Shifting the conversation: From diverse boardrooms to hotlines for men

In addition to looking at how better communication – at home and work – has its benefits, we see how rural and farming communities are working on greening spaces with trees and heritage species.

1. United States

Boardrooms are becoming more diverse, according to a new analysis of S&P 500 companies. A report by advisory firm Spencer Stuart found that top publicly traded companies brought on 456 new independent directors from May 2020 through May of this year, 72% of which were from historically underrepresented groups. This includes Black directors, who make up 33% of the new class, and women, who account for 43%.

Ted S. Warren/AP/File
Roz Brewer, as chief operating officer in 2019, addresses shareholders of Starbucks, which has recently increased the racial and gender diversity of its board of directors to more than 50% nonwhite members.

Why We Wrote This

Our progress roundup highlights two very different ways of making space for a variety of voices. In one case, the impact could save lives.

Advances in gender and racial diversity are bringing companies closer to reflecting the American public. Black Americans, who make up roughly 13% of the U.S. population, now hold 11% of S&P 500 board seats. Accenture and Starbucks reported the most racially diverse boards, with 50% nonwhite members. Meanwhile, women have gone from holding 28% of directorships last year to 30% in 2021. The 30% milestone has long been sought by advocacy organizations such as the Thirty Percent Coalition. Women of color make up a third of this figure, which is about 10% of total directorships.
Reuters, Spencer Stuart, Just Capital

2. Peru

The Marcapata Ccollana community is the latest to be declared an agrobiodiversity zone by the Peruvian government, protecting Incan farming traditions and underscoring the importance of crop diversity. The new 55,800-acre reserve is located in the Andean highlands. There, an Indigenous community of roughly 800 people grows 99 types of potato, among other varieties of tubers, beans, grains, and maize. Farmers of Marcapata Ccollana use ancient techniques such as terracing and multiyear fallow periods.

Around the world, farmers have lost around 75% of plant genetic diversity since the 1900s, reports the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Monoculture, the patenting of living organisms, and creation of a global food market have all contributed to a decline in agricultural biodiversity. However, having a variety of species allows farmers to adapt to changing climate conditions. Researchers also found that root vegetables grown in the high Andes were more pest-resistant and higher in protein than commercially available tubers. Marcapata Ccollana is the fourth agrobiodiversity site to be recognized by Peru in order to protect crop diversity, and in turn, the country’s overall food security. The effort is a collaboration among local, national, and regional authorities; environmental nonprofits; and the U.N. Development Program.
Mongabay, Food and Agriculture Organization

3. Cameroon

Refugees are combating desertification by planting a thriving forest in northern Cameroon. Climate change had already put a strain on Minawao, Cameroon, when thousands of refugees fleeing violence in neighboring Nigeria began arriving in the region. The influx exacerbated land degradation as families chopped down remaining trees for survival. An ongoing reforestation project, launched in 2018 by the U.N. refugee agency and the Lutheran World Federation, seeks to reverse the damage and improve conditions for local communities.

Over the past few years, refugees have planted 360,000 seedlings across nearly 250 acres in and around the Minawao camp. Participants learn the best techniques for arid environments. These include use of the Land Life Co.’s biodegradable, doughnut-shaped cocoon to water and protect young plants, and surrounding them with brambles to keep animals away. Residents say the effort has transformed the area, which is part of the African-led Great Green Wall initiative to contain the expanding Sahel desert. “Minawao has become a place that is green all over,” says volunteer Lydia Youcoubou. “There are a lot of benefits to that. We have shade from the sun, the soil has improved, and the trees attract water.”
Euronews, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

4. India

The state of Jharkhand is expanding farmers’ irrigation capacity by distributing solar-powered pumps. About 37% of the eastern Indian state’s nearly 30,500 square miles are viable for cultivation. However, net sown land only amounts to less than half of that, according to a 2019 report. Less than 6% of farmers have access to any irrigation equipment, relying instead on monsoon rain, which limits annual yields. To address these barriers and maximize the region’s agricultural potential, the state aims to distribute 2,310 solar pumps by June 2022. The project, which is backed by the World Bank, will help irrigate 26,220 acres, serving more than 23,500 farming families.

Soumya Sarkar/Thomson Reuters Foundation/File
A farmer in Tukutoli village in Jharkhand, India, uses a drip irrigation system to grow crops in 2019.

There are concerns that the pumps will lead to excessive groundwater extraction, especially as India faces water scarcity. The Jharkhand program, unlike a similar effort by the national government, emphasizes the need to use surface water; coordinators note that in the areas where solar pumps have been distributed, the use of diesel pumps has declined significantly. Critics say distribution has been slow, but the 850 pumps already installed by the government have had an impact on communities. Armed with the new irrigation system, farmer Parmeshwari Devi was able to more than double her rice production to 6,600 pounds this year, and her family is planning to plant vegetables during the winter season.


A growing number of emergency hotlines geared toward men are helping combat violence against women. While there have long been shelters and hotlines for abuse victims, there are few resources geared toward intervening on the abuser’s end. Increasingly, victims’ advocates are establishing hotlines for just that purpose – to offer batterers, who are usually men, a place to turn in desperate moments.

In the United Kingdom, Respect Phoneline operators field about 6,000 calls, web chats, and texts annually, though traffic increased by as much as 500% early in the pandemic. Colombia’s Calm Line helps about 12 people a day understand how machismo culture leads to violence.

Of the men surveyed, 76.1% agreed that “most men would like to manage their emotions better, but they don’t know how.” More than 1,600 men called into Nova Scotia’s 24-hour helpline during its first year. Most of these calls are anonymous, meaning coordinators don’t have the opportunity to track how men behave after their conversations. But the therapists, social workers, and psychologists who helm these hotlines say the service is necessary, as it can de-escalate dangerous situations and, more broadly, move the onus to change the situation off the people being abused. “We have to stop asking survivors to do more,” said JAC Patrissi, co-founder of a new pilot line in Massachusetts. “People are worried that an intervention like this is therapy, or collusion. ... [The goal is] a community response that says we’ll walk with you in your change but you have to be accountable.”
The New York Times, CBC News,

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