ED NOTE: Please join TriplePundit at Net Impact’s 2013 conference in San Jose!
Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Liz Maw: I’ve been privileged to serve as Net Impact’s CEO for over 8 years, and during that time I’ve done a little bit of everything! In the early days I had to wear many hats, but as we’ve grown I’ve been able to focus more on strategy, our Board, partnerships, speaking, and fundraising. It’s been an exciting evolution.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
LM: Net Impact’s goals (to support emerging leaders in making a positive social and environmental impact in the workplace and the world) aren’t new – the organization began as the brain child of a group of MBAs in the 1990s who believed that business had a role to play in making the world a better place. But this idea has evolved from a fringe concept to something more mainstream; we now work with individuals, nonprofits, and companies who are firm believers in embedding sustainability across organizations and job functions. Our network has also grown tremendously to more than 40,000 student and professional members and over 300 volunteer-led chapters around the world. Our community encompasses 18-year-old undergrads all the way up to experienced professionals who share a common goal of driving positive change on campus and throughout their careers.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
LM: Being a nonprofit CEO can be a lonely job. My first year was challenging on many levels. Without the unwavering support and confidence of my Board and especially Board Chair Theresa LeFevre, I might not have made it! Having someone invest in you, believe in you, and nurture your leadership is an invaluable gift.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
LM: I remember being struck by a speaker at one of the Net Impact events I attended as an MBA. He said (I paraphrase), “There are many people in the world who don’t have the opportunity to take risks. If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity, you should take the risk for them.” Whenever I’m feeling complacent or incremental, I remember this advice and try to be bold in honor of all those who can’t.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
LM: Last year, my amazing team launched a new college initiative called the Small Steps, Big Wins Challenge that influenced thousands of students to take new social and environmental actions to make a difference. The results? Together, they saved over 60,000 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere and logged more than 3,000 volunteer hours. Small student actions – including turning the thermostat down, visiting the elderly, and riding their bikes to campus – add up to collective impact.
I’m proud of this not only because of the potential to inspire masses of young people to begin a lifetime of impact, but also because of the individuals I met who’ve already been impacted. I’ll never forget speaking to the campus leader from Oklahoma State last fall. She described how the program had changed her life, inspiring her to be a sustainability leader in her career. That’s so much of what Net Impact is about – catalyzing, multiplying, and inspiring future leaders.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
LM: Embed sustainability or social impact into every role – throughout the sectors, and from the frontline positions to the C-suite.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
LM: I’d clone myself! One of me would spend the day at the job I love, and one would be on a Bay Area adventure with my family. And both my clones would eat pizza and chocolate for every meal.