From Individual Career Planning to CSR, it’s Not Who You Know, but How Well You Relate that Matters!

“A business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders.”

This is how I defined corporate social responsibility when I presented to a group of global executives at the 2018 Corporate Responsibility Summit in May 2018. After touring the Houston Food Bank to see how it serves local communities through food distribution, we settled in the auditorium of the facility to kick off the summit with a series of speakers who focused on serving communities through corporate social impact.

One of the speakers was Dennis Kennedy, Founder and Chair of the National Diversity Council (NDC), which houses the Corporate Social Responsibility Council. I met Dennis when I was at Dell EMC, where over a decade ago I founded and was President of the Women’s Leadership Forum on the West Coast. I partnered with Dennis and his team as they were relaunching NDC in Silicon Valley, by hosting their initial programs. I left EMC (now Dell Technologies), and brought my relationship with Dennis to Capgemini as I transitioned to a new role. They are an active partner, and a joint sponsor for CSR. Isn’t it amazing how relationships start with a helping hand and continue to grow into corporate sponsorships?

When I left Capgemini I wasn’t looking for a job. I was a partner with a $1billion business, working with amazing people at a French multinational. But the Executive Director of The Linux Foundation  offered me an amazing opportunity to join him as the Chief of Staff.  With my passions so close to building communities of innovation, I couldn’t resist! After a year, another CEO reached out to me – Ahmad Ashkar, Founder and CEO of the Hult Prize Foundation.  He and I have worked with each other for over 6 years. When were together again in San Francisco this spring, he looked at me and simply said, “Sheryl, what are you doing? Join me and follow a life of passion, impact and innovation. Lead the Hult Prize Council full time and drive global change as part of the world’s greatest millennial movement.”

That brings us right back to where we are. With my strong ongoing relationship with Capgemini (especially Yvonne Harris and Jean-Claude Violler), I was invited to keynote at the NDC Corporate Responsibility Summit 4th annual conference in Houston. This lesson is for everyone: every relationship you develop has the ability to impact you, your brand, and your reputation. You may leave an organization for another one, but what you leave behind is your legacy.  Respect them, and the people with whom you work. It only brings you closer when you leave and creates positive bonds for future collaboration.

 

These very relationships gave me the incredible opportunity to speak about corporate social responsibility, an essential topic in business today and one of my deepest passions. Throughout my work with the Hult Prize competition, I have worked with countless millennials and have seen their drive to make impact through for-profit, for-good business. As explained by Mario Molteni, a business professor at Milan’s Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in a Morning Future article on CSR, “Sustainability should be one of the skills [of all successful business men and women], not a specialisation.” The challenge of the 2018 Hult Prize competition could not emphasize this better – urging students to create scalable enterprises that harness the power of energy to transform lives because there is a market for sustainable products and business. And millennials are driving that demand.

In my presentation at the CSR summit, I identified several business approaches that are characteristic of socially responsible and sustainable enterprises. From connecting and serving neglected markets to looking into and shaping the future, these types of business approaches affect the willingness of millenials to interact with companies as customers or employees.  In her article, “Millennials Driving Brands to Practice Socially Responsible Marketing,” Sarah Landrum echoes what I have witnessed during my work with millennials: “Millennials prefer to do business with corporations and brands with pro-social messages, sustainable manufacturing methods and ethical business standards.” Brands are no longer associated with empty marketing – millennials are active and even suspicious consumers, analyzing the messages that companies put out, searching for the greater impact that businesses have in a social context.

I ended my presentation at the summit with a call to action. I urged the leaders at the conference to build CSR initiatives, engage customers and partners, and share via social media. These actions are necessary steps in promoting corporate social responsibility. Leaders need to make  CSR initiatives an integral part of their business, rather than a side project. And they must use the tools of social media to connect with consumers. Kelsey Chong articulates this necessity in her article, “Millennials and the Rising Demand for Corporate Social Responsibility,” arguing, “If a business slacks on properly maintaining its social media profile, it will soon fall victim to critical millennials who have noticed a lack in response, engagement, and interaction.” I have the chance to work with amazing millennials who drive this movement. By caring deeply about the brands and companies they do business with, this generation has turned the importance of CSR into visible action, creating enterprises like those in the Hult Prize that are for-good, for-profit, and a tool for reshaping the future.

During the Hult Prize Finals and Awards Dinner 2017 on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, at the United Nations headquarters. (Mark Von Holden/Hult Prize Foundation via AP Images)

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