Women in CSR: Kathleen Wright, Collaborative Group

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.

Wright_HeadshotTriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.

Kathleen Wright: I am the founder and CEO of Collaborative Group.

Collaborative Group is a social enterprise (launched in September 2011) dedicated to creating sustainable employment for women artisans in the developing world. My biggest responsibilities are sales, working on the ground with artisans to make sure we are having a real impact and keeping my team inspired and focused.

3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?

KW: For us, sustainability has evolved from being something we just thought about in terms of our impact to more of a two-sided coin. Not only does sustainability mean that we are creating employment in the developing world and moving people away from the poverty line, but we also now think about sustainability in terms of our customers. We work with large corporations who are responsible to many groups including their own employees, customers, and stakeholders. In order to create true sustainability around our impact we must ensure that our customers can profitably participate in our mission without disrupting their own businesses.

3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.

KW: Chuck Templeton (founder of Open Table) is a trusted mentor – someone who has affected my sustainability journey profoundly. He is a wildly successful entrepreneur who “walks the walk” of sustainability better than anyone I have ever met. From little things (like composting at his desk all day) to big things (like putting pressure on the entire investment community to invest in social businesses) he has shown me that scaling a social business is not only possible, but necessary and he is helping me every step of the way.

3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?

KW: Be authentic, and don’t be afraid to make your point of “pointy.” A strong point of view with real feeling behind it is the only thing that will change the world.

Wright_Me Weaving3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?

KW: Last month when I was in India visiting our cooperatives, every single woman artisan I spoke with had their children (including their daughters!) in school. It was so reaffirming that sustainable employment means so much more than a paycheck to women in the developing world – it changes their minds, their dreams, and their lives and in doing so, reshapes the world for their children.

3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?

KW: The retail fashion industry is so great in so many ways. It’s huge (which means it has the ability to have a huge impact on the developing world), its emerging leaders are women who are committed to sustainability and using their power to affect positive change, and it is inspiring. My one complaint is that it’s a little slow to change. I wish more brands would act quicker and take a chance on sourcing a product in a different, more sustainable way. I think they would be surprised at the overwhelming support that they would see from the customers.

3p: Describe your perfect day.

KW: In my job, two days are almost never the same (and most of the time not even in the same geographical location). Nevertheless, I love it all and wouldn’t change any of it. My perfect day will always include some mix of coffee, work, more coffee, a good workout, and music – bonus points if I have the time for 20 minutes of meditation.

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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