high, Musonda maintains a way of turning digital events into inspirational gatherings, weaving stories from her career as an environmentalist with new scientific findings and powerful human truths in her songlike Zambian accent, giving listeners a kick-in-the-butt to get going on their personal environmental goals, whatever they may be. (“Humans are emotive and relate easily to stories. Jargon is confusing and unnecessary,” she says of her public speaking secrets.)
Mumba, who is the director for The Rome Centre for Sustainable Development under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has held office in nearly all the major conservation organizations over the past two decades, from the Ramsar Convention to WWF to UN Environment, where she spent more than 12 years working directly on the adaptation and restoration of ecosystems. And in this space where outright femininity is less celebrated than a good pair of glasses and slew of published papers (though she certainly has both – with red cat-eye frames and a Ph.D. from the University College London, no less), Mumba has carved out an image for herself as a fashionista, a mother and a proud African female determined to change the course of the world.
“Alas, a degraded earth equals unhealthy humans – it’s our reconnecting to these ecosystems that matter so much for me,” she says.
Indeed, connection is one of Mumba’s core values. Even in her current position at the top of the organizational food chain, one of her most radiant traits is her inclusivity, happy to share time with anyone at any level willing to contribute to conservation and restoration. “My favorite mantra is from my mother’s ancestry, the Xhosa people of South Africa: UBUNTU, which means, ‘I am, because we are.’ I don’t believe in the philosophy of self-made, because one does not exist nor grow in a vacuum. I believe strongly in the power of community.”