Corporate citizenship leaders convene in Boston to design opportunities together

The 2013 International Corporate Citizenship Conference kicked off in Boston with an opening reception hosted by UPS and buzzing with energy. Lynnette McIntire, UPS Director of Corporate Reputation Management and Jerald Barnes, Global Region/Districts Grant Manager of the UPS Foundation, welcomed everyone to the conference. McIntire encouraged first-time attendees especially to embrace the network building that takes place and to share their experiences with the challenges they all face in “a very safe place, a very honest place.”

In her address at the welcome dinner, Center for Corporate Citizenship Executive Director Katherine V. Smith remarked that the conference was convening under “extraordinary circumstances” in the aftermath of the tragic events at the Boston Marathon that shocked and then paralyzed the city while a suspect was apprehended. She asked the audience to observe a moment of silence for “those who lost their lives and the many others whose lives have changed forever.” Smith encouraged attendees to honor the memories of those impacted by doing their best work to nurture change in the world through the work of their companies.

Smith said she was proud to be part of the corporate citizenship community and thanked the sponsors who have made this event possible, attracting more than 600 professionals from 11 countries and 38 states. Talking about the work of preparing for the conference along with the Center’s member companies, Smith said she saw four themes emerge:

  • Globalization
  • A broader stakeholder perspective
  • Greater expectations of transparency
  • A longer term perspective for companies

Smith remarked that while these issues present challenges they certainly also offer opportunities. In determining which investments produce the best results in meeting these challenges, she observed, “sometimes we get things wrong.” But she noted that a number of innovators who were told that they had it wrong at the start could not have gotten things more right. They understood the concept of the conference theme of Designing Opportunity. As an example Smith cited Abraham Lincoln who once advised that the best way to predict your future is to create it. “He saw this nation’s future and he took steps to create it,” she said.

Andy Bessette, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of The Travelers Companies, Inc., the convening conference sponsor, spoke about Travelers’ corporate citizenship work but first praised the efforts of Boston’s first responders and citizens during a crisis. “It’s a great example of how people get things right.”

Bessette commented that Travelers and its 30,000 employees have a focus on doing things right and a commitment to the communities where they live and work. “Corporate citizenship is not a centralized function,” he said. “It’s a part of everything we do.”

At Travelers, Bessette said, “the secret is collaboration that leads to innovation.” In a panel discussion moderated by Smith, three leaders from Travelers talked about some of the collaboration and innovation that makes the work they do intersect with business processes.

Joan Woodward, Executive Vice President of Public Policy at Travelers and President of The Travelers Institute, explained how Travelers Chairman and CEO Jay Fishman’s vision of what a company could and should be doing led to collaboration with PBS on the documentary “Overdraft”, about the U.S. federal debt. At the height of the economic crisis, Woodward explained, Fishman was concerned about U.S. hiring and investment, and opportunities for young people. Those same concerns were behind the Travelers EDGE (Empowering Dreams for Graduation and Employment) initiative to improve the pipeline to careers in the insurance and financial services industry of underrepresented students.

Joelle Murchison Hayes, Travelers Vice President, Enterprise Diversity & Inclusion, said that the company's efforts around diversity were also about providing new opportunities, not merely a more diverse population of employees. “It’s what we do with a mix of race and gender,” she said. “That’s what inclusion is about.” Travelers also seeks to expand opportunities via small business advocacy through its Small Business Risk Education Program that has responded not only to a change in the cultural landscape of the United States but to the related growth in small business ownership.

Marlene Ibsen, Chief Executive Officer and President of Travelers Foundation and Vice President, Community Relations for Travelers, said that working with the business side of the firm to advance corporate citizenship is about “aligning community strategy with what we do as a company.” She pointed to Travelers’ work with Habitat for Humanity in helping homeowners in coastal areas. Travelers leveraged its knowledge of risk management, she explained, to help the most vulnerable families have stronger, safer homes.

The kind of vision behind work by companies like Travelers to design opportunities for businesses and communities will be on display throughout the conference. The Designing Opportunity Mural sponsored by The Travelers Companies, Inc. gives conference attendees a chance to work with talented young student artists from Artists for Humanity to sketch the corporate citizenship opportunities they can imagine. The student artists will craft a 4-foot by 8-foot mural displaying the multiple ideas generated over two days in a composite vision of corporate citizenship potential.