Breaking barriers for the environment
Shirley Blackshaw is the first National Manager for Climate Change in the Costa Rican Red Cross Society, and possibly the whole Movement. She is not only fighting resistance in terms of being a female leader, she is also breaking down barriers on the environmental area.
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“I joined the Costa Rican Red Cross 25 years ago after two volunteers gave us a first aid talk at school. I started out in the ambulance service team and was later invited to the aquatic rescue unit since I have always been a good swimmer. I spent eight years in this unit while I studied for a degree in Environmental Management.

For as long as I’ve been involved with the Red Cross in Costa Rica, the debate on climate change didn’t even exist, so I never practiced my degree within the Movement. Until three years ago when the organisation went through a transformation and the climate change unit was created.

At that time, I was in a difficult place personally and though my days with the Red Cross were over. But then my boss told me about the position as National Manager for Climate Change and I got very excited. With the support from colleagues and supervisors, I decided to accept the challenge! Today, three years later I think the results speak for themselves.

“We are more than an ambulance service”

– Shirley Blackshaw, Costa Rica

The biggest obstacle to our work is budget restraints. Unfortunately, the Costa Rican Red Cross does not have sufficient funds to develop the areas we work in. However, we are scratching together a living and with the support of other allied actors we are moving forward. In addition, being the only female director on national level, means I need to break a certain resistance from several actors both inside and outside of the Red Cross. This has been challenging at times.

I think the role the Costa Rican Red Cross has taken in the environmental field is very important. For many years people just saw us as a service centre before going to the hospital, or an ambulance service. But we are so much more than that. There is a lot of resistance towards this added focus of our National Society, so every day we are working hard to change this mentality among people, adding more and more volunteers to our cause! The beauty of the Red Cross is that all volunteers have a strong connection to their community and understand the local context, which is fundamental when promoting these initiatives.”


The fact that people primarily see the Red Cross as an emergency relief provider, and not front figure in combatting climate change, has slowed down some of the work but despite this Shirley sets high goals. She aims to make the Costa Rican Red Cross Society a carbon-neutral organisation by 2022, perhaps then being the first National Society in the world to achieve this.

Shirley Blackshaw

Costa Rica, 1994

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Did you know...

Women hold only 12 per cent of the world’s board seats.

– Deloitte, 2015

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