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Women in CSR: Kathleen Tullie, Reebok International & BOKS

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.

Kathleen Tullie:  I am Director of Social Responsibility at Reebok International and Co-Founder and Executive Director of BOKS (Build Our Kids’ Success). BOKS is a free,  before-school physical activity program that aims to help improve kids’ academic performance and overall health by promoting physical activity and nutritional knowledge as a way to jumpstart children’s brains and better equip them for learning. The program is run by moms, dads, teachers and volunteers, two-to-three days a week before or during school.

Following my departure from the world of corporate finance, my attempt to be a “stay at home mom” was short-lived. I had this desire to engage with the community and leave an impact on children. It was the book Spark, by Dr. John Ratey from Harvard Medical School, which supported my belief that there is a strong positive correlation between exercise and learning.

I began the before-school activity program for kids in October 2009 at a school in Natick, Mass. With support from the school faculty, and my team of mom volunteers, we were able to start a program that focuses on the importance of building both healthy bodies and minds in youth.

Based on the success of the first school, myself, Cheri Levitz and Jen Lawrence created a non-profit corporation and approached Reebok International for T-shirts. At that initial meeting, senior executives at Reebok were inspired by our program and did not hesitate to ask us to become part of The Reebok Foundation and provide access to physical activity for kids around the world. The timing was right – Reebok has the mission to change the current culture of spectators to a culture of participants and there is no better way to start than with our youth. In 2010, BOKS became a signature initiative of The Reebok Foundation, which has played a key role in helping the program expand to almost 900 schools worldwide and reach as many children as possible. It’s been wonderful to see the impact the program has had in schools nationwide, as well as through important alliances with organizations like Let’s Move Active Schools, ChildObesity180,  local YMCA's, Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Partnership for Healthier America, and American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

3p: How has social responsibility evolved at your company?

KT: The Reebok Foundation is investing to ensure that people all over the world are able to live active, healthy and happy lives. Reebok’s mission is to “Empower people to be fit for life” and through their support of BOKS, they have enabled us to reach more schools and more children.  We want to go beyond generating awareness of the critical need for movement and exercise.  We are working with schools, communities and children every day to build lifelong habits that will change the culture of sedentary lifestyles to one of active, healthy and happy lifestyles.

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

KT: I believe everyone in my life has had an effect on my journey. We are creatures of influence and it is up to us to determine how to use those influences – in a positive or negative way. My parents always empowered me to be independent and resilient. Positive parents have a significant influence on children. I believe a father’s relationship and belief in his daughter(s) have a lasting impact. My dad has always said that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. My oldest sister and my friends have also played a critical role in my love of fitness and the power of communities. Also, I’ve been fortunate to have a few mentors in the corporate world who have given me opportunities to excel. Most importantly, I feel blessed with a husband and children that are real rock stars and make my life complete and keep me motivated every day.

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

KT: Every obstacle is an opportunity.

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

KT: It was a huge accomplishment for the BOKS team to share the stage with First Lady Michelle Obama to promote the benefits of being active. First Lady Obama has played a pivotal role in raising a healthier generation through nutrition and fitness, and we were thrilled to be recognized for the commitment to get kids moving.

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

KT: I’d be thrilled to see every kid in America be more active before school. With less access to physical activity, it’s imperative that we take the steps needed to get kids more active – both to create healthy habits, and to help them perform better in school. We hope the BOKS tools and resources will help spur even more parents, teachers and volunteers nationwide to become advocates in their communities and work with their local schools to set up and implement BOKS. If everyone in the kids sporting industry took on the responsibility of bringing BOKS to their local school (before or during school) imagine how many kids we would have moving, and the precedent we would set showcasing the power of collaboration.

3p: Describe your perfect day.

KT: An early start with my family (including Bella, our golden retriever) full of outside activities (hiking, biking, skiing) ending with a delicious, healthy dinner, a fire, a family board game (and some ice cream), and then early to bed!

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