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.
Paula Davis: I am the former President, Alcoa Foundation and Vice President, Alcoa Inc.; current Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Harman International.
Since 2010, I have led Alcoa Foundation with oversight of philanthropy, employee engagement and social responsibility. With a team of eight outstanding individuals, we create innovative partnerships with nonprofit organizations around the world to improve the environment, educate tomorrow’s leaders in STEM and manufacturing, strengthen communities and inspire greater employee volunteerism.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company? PD: Over the last three and a half years in the foundation, we have made great progress on several fronts. First, we aligned our giving strategy with who we are as a mining, manufacturing and engineering company to focus our resources and create shared value. Second, we developed a meaningful community framework tool to help our 200 locations around the world more effectively engage in their communities and earn a social license to operate. Third, we designed an impact measurement system to evaluate our progress and outcomes. Now we use scorecards to measure program results, visibility and engagement, our three success metrics. Our goal? To answer the question: “Did your efforts and money make a difference?”
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
PD: Many people have influenced my sustainability journey, from my parents who instilled the importance of education to the many Alcoa employees who taught me about the enormous environmental and financial value of recycling to our many nonprofit partners who showed me how ideas can turn into action and tangible, meaningful results. If I had to point to one idea that continues to resonate with me, it comes from Ronald Reagan who said, “The best social program is a job.”
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
PD: Learn how to say you’re sorry. My brother taught me that. It was a tough lesson to learn years ago – especially when I thought I was right – but knowing when and how to apologize and say I’m wrong has helped me personally and professionally on many levels.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
PD: I’m proud to be a new mom to my daughter Lily Katherine who was born this summer. On the professional front, I’m especially proud of building such a great Alcoa Foundation team. We are small but formidable and have achieved great things in 2013 – from a massive serve-a-thon celebrating Alcoa’s 125th anniversary to supporting the company’s Catalyst Award win (recognizing best in class companies for advancing women in the workplace) to our awesome and iconic recycling bins in Central Park and Times Square.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
PD: I feel passionately that manufacturing is vital to a competitive economy and yet the image of manufacturing as a profession is tarnished. Alcoa is working hard to dispel the misperceptions of our industry and educate young people about what exciting careers they can have in this sector – that it’s a worthy endeavor to make a living by making things. Through Alcoa Foundation’s partnership with Hope Street and others, I’m confident we can “rebrand” manufacturing.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
PD: My perfect day includes time with my family, time to produce some tangible work and conversations among colleagues where we brainstorm big ideas, get creative with our programs and find easier and simpler ways to tackle administrative tasks. If someone wants to order pizza or send me a funny SNL or Jimmy Fallon clip somewhere in there, that would be ideal.
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 email@example.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.