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.
Alison DaSilva: As executive vice president of Cone Communications’ Research & Insights group, I am responsible for identifying and tracking CSR trends to keep our clients on the leading edge. I love to fill the information gaps with our proprietary research on stakeholder expectations, attitudes and behaviors related to companies’ CSR efforts. During my 15-year tenure at Cone, I have led the development of more than 35 studies, including our most recent 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study, which examined consumer expectations of companies in ten countries.
I apply these insights into action through strategic counsel for Cone clients such as NARS Cosmetics, Neiman Marcus, Walgreens, Target, American Cancer Society and Sodexo. I also serve as a regular contact for media and as a speaker at leading CSR conferences.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
AD: When I started at Cone 15 years ago, the agency was a pioneer in creating cause-related corporate programs, which included philanthropy, volunteerism, marketing and partnerships. Organically and through key hires, we quickly expanded our expertise to include CSR reporting and strategy development. In 2005, we were one of the first communications agencies to formalize a dedicated CSR discipline. Today, we continue to lead the industry through our ability to integrate three areas of dedicated, deep subject-matter expertise, including social impact, sustainable business practices and engagement and communications. Above all, we’re laser-focused on helping organizations go beyond purpose to show return for their business, their brand and our society.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
AD: The most influential mentor in my sustainability journey was my very first boss, Jim Nentwig, at The Jimmy Fund, a nonprofit supporting the fight against cancer at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He joined the organization after retiring as a senior executive from John Hancock and helped establish a corporate partnership and cause marketing department for the organization. He showed me that when you lead with passion and a strong conviction of how to create impact, people will follow. He showed me that companies do, in fact, benefit when they demonstrate humanity and support the community. Most of all, he showed me that if you enjoy your job, you won’t think of it as work, but an opportunity to make a difference.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
AD: Some of the best advice I’ve received is more personal in nature, but it applies on a professional level as well. When I first became a mom, a fellow working mother told me that the minute you think you’ve found the solution to balance, something will change and you’ll need to figure it out all over again. Kids go from daycare to the teenage years (when they need you most!) in the blink of an eye, and flexibility is key to keeping on top of everything.
The advice that I’d share with other new working parents is to be comfortable with and open-minded to change, as it is near impossible to predict the demands of each milestone within your personal and professional life.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
AD: Our global CSR study broke in The New York Times and helped us create a network of thought leaders around the globe who are playing a role in advancing the field. I’m proud that we’re contributing something that gives CSR practitioners both the data and the insight they need to create compelling global CSR strategies.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
AD: One thing I would like to change within the CSR industry is clearer communications of impact. Consumers are confused and overwhelmed by claims and promises of good intentions. Companies need to find the balance between aspirational statements and hard data. As CSR matures, stakeholders are savvier and need more information about the impact – but they need that information in a way they can understand and via a readily accessible channel.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
AD: Outside of work, my perfect day would entail an early-morning run, reading the Sunday paper in its entirety over a few cups of coffee and then heading to Duxbury Beach, here in Massachusetts, with my family.