MEET OUR VICE PRESIDENT, SOCIAL IMPACT
Describe your career in five words.
I might be breaking the word count a bit, but here goes:
- Serendipitous Shape-shifting (I’ve switched industries several times)
- Connected (the shifts mentioned in #2, though scary, helped me bring a unique perspective to the new roles I took on)
Having played basketball at college, your first job was working with the WNBA and NBA where we understand you developed a deep passion for social justice and change. What is the key to leagues and organisations getting their approach to creating meaningful social impact right, and do you think we will see more player-centric programs such as the recently launched Athletes Unlimited?
Sports leagues like the NBA and WNBA have long recognised the super powers of sport as a platform for change. More recently, sports properties have awakened to the shift in power dynamics happening both in sport and more broadly in society, and in response have given rise to the voice and activism of athletes. I do think more properties, following the leadership of innovators like Athletes Unlimited, will more intentionally lean into and cultivate athletes as the leaders of their brands and social impact efforts.
I think there’s still a lot of untapped potential when it comes to sports properties activating their fans as change agents. The passion and engagement of sports fans is unparalleled. Combining that with the influence athletes have on fan attitudes and behavior, fan powered movements can have a big impact across many pressing issues, from voter engagement to climate change, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights and more. Also, sports properties have taken notice of the expectations that the next generation of sports fans and athletes have related to transparency, accountability, and social and environmental consciousness. This, in part, has emboldened sports properties to charter new territories when it comes to the issues they’re willing to have a voice on and proactively address.
In November it was announced that you would be leading CSM’s social impact consulting practice in North America. Can you tell us why it was the right time to formalise this practice, and give us a bit of insight into the types of projects you have been working on as part of that service in the last few months?
Our social impact consultancy helps brands identify actionable and relevant ways to align purpose with partnerships that deliver meaningful social and business impact. CSM has been serving cause-related clients and developing collaborative, impact-focused partnerships for years. With the seismic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and global racial reckoning over the past 18 months, we’ve seen a significant uptick in brands placing social purpose at the center of their marketing and partnerships strategies.
At the same time, the bar of consumer expectations for brand-led social impact campaigns is higher and more scrutinising than ever. Based on these trends, we felt it was the right moment to formalise our social impact practice and help brands meet the challenges of this moment. Specifically, we want to continue to serve as a strategic partner to brands in shaping their social impact efforts to break through the clutter of a rapidly expanding purpose marketplace and resonate authentically with stakeholders.
Here are a few insights into the types of projects we’ve been working on over the past six months:
- Supporting Citi’s partnership within the Paralympic movement to communicate brand values and Citi’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Work includes activation strategy, employee engagement, athlete selection and negotiation, custom content, volunteer events, watch parties and VIP experiences.
- Helping GoGo squeeZ expand its Fun Comes First campaign in collaboration with US Soccer, Alex Morgan, and Laureus USA; with Covid-19 disrupting the state of youth sports and play, this timely campaign is looking to rethink how youth sports programmes are delivered to better serve youth participants and keep them in sports longer so they reap the critical physical and social-emotional benefits.
- Bringing to life Avon’s national presenting partnership of the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer national walk series; specifically, we’re working with Avon on how they leverage this partnership to drive measurable impact on a cause the brand has focused on for decades and tell that story in a way that meaningfully engages Avon Representatives, employees, and consumers.
June marks Pride Month globally, an opportunity to celebrate and recognise the impact that the LGBTQ+ community has had on the world. Will any of your clients be commemorating Pride month, and how do you think brands can leverage impactful and authentic campaigns that truly resonate with the community?
The clients I work with here at CSM and other brands I follow in the marketplace are increasingly looking more holistically at how they can lift up LGBTQ+ voices year-round, both within the walls of their company and in how they communicate externally with stakeholders. I feel like this approach is an effective way to ensure that any messaging or activations during Pride month can resonate in a genuine way with the LGBTQ+ community and consumer audiences more broadly.
Two years ago when World Pride and the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising were commemorated here in NYC, I started to see a real tipping point for brand-led Pride campaigns. There was an upward shift in consumer skepticism towards more surface level, “rainbow washing” and a responsive trend of brands moving towards a more thoughtful approach to impact and addressing the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community through a more inclusive lens (specifically, the growing movement to support the full inclusion of the transgender community in all facets of society).
Through my personal experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and through my work within the social impact space, I feel strongly that brands need to first and foremost make sure that their own house is in order. Economic independence is a critical facet of social inclusion and, therefore, companies ensuring that their hiring practices, culture, and policies are fully enabling the LGBTQ+ community to thrive is a critical step. Having a diverse and representative make-up of the LGBTQ+ community within the walls of your company can help propel the way brands speak to LGBTQ+ consumers. Beyond that, how brands show up and celebrate Pride or develop campaigns to address specific issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community should be done in close collaboration with the organisations on the front lines of this work.
Brands, media companies, and sports and entertainment properties are strongly positioned to spark culture change. While there’s been recent policy gains here in the U.S. and in other countries for the LGBTQ+ community, there’s much progress still to be made on how LGBTQ+ individuals are treated in their day-to-day lives, even by their own families. These brands and properties have a powerful platform to enable LGBTQ+ individuals to be represented and share their stories in a way that can change hearts and minds. This Pride and year-round, I hope to see more and more of these brands and properties uplift LGBTQ+ stories in order to continue driving cultural and social change.
Lastly, for brands with a global reach, there’s an opportunity to help fuel movements for change in countries where it’s still incredibly difficult for the LGBTQ+ community, while being sensitive to the realities and dangers of the current situation.
When not at work, what would we find you doing?
My wife and I love exploring our home borough of Brooklyn by bike and by foot. During the pandemic we’ve increasingly sought solace in the outdoors and love hiking and exploring nearby beaches. Being from a combined Indian-Italian family, food and time with family play a big role in our extracurricular pursuits. In the spirit of full transparency, we also stream a lot of Golden Girls reruns and Food Network.