Please describe your role and responsibilities. How many years have you been in the company?
I’ve been with Asda for coming up to 13 years now, starting in an entry level role at the start and progressing through to a variety of senior manager roles for the past 4 years, all within the community-impact and sustainability space. I’m currently the senior manager responsible for Asda’s Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) programme. Within this role I develop and manage the internal governance of the ESG agenda across the company, including an overall Exec/VP-level ESG Steering Committee and numerous Senior-Director/SME working groups covering topics such as community, health, sustainability, diversity and inclusion and responsible sourcing. My team provides centralised support and oversight to these workstreams and is responsible for developing the overarching strategy and framework for everyone to work within. We also manage the drafting and publication of all ESG reporting and disclosures, the content of our ESG website, and we’re increasingly working hand in hand with colleagues in our marketing department to develop customer insight about ESG and to weave our ESG programmes and campaigns into our customer communications. Given the recent change in our ownership structure this past year we’ve also started to work much more closely with our colleagues in our investor relations department to meet the needs of that important stakeholder group too.
What was your background previously and where did your interest in social impact begin?
I studied business studies at university before joining the Procter and Gamble graduate scheme and to be honest at that point didn’t plan on a career in social impact. But having completed my dissertation on corporate social responsibility, I’d always had a bit of a personal interest in it and fairly early on into my working life, I began to notice the scale of impact that could be made by large corporates through what were for them, relatively small investments and activities. The more I read and researched, the more I started to understand the corporate roles that existed in this field of work. At the end of my grad scheme I decided try something different and to gain some experience in the third sector, so I took a role at the brilliant charity Young Enterprise, working for them as a business development manager, with a focus on fundraising an volunteer recruitment. This was a real eye opener for me as it showed me first-hand the day to day challenges that charities face but also the huge potential they have for shared value creation when working collaboratively with the private sector.
I loved working there but came to the conclusion that I wanted to build a career where I could drive social impact and positive change at as large a scale as possible, and that a corporate environment was the best place for me to do so. I was fortunate to find an exciting role at Asda managing the company’s community sport partnerships, with a range of organisations including the England and Wales Cricket Board’s national Kwik Cricket Initiative and the SportsAid athletes sponsorship programme, which were aimed at driving up participation in physical activity in the run up to -and years following- the 2012 London Olympic Games. From there I progressed into a wide range of exciting projects and leadership roles, such as the design, launch and management of Asda’s local community champions programme, the creation of Fight Hunger, Create Change (the company’s biggest ever charity partnership – with Fareshare and the Trussell Trust, aimed at tackling food poverty) and the leadership of the Asda Foundation, Asda’s independent corporate charitable foundation which distributes grants to over 5,000 local charities each year. I feel incredibly fortunate to have held such rewarding and interesting roles, and every step that I’ve taken has just strengthened my resolve even further that I love what I do. But there is always so much more that can and needs to be done.
How has your social impact programme evolved? What role did B4SI play in its evolution & development?
As with most companies I would say we’ve been and still very much are on a maturity journey with regards to social impact programmes over the years. In particular I’ve seen, and tried myself to drive, a shift in focus from outputs to outcomes in terms of the objectives and measurement of our own programmes. This is key if you’re to be able to frame the ‘social return’ of investment in such programmes, which I think is becoming more and more important as the concept of ESG becomes more mainstream. It’s a great thing that social impact is being seen by senior leaders and commercial stakeholders as increasingly important, but with that comes a responsibility for the team managing social impact programmes to continually professionalise the way they manage them and having credible and in-depth impact data is a key aspect of that.
Another shift I’ve seen and tried to incorporate into our programme design is the concept of shared value and the idea that we can add far more value to a charity than funding alone. This was definitely a key principle underpinning our Fight Hunger programme, which simultaneously enabled us to meet our own operational and sustainability challenges (how to reduce our food waste and what to do with our edible food surplus) whilst driving social good (via charity food redistribution). I think finding shared value opportunities is going to be increasingly key to ensuring longevity and sustainability in major corporate/charity partnerships.
Over the years we’ve also become more sophisticated in our use of technology to enable colleague and customer engagement and participation, through things like digital volunteering platforms and, more recently, driven by the challenges presented by covid, using Zoom calls and other digital assets to enable our community champions to support their local communities remotely.
In terms of B4SI, we’ve been members for a number of years, which really helped from the perspective of learning about industry trends and best practice, but are relative newcomers to reporting, having only made our first submission to the benchmark last year. The benchmarking element is really helping us to get our arms around and understand the true scale and depth of impact that our wide range of activities are having, as well as helping us to identify gaps in our understanding. It’s been particularly useful in terms of helping us to get ahead of emerging data requirements for future ESG reporting too.
What are the challenges you encounter in driving your social impact agenda and how do you stay inspired?
One of the challenges I think we face quite often is that due to the breadth and scale of the company (we sell food, clothing, general merchandise, fuel, and healthcare products and services) there are so many social issues that could be considered relevant to the company and therefore something we should be working on. We’re approached by charities and good causes for support every day and sometimes it can be difficult to say no. But if we said yes to everything, we’d make very little impact, so its key to have a really authentic strategy, anchored around the organisation’s core competencies and material issues, and to try and see it through and not to get too distracted. This is easier said than done though, especially in an industry as fast-changing as ours.
Whenever I need a dose of inspiration, I find that speaking with our charity partners or, even better, visiting one of the national or local projects we fund, tends to do the trick! It reminds me what I’m fighting for and that every incremental improvement or bit of progress I can make, will make a big difference on the ground.
Please give an example of how the B4SI Framework (or its tools and additional services) has helped you in your role, and your company.
As mentioned, we used the B4SI impact framework formally for the first time last year to calculate our 2019 total community investment (£28.5m) ahead of our first ESG report in May 2021. What was interesting when working through this was the way it made us think differently about the value of some of the perhaps implicit or hidden investments we were actually making, such as the amount of management time focused on volunteering/enabling community impact and the value of our surplus food donations. It’s also been really useful in shaping our approach to social impact measurement and helped us to identify the gaps in our current data collection processes.
Please tell us about a recent innovative initiative adopted by your company.
Increasingly, our national charity partnerships are as much about awareness-raising and driving behaviour-change as they are about fundraising. This is particularly true with our Tickled Pink campaign, which turns 25 this year and has raised over £70 million for breast cancer charities during that time. In recent years we’ve used the opportunity to include breast-checking messaging on product packaging such as our George bra range and feminine care products, with a combined reach of more than 13 million women annually. We’re continually expanding on this idea and have now also included all-year round messaging on Asda Pharmacy dispensary bags and our checkout receipts (which we also turn pink during Octobers Breast Cancer Awareness month), meaning many more millions of customers each week will be reminded to check their boobs or pecs – which is something we know can lead to early diagnosis and save lives. I love the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of this idea, along with the potentially huge social impact it is having. It also feels like something that could be easily transferable to other companies and industries.
Please tell us about how you have supported the community during Covid-19.
As you’d expect, given we’re a supermarket we were at the eye of the storm when it came to supporting communities through the pandemic and I’m really proud of what we achieved. The whole business stepped up and worked cross-functionally to land a range of initiatives at rapid pace and large scale. Some notable examples included;
- Launching the UK’s first supermarket-based Covid-vaccination centre, using our trained pharmacy colleagues to deliver jabs to priority groups selected by the NHS. Since launch last year we’ve delivered over 90,000 vaccinations
- The Asda Foundation donating over 7,000 laptops to local high schools to help tackle digital exclusion for children from low-income families, as well as a £200,000 donation to the Royal Voluntary Service to fund a telephone companionship service for elderly and vulnerable people
- Connecting the NHS with our suppliers to assist with the procurement of PPE as well as sourcing and donating £200,000 worth of medical-grade care masks to care homes and giving 5,000 nurseries priority access to delivery slots to help them to continue supporting parents through lockdown
- Making a corporate donation of £5 million to our Fight Hunger, Create Change partners to enable them to provide an emergency food response and build underlying charity sector resiliency
This important work hasn’t stopped and we’re continually looking for new ways to support, you can find out more on our website https://www.asda.com/creating-change-for-better/strategy-and-commitments/how-were-responding-to-covid
Please tell us about an example of Business Innovation or Procurement for Social Impact at your company.
A key element of our Fight Hunger, Create Change programme was to help the charity FareShare scale up and professionalise their own food redistribution infrastructure, to enable them to receive and pass on more surplus food to charity. As well as providing over £20 million of funding for this over the past 3 years, we also connected them with our internal experts and external suppliers to allow them to share best practice. So for example our fleet manager (who oversees one of the largest delivery and transport fleets in UK retail) was able to support Fareshare as they worked on a specification and tender for the leasing of additional delivery vehicles, resulting in major cost savings. Through a connection with one of our heating and ventilation suppliers, Fareshare were also able to get expert advice on the procurement of new chillers, again leading to money savings and efficiency gains which ultimately meant we were driving a greater social return from our donation.
What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?
I’m incredibly proud of all the different projects and programmes (large and small) I’ve been lucky enough to work on and thankful for the chance to have met and worked with so many inspirational people. But probably my proudest achievement to date would be the Fight Hunger programme. I spent a long time designing and selling in the idea of the partnership internally and it was a huge amount of funding, so the pressure was really on to ensure it delivered. Thanks to the belief of our senior leaders and the amazing work of our charity partners and internal teams, since 2018 we’ve enabled well over 100 million meals to be donated to people in crisis. Having visited numerous food banks and food-based charities over the years I know what a difference each of those meals will have made, especially during the pandemic.
In terms of learnings, I think the biggest thing is that the more I’ve learnt, the more I’ve realised there is so much more to learn! I can honestly say that I’ve not had the same day twice since my first role in this amazing field of work and whilst it can sometimes be exhausting, that variety is one of the things that’s always kept me coming back for more. As I’ve progressed and become more experienced, I’ve also seen that sometimes making things work or getting approvals can be as much about the timing and current wider situation that a business/charity finds itself in, as it is about the quality of your ideas – the key is to never give up and to always be looking for ways to make incremental improvements or progress. And also to be open to challenge and feedback from others, as ultimately it will lead to a more robust and effective programme or initiative and therefore a greater and more sustainable social impact.
What is your motto in life?
Not really a motto as such but I’d say never stop learning and don’t be afraid to be passionate about what you do, it can be the thing that makes the difference and turns ideas into reality.