Professional and personally, Ana Nacvalovaite wears many hats. A successful human rights lawyer specializing in conflict prevention and resolution, she later studied at the University of Oxford, obtaining a DPhil, the Ph.D. equivalent in the UK, in the regulation of sovereign wealth funds.
Not only is Ana busy with research, but in the very little off-time she also competes in beauty pageants — and wins them.
It’s fair to say she’s quite busy. Most days it’s writing, researching, and working with sovereign wealth funds or institutional investors that consumes the time. The project she works on now as a fellow at Oxford University’s Kellogg College is an extensive one. It’s proposed to take years, and the topic isn’t well-researched in the academic field.
Ana talks about her research with a fierce determination. During some early stages of research, she developed ideas, often heard no from different people, groups or prospective partnering organizations, but the negation is what eventually led to formulating the real idea she is now pursuing.
BEAUTIFUL CLOTHES & A NICE EVENT: ‘WELL, WHY NOT?’
In late June, Ana will travel to the U.S. to compete in the Mrs. Globe pageant, having won the Mrs. Great Britain competition. Obvious stereotypes about pageantry overtake the bulk of conversation or viewpoints about it. People think pageants are all about image. Ana says it’s about much more than that, it’s about achievement and sisterhood and charity.
She seems very purposeful in what she calls her “great hobby.”
“The reason why I chose this pageant is it is modern. It’s okay to be widowed, it’s okay to be divorced, it is okay not to be married. But when you look at a pageant like Mrs. World, you have to be married.”
She says she is all for tradition. But she doesn’t agree with women who are divorced being excluded from the picture (“And … that’s my human rights lawyer coming out,” she laughs.)
“You know, it’s a number of women from all walks of life, having a wonderful sisterhood and enjoying a bit of beautiful clothes and a nice event, well why not?” she says.
She also chose Mrs. Globe specifically because the event tries to raise awareness for situations of domestic violence and helping communities and people afflicted by those circumstances – another area Ana is focused on advocating for.
Mrs. Globe delegates serve as brand ambassadors, and the pageant serves as the largest fundraiser for the W.I.N Foundation, a nonprofit that supports abuse recovery programs and provides emotional empowerment programs for women. The charity was started by a women named Dr. Tracy Kemble, who in 1996 won the pageant and then focused her efforts on working for and with victims of domestic violence.
“I’ve seen firsthand the devastating impact of domestic violence, on individuals, families and communities. I have also seen how the lack of access to finance and economic opportunities impact social inequality that contributes to a cycle of violence and poverty,” Ana says.
HER FOCUS ON ‘THE S’ IN ESG
At Oxford’s Kellogg College, she’s researching alternative investment ideas. Essentially it is looking to create a vehicle for investing in socially responsible businesses in communities for generations to come. Ana is what you could say an expert in the S (meaning social) in ESG, the framework for understanding corporations’ impact on the environment, social and corporate governance.
As a human rights lawyer, naturally she was already involved in aspects pertaining to social welfare. But she continues to learn and ask questions about the sustainable development of communities, again outfitted in many hats to take on such a role.
“We are about six years behind in sustainability goals. And in the last two years, we have truly not achieved anything in the Sustainable Development Goals, unfortunately,” she says.
Developed in 2015 and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a shared plan for tackling poverty and reducing inequalities that go hand-in-hand with strengthening public health, education and economic growth. The 17 SDGs represent at it’s a core an agenda for creating peace and prosperity by 2030. How far along the program is going is often monitored in a report released annually by the U.N. This is what Ana references when noting the agenda is lacking on staying on track.
INVESTING IN MUTUAL AND OTHER CO-OWNED BUSINESSES: HER REALM OF RESEARCH
To describe her research, she gave the example of the business of mining. She would, hypothetically, research effects such a business has on a given community. From the beginning, a lot of infrastructure is created as a result of the business, it also pays wages and schools are set up. After ten years, say, the business expires and the company packs and moves elsewhere but what happens to the workers and workers’ families who built their community around the labor?
“So, you’ve got cooperatives, mutuals, employee-owned businesses, but what has interested me for a while is how we can create sustainable social businesses that are ran by people for people that are profitable,” she says.
Ana began researching how institutional investors like sovereign wealth funds – “by far the wealthiest” she says – can create wealth for future generations. When the mining business goes elsewhere it is no doubt extremely disruptive for the community. It impacts not just men or women working there, but their families.
Ana wants to research how communities can be supported, so they can thrive without disruption and there’s continual investment into workers’ healthcare and schooling. Essentially if the mining business were to leave, the workers could promptly began working again somewhere else and there’s a smooth transition in doing so.
“In the conversations that I am having, there is very little understanding about investments into cooperatives, for example, or mutual or employee-owned businesses because (the investors) really want to be in control of the business,” she says.
When creating her research focus, she spoke to a lot of institutional investors. Upon hearing feedback, in order for it to work, the idea became larger. Ana says it seemed impossible to do due diligence with studying the impact on only 10 or 15 cooperatives. So, Ana thought about pooling 150 cooperatives or 10 or 20 mutually-owned or employee-owned businesses and creating a vehicle that would specialize in investing into them.
“Eventually, I believe there will be a market for it,” she says.
Ana’s fellowship is designed to last about two and half years, but there’s a chance for her research will expand and she says she might contribute to it for longer.
WHAT ANA IS SEEING IN ACADEMIA
“There’s an issue in academia in terms of permanent placements,” Ana says, adding that she’s hopeful this last point for reform will be amplified.
Ana has expressed an ability to explore what she’s passionate about both professionally and through pageantry. But, she says, these opportunities aren’t optional for everyone in the realm of academia. The system needs to change, she says. Referring specifically to her young female colleagues, women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, she says, “you have to think about stability.”
This field typically only offers contracts for three or five years, forcing a lot of people to move around, but perhaps they have families or mortgages. She wants to encourage the academic world to offer more support to young academics.
“I know a number of individuals who would have loved to follow an academic career and maybe supplement a business or policy-making career, but we are currently in a crisis with the cost-of-living situation and a lot of bright minds are not being able to continue,” she says, ending the conversation aimed at a cause.
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