September 10, 2019, By Anne Ford, Published Rotary International

Anabella Palacios grew up in Argentina. Through Rotary, she has had the opportunity to learn through travel. In 1998, she spent a year in Istanbul as a Youth Exchange student. In 2008, she visited the Rotary clubs of North Carolina on a Group Study Exchange. She returned to North Carolina as a 2009-11 Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Now an economic development consultant for the World Bank in Washington, D.C., Palacios has continued her globe-trotting studies on a voyage to Antarctica. On 31 December, Palacios and 89 other women from 26 countries embarked on three weeks of study and exploration aboard the ice-strengthened polar vessel MV Ushuaia. The trip was organized by the women’s leadership initiative Homeward Bound.

Illustration by Viktor Miller Gausa

THE ROTARIAN: How did you get involved in this trip, and what was its aim?

PALACIOS: I met a lady who told me, “I’m going to Antarctica at the end of the year.” I was like, “Regular people go there?” It had been a dream of mine. So I started fundraising, and in a month, I had raised 40 percent of my target.

Homeward Bound sees that there is a need to empower women in order to save the planet. How can we bring women from all over the world together to create a movement? It’s so important to increase the visibility of women working in science.

I’ve heard a lot of backlash about: “Why is this program for women? We need to work with men.” I agree, but we need to empower more women to be strong and act as examples. There are still so many barriers. Until the 1960s, Antarctica was a research station for men only. To me, that is crazy.

TR: How did you prepare?

PALACIOS: Training took a year. We had sessions about communication, leadership, presentation skills — all these topics that help you gain confidence and create change. And then it culminated with the trip. That’s the first time we all met face to face. The ship left from Argentina, and we met there for two days beforehand, so we had the opportunity to talk before we all got seasick.

TR: What did you do once you reached Antarctica?

PALACIOS: In the mornings, we worked together on projects. In the afternoons, we got to see the continent. Antarctica is like a big laboratory where you can see the effects of climate change. One of the penguin species we saw, the Adélie penguin, is in danger of extinction. You can see the retreat of the glaciers, and you can talk to people who are at the forefront of climate research.

TR: What does your experience with Rotary have in common with your experience in Antarctica?

PALACIOS: Being a peace fellow is about being true to your values. Leaders know what their values are, and every day they try to do something connected to them. I’m still reflecting on the lessons I learned from the Antarctica trip, but I definitely stepped off that ship with a lot more self-knowledge.

I also learned about leadership styles. Sometimes people think a leader has to be perfect and know all the answers, and that’s not quite human. We need leaders who make mistakes, laugh about them, and move on.

This trip helped me to focus on what I want to do in the long term. I always thought that economic development was just about erasing poverty, but now I think that economic development and environmental issues have to be worked on together.