Inside BSR is our monthly series featuring BSR team members from around the world. This month, we connected with Anna Iles, a Futures Associate Director based in Hong Kong.

Anna chatted with us about her sustainability journey around the world and her work at BSR on futures thinking.

 

 

Tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from, and where are you based? What is your favorite hobby?

I’m from the north of England, and I have now lived in Hong Kong for five years after three in Singapore. We live on Lantau Island, which is mostly a national park rich in wildlife, beaches, and peaks—a far cry but only a short ferry ride from the city. I love getting out and about: my favorite sort of escape is touring with a bike and a tent—and I’m hoping we can find some way to do that with three kids (one toddler, twins on the way).

How did you first get involved in sustainable business?

My first internship was as a journalist with the environmental magazine Down To Earth in Delhi. This was a formative experience where I learned how intricately social justice is bound up with environmental challenges. Back in London, I worked for women’s health and social care nonprofits and edited the Women’s Environmental Network newsletter before becoming editor of the sustainable solutions magazine Green Futures, published by Forum for the Future.

I developed a passion for futures thinking as a way to support business and society in navigating complex and emerging challenges. In 2014, I relocated to Forum’s Singapore office to set up the Futures Centre, a collaborative platform for tracking change and thinking about its implications. Then, I moved to Hong Kong to run my own futures and innovation agency, working with UNICEF, UNDP, schools, and youth organizations, as well as businesses.

What are some interesting projects that you get to work on as part of your role at BSR? What do you enjoy about them?

I joined BSR’s Sustainable Futures Lab last year, leading our work on emerging issues and our publication The Fast Forward, as well as working with businesses to explore the implications of today’s changes and their capacity to address current challenges and work toward a more sustainable and equitable future.

I appreciate the wide range of topics we work on (recently nature’s rights, carbon capture and storage, the impacts of climate change on mental health) and the access to business leaders with both the power to influence their sectors and the ambition to do so.

It’s also terrific, particularly after four years as a solo ship, to have so many colleagues with diverse backgrounds, interests, and expertise to share ideas with about how critical changes today could play out and what they might mean for different sectors.

What issues are you passionate about and why? How does your work at BSR reflect that?

I’m interested in how we think and the life of ideas: How can we expand our perspectives and embrace new ways of understanding ourselves and the world? Before joining BSR, I published a book The Innovation-Friendly Organization, exploring how organizational culture can enable ideas to thrive (or not). The importance of diversity stands out, as well as the potential to indulge in curiosity.

More recently, I’ve been exploring how we can apply futures thinking to conflict situations, as a way to reframe perspectives and create new starting points for dialogue.

At BSR, my colleagues and our members are very open to trying out new ways of thinking. For instance, we’ve used fictional personas to explore the potential impact of emerging trends for stakeholders in the fashion and luxury industries, and we found this useful in cultivating an empathetic and human-centric approach to strategy and planning.

Adjusting to life during a pandemic can be complicated. What were the things that brought you joy amid the uncertainty and challenges of the past year? What are you looking forward to in 2022?

My son was born at the start of the pandemic, and the rise of flexible remote working has made it easier for me to juggle parenting and professional life. His cheeky, affectionate spirit is a huge joy: It’s the little things like him picking up a plum at the market the other day and biting into it, then lobbing it straight at the saleswoman when I explained we had to pay for it…

The sad thing is that our families and friends “back home” haven’t been able to meet him yet (a common story), given Hong Kong’s three-week quarantine period and intermittent bans on incoming flights. We’re expecting twins very soon, and so I’m most looking forward to welcoming them and then hopefully taking all three back to the UK.