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Andrea Newell headshot

Women in CSR: Darby Hobbs, CEO of SOCIAL3

By Andrea Newell

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.

Darby Hobbs: I am the CEO & Founder of SOCIAL3. I launched SOCIAL3, which fuses brand and sustainability principles through media production and presentation to cultivate ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), impact investing and corporate social responsibility (CSR) story lines and align clients' vision and strategy with market engagement. In 2009, I became certified in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and am currently developing a sustainability rating to be used at point-of-sale for an investment product that will transform how investments are bought through an intermediary.

As a motivational speaker and presenter, I have participated in leading global platforms to educate and motivate senior managers in CSR/ESG/SRI and impact investing as well as brand, innovation, creative and visionary thinking.

Prior to launching SOCIAL3, I was a senior leader at Brown Brothers Harriman, Fidelity Investments, PNC Bank (PFPC), Financial Research Corporation, First Data Corporation and AMEX in marketing strategy, strategic and business planning, product development, public relations, communications and education.

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

DH: I started SOCIAL3 and became engaged in sustainability and CSR when in 2008 I witnessed again the demise of the financial services industry that I not only built my career in, but watched declining brand engagement with consumers/investors. How could and why would investors trust Wall Street? Thus, I began to retool my talents and strengths towards creating a greater global good whereby investors could be passionately engaged to see their money work towards providing a better global platform for many to live and prosper without giving up on performance.

If a firm can create value, they can create trust. Trust then leads to initiating and sustaining brand engagement. According to Cone Communications (October, 2012), 69 percent of U.S. consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that talks publicly about its CSR results versus 31 percent who would purchase from a brand that talks about its CSR mission and purpose.

Telling the story that defines the value proposition to the marketplace is an art comprised of many facets. Applying Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) is not a standalone activity or a new fad. It represents a holistic way of thinking about how businesses operate in today’s global marketplace. It involves overlaying sustainability principles onto the operations of the business.

At SOCIAL3 our mission is to engage the financial services industry to do what is their mission – benefit the growth and prosperity of global society. Much has gone awry, as we have seen over the past years with the financial crisis and its roots. This has adversely impacted investors and other beneficiaries. Their trust in financial services has greatly diminished, but this is not a short-term episode. From my many years in financial services, I have seen a breadth of systemic issues building, and its because of this that I have sought to bridge the gap between capital markets, corporations, and consumers/investors so they mutually better understand each other and develop a shared value purpose in the global economy.

As a consumer making brand choices on a daily basis, having money working for them in a Greater Good capacity connects their Individual Impact Plan (IIP) more closely to what they value as a person - what is important to them and that they feel passionately about. The IIP is then rooted at the core of what defines them as a person - a symbiotic flow of passions, ideals, hopes, wishes, desires and financial returns. A mosaic for success.

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

DH: There are so many that have embraced me in this area and have been so helpful in analyzing business ideas that I have had that it’s not just one person but a collection of professionals that have taken their time to share their passion and to help guide my thinking. Five years ago, when I received my CSR certification, I quickly began diagnosing ideas for bringing this thinking and that of sustainability to the financial services industry. From meeting with colleagues at Bloomberg, ThomsonReuters, Morningstar, Moody’s, Sustainalytics, 3Sisters Sustainable Management, PaxWorld, Trillium Asset Management and so many others. All spent time educating, listening and strategizing on what the best next steps could be for someone with my vision and passion for this space. Out of that came the direction for SOCIAL3 and the journey that I am on now to make a difference in the industry that had formed my career and be the bridge between the capital markets and the SRI/ESG/Impact investing community, showcasing and highlighting the corporations and investing programs that have the greatest impact globally.

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

DH: To listen to others versus always being the one talking. I have found this piece of advice extremely helpful as an entrepreneur to explore reactions to new ideas and to confirm business strategy and direction. Asking probing questions, learning from others and their experiences and applying this knowledge to form creative new solutions. As a creative, high-energy thinker these conversations are tremendously fruitful and enjoyable. Not only do I always learn, but also enjoy meeting new people and exciting both of our networks growing with such diverse and talented relationships. The professionals I have met in this space are extremely unique individuals and ones that I wish I had met twenty-five years ago.

3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?

DH: I forged a relationship with Asset.tv upon which we did seven educational/news driven videos in the area of CSR/SRI/ESG and Impact Investing. Now I am working with them to produce a monthly news show that I will anchor. Their platform reaches a global audience of asset owners (investors) and intermediaries as well as industry practitioners. I look forward to working with them and raising the level of education and communication of this area with the global community.

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

DH: The major change in the industry would be to transform how investments overall are distributed. This would be done by launching an easy-to-understand sustainability rating at point-of-sale for Financial Advisors (FAs) to use that rates the financial institution, not the portfolio, behind the investment offering. It provides a consumer-friendly indicator that FAs can easily explain as to why sustainability should be a key factor in their investment decision process. It re-engages investor trust, increases education and creates money flow into SRI/ESG/Impact investing options.

This topic is very relevant and timely given the need to educate and provide tools for FAs to use to engage investors. Much of the work done to date has been at the portfolio level in terms of ESG ratings, and portfolio managers use this information to construct their investment pools. The CSR reports that are created today are but one element that feed these ESG ratings with each research firm defining the parameters of their index. There are many groups focusing on slices of this type of activity, the GISR, GIIN, IRIS, B CORP, etc. It’s time for this great momentum to come together into much needed point-of-sale tools to allow the FA conversation to occur, engage the consumer to invest, rebuild trust into financial markets and raise net flows into SRI/ESG/Impact investments.

3p: Describe your perfect day.

DH: Taking a long walk on the beach, realizing the beauty in nature and breathing in the spirit of the ocean. Nothing revitalizes my creative brain more than the ocean and all the mystique that comes with each wave on the beach. It balances out all the other clutter that seeps into our minds and truly gets us to focus on what is important. Being one with nature, one with our fellow man and one with our thoughts towards creating a world that is guided towards a greater global good.

Andrea Newell headshot

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.

Read more stories by Andrea Newell