Meet the Author: Jean Oelwang

Holly Branson with Jean Oelwang, holding up Jean's book - Partnering
Kami White
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 9 March 2022

Jean Oelwang is a woman like no other. She’s the kind of person you want around you, all of the time. I’ve known Jean for over 15 years, and I’m forever amazed by her calm presence, mixed with an insatiable desire to bring people together,to change the world. Beyond being one of my favourite people in the world, Jean is also the founding CEO and President of our not-for-profit foundation, Virgin Unite, and the author of a wonderful new book called Partnering. When given the chance to sit down with Jean for a Meet The Author interview, I jumped at it.

After spending decades of her life incubating a long list of global collaborations through Virgin Unite – including The Elders, The B Team, and the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship –  Jean saw first-hand what is possible when you collaborate on a deeper level, and she wanted to share her learnings in her wonderful new book Partnering. After interviewing and studying over 60 of the world’s most powerful and successful partnerships (including Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Leah Tutu), it was fascinating to hear Jean speak about the ingredients of deep co-creation, and the profound positive, exponential impact it can have.

Holly Branson smiling on the sofa with Jean Oelwang's new book - Partnering
Kami White

As Jean mentioned in our interview (and throughout the book), we’re living increasingly individualistic lives, and it’s robbing us of finding meaning and scaling the good we can do in the world. In her own words: “We need to be moving faster and further together, and we need to collaborate at a scale we have never even dreamt about.”  

Without further ado, here is the wonderful Jean Oelwang.

Holly Branson and Jean Oelwang's Meet The Author interview

During our conversation, we reflected on everything from the origins of The Elders (a group of global leaders that Dad, Peter Gabriel and Jean brought together with the help of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu); to the role that purpose plays in building deeper connections. As Jean put it:

“Having a purpose and helping to lift each other towards their purpose strengthens relationships.”

Richard, Holly and Nelson Mandela and family standing outside together

Jean brought this to life when she talked and wrote about the partnerships formed by the Ozone Community – the community of people who achieved the monumental task of closing the Ozone Hole. As I mentioned to Jean, I'd like to see this cse study taught in schools - to show the power of collaboration and sharing your purpose. It’s beyond inspirational. This story proves that we can achieve seemingly impossible things when we form deep partnerships based on a shared purpose. The success of the Ozone community is a lesson in hope and in human ability - and it could drive future generations to solve some of the biggest problems we face today.

It was also beautiful to hear Jean speak about the profound friendship she has built with Dad over the years – a partnership strengthened by Dad’s audacious ideas, and Jean’s ability to make things happen. I was so moved when Jean said:

“He’s given me deep belief in myself and that’s been a great gift to me.”

I think all leaders should master this skill!

Jean Oelwang with Richard Branson and B-Team
Virgin Unite

It’s difficult to talk about partnering, or any of Jean’s learnings without talking about the wonderful connections that Virgin Unite has fostered since it launched in 2004. When Dad and Jean created Virgin Unite, they wanted it to be a fast-moving entrepreneurial engine that could tackle the unacceptable issues of our time - and it’s certainly lived up to that aspiration. From its efforts to end the death penalty, tackle climate change, create criminal justice reform, advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, and push for drug policy reform - Virgin Unite is able to leave such a great impact through co-creation, partnership incubation, and by bringing the best people together to scale audacious ideas. The impact that Virgin Unite and the projects it supports has made would not be possible without collaboration and deep connections. It is the best example of the power of partnerships that I know and it was incredible to have a snapshot ‘behind the scenes’ of these partnerships through reading Jean’s book!

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Richard Branson
Photography courtesy of The Elders

Thank you so much to Jean for everything you’re doing to accelerate change in the world, and thank you for showing us what happens when you share your dreams and your purpose with others. 

Pick up your own copy of Partnering, with all proceeds donated to Plus Wonder - an independent, not-for-profit initiative to inspire people to forge partnerships in service of a greater purpose.