For Jews trapped inside the Warsaw ghetto, Maria Stanczyk offered the hope of freedom.
The former nun was part of a resistance movement that helped Jews to escape from the Nazis in wartime Poland. She never sought recognition for her exploits after the war and remains just one among a long list of quiet heroines who displayed incredible courage in the face of overwhelming brutality.
Emily Moncuit’s family tree is full of heroic dissenters like Maria; people who risked everything because they wanted to follow their conscience. Mrs Moncuit, who is Maria’s granddaughter, is proud of her family’s long-standing commitment to humanitarian work.
“Pre-war my grandmother was a nun for 10 years,” said Mrs Moncuit. “When Hitler invaded Lithuania she was absolved from her convent and she joined the resistance movement in Warsaw. She smuggled Jews out of the Warsaw ghetto before she met my grandfather, and they got married in Poland.”
During the Cold War, the Stanczyk family were not afraid to oppose the status quo in Warsaw. It was here that her uncle, Zbigniew Stanczyk, and a group of friends produced independent newspapers in the early 1980s which challenged the official Communist media monopoly.
While he was in the US finishing his doctoral thesis in late 1981, the Polish regime introduced martial law, so he stayed in California with his two sisters.
The family spread out and Mrs Moncuit, then a small girl, was brought up in London.
Aged 19, Mrs Moncuit had dreams of becoming a war reporter. She accompanied the peer Caroline Cox to the Nagorno Karabakh region, which was being torn apart by a bloody conflict.
“I would recommend every young person having an experience like that,’’ said Mrs Moncuit.
“We just live in a culture that caters to our every need. When you experience a war zone where day-to-day life is critical, you realise what are the most important things.
“In terms of how that shaped me, I’ve learned to take a lot more risks and I’ve learned about humanity in that process too. We cannot take economic prosperity for granted either. My family have been political exiles.”
The setting for our interview could not have been further removed from the conflict zones that have shaped her family’s fate.
We met around the corner from the CBI’s office in Leeds, at the heart of an area that is undergoing its most radical redevelopment in decades.
It’s an appropriate setting because Ms Moncuit is passionate about regeneration. She has joined the CBI following a career within the government regeneration, charity and community engagement industries, as well as running her own event management and communications business.
She is fluent in Polish and French and has an interest in diversity and women in business. She spent part of her childhood in San Francisco and remains a regular visitor.
“I’m interested in what is happening politically as well as socially,’’ she said. “This role is a fusion of all of these things really.”
Mrs Moncuit came to South Yorkshire to be a researcher for the New Deal for Communities, which was set up by John Prescott when he was Deputy Prime Minister.
In her new role she will work alongside CBI regional director Beckie Hart to represent the views of businesses across the region.
“Beckie’s remit is very much strategic,’’ she said. “My remit is about the nuts and the bolts. If you’re a member of the CBI, it’s my responsibility to make sure that you are growing.
“It’s about the power of policy and intepreting policy to grow your business. A lot of businesses don’t understand policy and my role is to interpret that for them. We are a member-based organisation.
“We represent 190,000 businesses in this country, our role is to be led and driven by them and to collect information and data from them that influences policy at a Government level.
“But not only that, we are consulted regularly about changes at a Government level because our voice is so influential.
“It’s very exciting to be part of that in a regional context. It’s about leverage. It’s about creating information networks and platforms and it’s about sharing best practice.”
“It’s about all sorts of different partners coming together. There are huge disparities in our region. There’s deprivation and there is incredible wealth.”
She believes the CBI can play a dynamic role in reducing social inequality.
Mrs Moncuit said: “The CBI holds a unique position within the economic landscape of this country. We are often a broker and a go between, not only for the businesses we represent but for the wider issues impacting economic prosperity in this country.
“The foundation of our campaigning focuses on impacting social inequality. Our role is to challenge what isn’t working.
“On my business card I have core reminders of what we focus on; accessing people and skills and the capabilities needed for growth. “
The CBI has called for a redefinition of higher level education to ensure it engages with people from all walks of life.
Mrs Moncuit believes this will help to reduce the skills gap.
“We spend time building relationships and partnerships to ensure we understand and are able to challenge the productivity disparity across the UK,” Mrs Moncuit said.
The CBI also wants Britain to be competitive on the global stage because inflows of trade help to spread prosperity.
Mrs Moncuit wants more businesses to embrace the fourth industrial revolution to ensure it benefits everybody. She also believes that more women need to find a place at the top table.
She said: “We have a very linear process of climbing that ladder. It’s time that we flipped that round. It’s about how we change the environments we find ourselves in.
“The higher you go, the less women there are, and that definitely needs to change.”