With every social justice movement and new climate statistic, the field of CSR evolves. It may never be “finished” evolving. The Certificate in Corporate Social Responsibility (CCSR) class arms students with tools, research, data and knowledge so they leave with a future-oriented mindset, ready to work on the cutting edge of this industry.
Jennifer Forman is passionate about so many issues it is hard for her to pick a favorite, but a central thread running through her career has been connecting a company's culture and values with causes where they can make a positive difference. Her recent two-year stint with PopSockets, where she launched their community-driven giving approach called Poptivism and helped bring the company’s first plant-based grip to market in her role as Director of Corporate Citizenship, is a perfect example.
We spoke with Jennifer about her work, and how she is preparing to lead the Wednesday fall CCSR class.
How does your life experience impact your approach to CSR, and to teaching the CCSR class?
I grew up in Canada and came to the United States about 20 years ago. I study the way CSR trends differ culturally and globally. How companies talk about and report on CSR in Asia is totally different from the issues that may take precedence in Europe. I bring that lens to my work and hope to bring it to the class as well.
Even though it was many years ago, going through the immigration process really opened my eyes to privilege, and how access, education and life experiences are such strong determinants of health and future success. That awareness of how systems can work against people is what drew me to nonprofit work, where I started my career. So I tend to look at things from a structural and systems point of view.
Corporate America is going through a transition and reckoning around race. How do you plan to approach that in the class?
The lack of people of color and women on Fortune 500 boards is one example of a systemic issue. Corporations can play a major role in addressing these types of inequities. We all have to be part of the solution but it's going to take time, and requires us to dig deep and commit to long-term action.
I am interested in hearing Black, Latinx and other people from diverse backgrounds tell their own stories. When you talk with companies that have achieved more inclusive cultures they sound different, because they are led by, or in full collaboration with, diverse partners. I am excited to bring those companies into class to share their experiences.
Can you talk about how you made the transition from the nonprofit sector to the corporate world?
I have a deep history in nonprofit work at the national and statewide level. While working for nonprofits, I partnered with many corporations looking to do employee engagement and give in more meaningful and measurable ways. I also helped companies craft their stories and develop messaging around the impact that they were making. I started thinking about how I might be able to impact multiple issues rather than working with a single nonprofit at a time.
I took the CCSR class in its second semester. It cemented some things I already felt, and opened my eyes to new areas of CSR and how the field fits together. Armed with that knowledge I launched my own CSR consulting practice. I took on a big job for free to gain some experience and built my business from there. PopSockets was originally a client and then asked me to come on full time to lead their social impact expansion. I am now back to consulting full time through my company Make.More.Good.
How do you approach CSR work with clients?
It is important to take the time to get to know your corporate clients and understand their value systems and what is critical to their success. I also assess leadership readiness to allocate resources and help tie CSR strategy to long-term profitability.
I have a marketing background and love working with small and start-up companies, or companies doing a lot of different activities but without a common thread. I help them focus on measurable impact, and how they communicate their purpose-driven work with stakeholders.
I often ask leaders what would severely harm their business if something broke or was no longer available, and I help them identify opportunities to invest in strengthening that area of risk. For instance there are a lot of tech startups in Boulder. They often compete for talent to help build software solutions and grow revenue. What they need is a strong talent pipeline. This almost always leads to discussions about developing a more diverse workforce.
What do you love most about your work?
No matter if I am working with a company trying to reduce their carbon emissions, save a particular species of wildlife, or get young families into stable housing, their efforts are going to change the world for the better. I also love the challenge of thinking conceptually and then drilling down to measure a company’s impact.
Why are you excited to teach CCSR?
The class gives students a full overview of the many facets of corporate social responsibility. Because it's an evolving field, and every day we see something new, my goal is to ensure students have the most current information, whether they are practicing CSR now or in the future.
What advice do you have for people who are interested in working in CSR?
Try to work with a company that is highly invested in this type of work. Even if it’s not a CSR position you take, you will learn what works and what does not work by being immersed in their daily activities. Remember to always look under the hood. Read about the company’s CSR efforts, but be sure to talk with employees as well to learn if the company is living their values. This helps prepare you for a future in CSR.
I would also advise that we never stop networking. There is no downside to meeting new people and learning more about their roles and ambitions.
Visit the website to learn more about CCSR, or register for the program.