You know that fizzy, almost light-headed feeling that you get when you’ve been truly inspired? That’s how we felt after the first Spirit Forward London summit. Not once, not twice but throughout the entire day, each speaker empowered the audience with one clear message: you don’t have to be in charge to lead. It’s a compelling thought and the more we heard them talk, the more we were inclined to agree. Going back to that fizzy feeling we mentioned at the start, let’s rephrase it: by the time we were ready to leave, it felt like a bolt of electricity had worked its way through the entire room.

June Sarpong got the ball rolling with an impassioned talk about diversity

Why are we mentioning our shot of Monday enlightenment here? Because it kicked off a packed programme of celebrations to honour International Women’s Day, that’s why. While some of the planned events are 100% fun, with many involving cocktails, (absolutely nothing wrong with that – we love fun and cocktails as much, if not a little more than most); there are others, like this one which get down to the nitty-gritty: what can we do to make change for a more diverse, more inclusive workforce and society?

“Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man”

Spirit Forward London set out to put flesh on the bones of that particular question. With a powerful, passionate and positively awesome line up of speakers including June Sarpong MBE (presenter, campaigner, social entrepreneur and author of Diversify), Fatima Bhutto (author and niece of Benazir Bhutto), Laura Haynes (Chair Emeritus UN Women), Patrick Harrison (Executive Director, English National Ballet) and Mary Burke (Senior Production and Development Executive, BFI Film Fund, it took in those like Gina Martin, who have fought to change the law regarding something that’s affected them personally (in her case, up skirting); to others, like Gabby Edlin who formed Bloody Good Period, a charity she set up to help those of who can’t fight for themselves (female refugee and asylum seekers who need sanitary protection). The day was chock-full of uplifting stories which acted as a catalyst for everyone present to get off their arses and take steps to make change.

Women on top, l-r: Nova Reid, Gina Martin, Gabby Edlin and Shervene Shahbazkhani

We also heard from Shervene Shahbazkhani at Bacardi. If any brand is working hard to address the #balanceforbetter issue, this one is it. Did you know that females account for only 26% of management roles in the hospitality industry (dropping to a paltry 20% when HR positions are taken out of the equation)? Not under Shervene’s watch. Since taking on the role of Head of Advocacy, the UK ambassadors representing brands such as Bacardi Rum, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Patrón Tequila, Grey Goose Vodka, St~Germain, Martini, and Craigellachie, Dewars, Aberfeldy and Aultmore whiskies, are a 50/50 male/female split. (Here’s raising a glass to you Ambre Morin, Andrea Montague, Georgie Bell, Karine Tillard, Maja Jaworska, Metinee Kongsrivilai, Rebecca Sides and Roberta Mariani).

Lisa Jedan

Leading the charge on the whole shebang (pardon the pun) was Lisa Jedan, Chair, S.H.E. Summit London and Vice President, Global Brand Communications, Bacardi-Martini Ltd. We spoke to her ahead of the event to find out more about Spirit Forward London, what it means, where it’s headed and how the whole initiative came together.

Firstly, can you explain how the partnership with S.H.E. Summit, Spirit Forward and Bacardi works?

In 2016 Bacardi partnered with S.H.E. Summit, they work with thought leaders and businesses around the world to champion and accelerate equality for everybody (S.H.E stands for She, He and Equality for all). That’s where we started our journey. They did a flagship event in NYC and when we partnered with them, we said we needed to take it broader. Which led to us hosting the events in Miami and Dallas, so it became a co-branded event.

Then in 2018, S.H.E. Summit/Bacardi gave birth to Spirit Forward. It was a five city tour bringing women and men together from all parts of the spirits and hospitality industry to motivate, celebrate and empower. For our first event in London we’ve taken it from what started as a business to business event and opened it up to reach out to consumers and the industry, so whether you own the bar or you’re behind it, everybody is empowered to create change.

“There is only one thing in the Universe which a woman still needs to learn and that one thing is that, ‘she has the power to turn the direction of the wind on her own’.”

Is the rationale behind it a proactive or reactive response to #MeTo etc?

A lot of people forget that Bacardi is a family-owned company. This isn’t something we have to do – we’re not driven by the street; we do it because we believe in it. We do it because we think it’s the right thing to do – that’s a core value of ours. At Bacardi we live by three ‘f’s’: family, founders and fearless. And I can honestly say that I’ve really seen those three f’s come to life while we’ve been building this programme. We’re not perfect, this is a journey for us and we’re committed to the journey. But when you partner with the right people and you have positive intent – beautiful things can happen.

How did you come up with the agenda for the day?

We’ve reached out to friends, family, partners and worked with S.H.E. Summit on what seems to resonate the most with the audiences from their previous agendas. Then we looked at what’s newsworthy in the UK, because for me there’s a difference between what we want to say and people want to talk about – where you meet in the middle is where the magic happens.

Speaking of magical moments, have you had any moments of pride in getting the first Spirit Forward London event off the ground?

You know what I’m proud of? It’s how people in the business and our partners – not just industry partners but also our marketing partners – have come together. These events are done in addition to our day jobs, so the people working on this are passionate about the issues and passionate about making change. These aren’t necessarily the people with the loudest voices; getting this going has brought people in from different corners of the organisation and we get to hear their voices. 

Honestly, I’ve been so touched by the people who have put up their hands to offer their support. Our agency partners have donated their time to make this event come to life and the work that they put into it is at the same level, with the same passion and same professionalism that they would do if they were working for a fee. There aren’t words to describe how grateful I am to everybody that’s touched this project.

“The best way to change the society and the underlying issues is to channelize the power of woman in every walk of life.”

So you’ve introduced Spirit Forward to London, what next? 

I’m very inspired by what our team in America have done, where they started the relationship with S.H.E. Summit and then created Spirit Forward as the satellite event, targeted at our industry and our consumers. My vision for Europe is not dissimilar – Spirit Forward London is an anchor event that introduces our intent but we’ve opened it up to consumers as well – it’s a conversation for everybody, I feel very passionate about that. The vision is to roll out constellations or satellites of events; smaller, more intimate, maybe they happen in a bar where we continue the conversation. This is the inaugural event in Europe and we do hope that it will be modelled by our teams elsewhere in Europe. 

I hope that this becomes and annual event for us but for me it’s about how do we keep the conversation going? In this instance, we’ve partnered with DrinkUp London and a number of female bartenders who have created a bespoke list of inclusive cocktails that people can enjoy over the whole week.”

Which leads nicely on to the International Women’s Day tour… Here’s where the amazing ladies at DrinkUp.London headed up by Hannah Sharman-Cox and Siobhan Payne have partnered with Bacardi and joined forces with six female bartenders from London’s top bars for a week of cocktails every bit as different and phenomenal as the women who created them. Each of the drinks is themed around famous women and offers an insight into what International Women’s Day means to each of the participating bartenders. On the various menus until 11th March.

International Women’s Day participating bars

Where to support the cause on International Women’s Day
#balanceforbetter

Artesian 
Ask for: Anna Sebastian and Sara Moudoulaud’s Call Me If You Need To Talk made with Grey Goose La Poire vodka)

Blacklock 
Ask for: Hannah Naughton’s Rosie Rivington made with Dewar’s 12 year-old whisky

FAM 
Ask for: Zoe Van Der Grinten’s Sesame Street made with Grey Goose Vodka

Happiness Forgets 
Ask for: Margaux Picard’s Emilie Jolie made with Woodford Reserve bourbon

London Cocktail Club Goodge Street 
Ask for: Cressida Lawlor’s Alexandria made with Patron tequila

Satan’s Whiskers
Ask for: Nicole Sykes’ Honey Honey made with BACARDI Anejo rum

Elsewhere:

Throughout March: Anthracite at the Great Northern Hotel

Ask for: The Womankind cocktail (strawberry infused Hayman’s gin, Cocchi Americano Rosa, rhubarb and prosecco. £1 from each cocktail will be donated to the Womankind charity.

7th March: Nine Lives Bar Female Takeover

Ask for: Everything!
Jenna Ba from Bulleit Bourbon and Kate Jackson from Ketel One Vodka have created a drinks list inspired by women who have created change, including the Final Frontier, an homage to Nicehlle Nichols, one of the first black female leads, playing Uhuru in Star Trek and Helen Cumming, the founder of Cardhu distillery. A well as drinks there’ll be bare breast painting and printing to promote body positivity, beats from DJ Vanille and an auction to purchase artwork from artist Trinity Tristan. All proceeds will go to the fight against female genital mutilation.

8th March: Celebrating Women In Drinks

Ask for: A shot of inspiration from a panel of fabulous women who are having a positive impact in the drinks industry.
The panel includes Claire Warner Managing Director of Æcorn Aperitifs, Hannah Sharman-Cox, Founder and Managing Partner, DrinkUp London and Stephanie Jordan, Founder Drinking Out Loud Cosnultancy and CEO Avallen Spirits.
From 4-6pm at Carousel-London. (Invite only)

9th March: Disco Brunch

Soul Sister Special
Ask for: The bottomless cocktails, two-course lunch and don’t forget the singing and dancing to your fave disco choons.

#InternationalWomensDay

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