Inside BSR is our monthly interview series highlighting BSR team members around the globe. This month, we connected with Francesca Manta, an Associate Director in our Copenhagen office, on everything from her childhood as a "lawyer of lost causes" to the variety of cities that she has lived and worked in to her experience of working remotely and raising preschoolers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from, where are you based, and how are you handling COVID-19 lockdowns and the remote work situation?
I’m originally from a tiny, not very known region in the south of Italy, between the “toes and the heel” as I usually say. My current home however is Copenhagen, Denmark, where I have been for about 13 years now.
Before settling in Denmark, I lived in a few different places: Rome, where I studied Political Science and International Relations; Uppsala, Sweden, for my exchange year; Washington, D.C., for project work at the International Law Institute; Nairobi, Kenya, working with microfinance; and Singapore, with my former employer Vestas.
Copenhagen won the contest for best home base because of family reasons, but also because of great work opportunities and obviously, the fantastic weather.
The pandemic has been a little earthquake of chaos. But I do believe we are creatures of habit, so I would say I have now settled into new routines and new confined spaces—sharing the home office with my husband and cat, doing a "fake" morning commute around the office, and spending a lot more time with our children.
However, nothing can fill the big gap of not doing project work on the field, seeing colleagues daily, and visiting my family in Italy.
What issues are you passionate about and why? Does your work at BSR reflect that?
If you ask my mom, she would say that I was always the “lawyer of lost causes” when I was little: taking the side of the weakest, arguing impossible cases in the name of justice and fairness. I would say that passion is still there now: justice and equity, seen obviously from a sustainability angle.
How can I contribute to making the world more equitable, especially for our children and grandchildren? How can I use my expertise to change the status quo and advance sustainability and human rights as business as usual, part of the new social contract?
I feel so lucky I get to do exactly this at BSR every day, through our projects, member engagement, research and partnership with donors.
Off-work passions are more mundane: I love knitting, doing creative projects, exponentially increased during lockdown, cooking, and baking. I am an avid reader and love rowing.
How did you get into working on sustainable business? How long have you been at BSR? What is your current role and what does that entail?
I thought I would become a diplomat, as international relations and politics had always been my passion. While writing my bachelor thesis, I started researching global supply chains in China and India and suddenly found a new love in sustainability—which was called corporate social responsibility (CSR) back then.
Luckily, I could study a business master's degree focused on sustainability and development at Copenhagen Business School, which led me to my first work opportunity with the Danish Institute for Human Rights, where I specialized in human rights and business and later on, in broader sustainability issues at various companies.
I have been at BSR almost two years, and I am part of the Human Rights team. Some of my work involves leading projects with members on implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and conducting human rights assessments of their operations and supply chains. I also work more broadly on gender, supply chain, and sustainability management issues across different industries.
In addition, I support some of our Nordic and European members in advancing their sustainability work through BSR membership—something I particularly enjoy as I feel like I’m very much an extended part of their teams!
What are some interesting projects that you get to work on as part of your role at BSR? What do you enjoy about them?
Learning and impact are my favorite things about all the fantastic projects I get to work on at BSR. There is always a new topic, an unpredictable angle, a gnarly conundrum to solve—whether human rights, diversity, supplier management, or reporting. We also work very collaboratively yet independently across teams, joined by a particularly inspiring synergy which is reflected in the quality and integrity of projects.
Some of my favorite projects have been doing field work on agricultural supply chains in Ethiopia and Egypt, developing global harassment policies and programs for some of our members, and taking an active role in the integration of gender and human rights, which even brought me to the United Nations to present BSR’s groundbreaking work on gender due diligence back in 2019.
2020 was undoubtedly a difficult year. What were the things that brought you joy amid lockdowns/quarantines? What are you most looking forward to in 2021/when the pandemic is over?
If I were to pick a word for 2020, that would be gratitude. It’s been a tough year no doubt—lockdown and working from home with preschoolers is no walk in the park, and being separated from colleagues, friends, and family has been straining mentally and physically.
However, I continued to work and supported even more interesting projects, with 2020 being an incredibly impactful year at BSR.
My family, near and far, felt never so close, and spending a lot of time with my young children made me appreciate these years much more than if I were caught in the hamster wheel of "normal" life.
And lastly, I live in a beautiful and green city where we still enjoyed a lot of freedom despite the lockdowns. We could replenish the happiness tank with walks, the allowed take-away food, and biking along the now frozen Copenhagen lakes.
What I am taking with me when this is over is resilience, patience, creativity, and appreciation of the simple joys of life. Crossing my fingers that very soon I can eat bad plane food, sit comfortably in crowded restaurants without wearing a mask, starfish on hotel beds after a long day on the ground, and laugh with friends and family again.