Gillian Pearl, CEO and Founder of Pearl Consulting has 20 years cross sector experience in strategic deployment of social impact initiatives for governments, corporates and nonprofits, including Facebook (now Meta), Visa, Microsoft, ADB, Unilever, Oxfam, and the World Bank.
Her established boutique consultancy Pearl Consulting was one of the first ten businesses in Southeast Asia to be awarded B Corp certification. Pearl Consulting won B Lab Europe’s 2020 Movement Builder of the Year award as well as the Real Leaders 2021 award. A globally recognised expert in social impact, Gillian knows ESG credentials are increasingly a key part of decision criteria for consumers, clients, government and prospective employees, and that understanding how to embed sustainability at the core of an organisation is paramount for leaders.
What are the current trends in social impact for private sector organisations?
We’re seeing a significant change across the board in terms of stakeholder awareness of and action on social impact and sustainability issues. Whether that’s sustainability reporting related to financial outcomes, employees’ need for meaning and purpose in their work, or consumer expectations on sustainability metrics for products and services, it’s encouraging.
A few trends we’re seeing include:
- High demand for sustainability and social impact practitioners and expertise: For some time now we’ve seen a movement towards the elevation of social and environmental objectives through the appointments of Chief Sustainability Officers, board positions with the similar requirements, and sustainability and social impact experts being in high demand.
- Purpose and meaningful work a priority for talent: Awareness amongst the younger team members in terms of a business’s “purpose”, and whether the business prioritises sustainability and social impact practices within the way the company operates. This is becoming increasingly important when young talent is considering where they want to work.
- Investors are reframing risk: The world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, has publicly stated that a company’s climate risk mitigation strategy and environmental performance will be an important consideration in their investment strategy.
- Increased importance of metrics and frameworks: This is also linked to the increase in prevalence of ESG reporting and various frameworks and metrics that companies are using and communicating about, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and the B Corp certification. We’re proud to say that Pearl Consulting is B Corp certified!
- Other trends include the new urgency around climate action, the role that corporates play in shaping climate policy, and awareness of social justice issues.
How can companies best identify who to work with for social impact projects, especially in cross sector and cross culture settings?
Companies need to start with their stakeholders and business objectives; what are they trying to achieve? What business results are they working towards? Their business objectives will help shape their partner strategy in terms of the criteria they deem most important in a partner.
If they are trying to build customer loyalty, then their program and partners should reflect the issues important to customers. If the business is interested in engaging with policymakers or regulators, then they should choose partners who can deliver initiatives that serve as a proof point for a specific policy position. The partners and partnerships should be developed through a strategic business lens.
Importantly, when working in cross sector partnerships or in a funding relationship, the nature of the relationship is important. The business must consider partnership principles such as ensuring mutual benefit, promoting openness and transparency, building equity, relishing diversity and having the courage to look for a way forward that might be different.
What do organisations need to consider when looking to improve their ESG position?
Organisations need to consider the way they are already approaching their ESG (environmental, social and governance) activities, reporting and how they can embed environmental and social goals into long term planning to drive performance.
Essentially sustainability reporting serves the purpose of disclosing what you’re doing and the impact you’re having. It’s for companies to publish their non-financial performance and their financial performance as it relates to social and environmental activities including climate risk for the business.
On a practical level, organisations need to first identify stakeholders who are or will be impacted by the social and environmental issues the organisation aims to address, stakeholders which include customers, employees, shareholders, local community. This is linked to the organisation’s business objective (sell more product / services, attract and retain great talent, etc). Then organisations must identify the material issues that are relevant to those stakeholders from an environmental and social perspective, and establish the targets and objectives related to those issues.
This leads an organisation to a very specific focus and this is how we advise our clients on the approach they need to take. From there, you come up with specific approaches.
Global frameworks include carbon emission targets, diversity and inclusion targets, environmental impact of your supply chain, to name a few. A combination of these targets become your scorecard.
Pearl Consulting really like and are committed to the B Corp movement and the ESG framework and tool that sits behind it – the B Impact Assessment. It’s a free tool and extremely helpful; the tool is the ESG framework that sits behind the B Corp certification. It has a logical structure and will help organisations better understand sustainability and the position in which an organisation currently finds itself.
Tell us about your recent project with Sesame Workshop (Sesame Street)?
We worked with Sesame Workshop, the not-for-profit behind Sesame Street, on a few exciting projects in Australia over the past few years. Our most recent project helped them with their strategic planning; we helped them build their knowledge based on anti-racism work currently taking place in Australia with a focus on children and families.
We assisted Sesame Workshop in understanding existing domestic research that has been carried out, prominent local academics and their work on racial justice, insights from Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali initiative focused on Reconciliation in Education, and various learning resources for schools focused on racial justice and associated with popular cultural icons.
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