Saskia Green joined the leadership programme of UK organisation ‘On Purpose’ with an ambition to harness the power of business for good.
The raison d'etre of On Purpose is to attract and develop talent to address "the greatest issues faced by society and the environment". Each year On Purpose places top quality managers and professionals on one-year, full time, leadership programmes that combine paid work placements with weekly training and regular one-to-one coaching and mentoring.
Saskia is currently on a six-month placement with the Corporate Social Responsibility division of global bank Santander, working on boosting Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and social enterprises.
She spoke to us about being on the Associate Programme; working with Santander, and why people shouldn't be cynical about banks' CSR efforts.
You're currently on the Associate programme at On Purpose. What is this?
On Purpose is designed as a programme for people with professional experience looking to make a move into social enterprise. We do two six-month paid work placements supplemented by weekly training and one-on-one personal and professional development support.
As part of the On Purpose programme you're working on a CSR assignment with Santander. What does this involve?
One of Santander’s main focus areas is supporting SME growth. As part of this they are encouraging SMEs to incorporate responsible business practices and have also created the Santander Social Enterprise Development Awards (SEDA) to give social enterprises the capital and support they need to kick-start a growth plan. I work on various initiatives that contribute to these two objectives. My next six-month placement will be with the NHS.
Do you think banks are really committed to CSR or is it just for show?
CSR programmes in banks and other big businesses have come a long way in the last decade. People have a very negative view of banks, demonizing them as immoral entities. Yet banks do not have a mind of their own and the people that work in them are not immune to the growing public sentiment that big business should be held accountable for its societal impact.
External pressure may have provided motivation for the initial push but momentum has gathered and actions are being taken with conviction. CSR is not yet an integral element in every operation. The relationship between financial institutions and social enterprises for example needs work and the initiatives that I’m working on at Santander are a great start in addressing this.
Give us an example of a typical working day for you!
Typically I have some marketing material on the go so I will be writing and sourcing photos or liaising with web and graphic designers. SEDA is being launched nationally in June following five regional pilots so I am monitoring last year’s regional winners, fine-tuning the process used in the pilot phase and working on marketing for the national launch.
How did you hear about the On Purpose scheme and why did you decide to apply?
I heard about On Purpose in an email from the HEC Paris alumni association. Doing an MBA honed my business skills but I was struggling to figure out how to put them to good use. Social enterprise was a clear solution and the On Purpose programme seemed a sensibly structured, constructive introduction.
What do you hope to do once you've finished at On Purpose?
I had never worked within or had any professional experience with social enterprise before I started at On Purpose so I’m still on a steep learning curve. Working at Santander has made me reconsider the potential of corporate involvement in building a more sustainable future so perhaps something related to that.
What types of people do you think are best suited to the On Purpose programme?
People who can be thrown it at the deep end and keep calm enough to structure a solution to get them out of it. A sense of humour, a collaborative spirit and owning a cake tin are also necessary. (Cake production is an occasionally imposed fine!)
Prior to On Purpose, you've had a varied career in the yachting industry. How did you get into this?
I left university having read 13th century French texts and deconstructed Latin American magical realism and had no idea what I wanted to do or what I was capable of. My parents owned a boatyard and had been contracted to build two boats in Italy. For them I was a cheap admin assistant, for me it was free Italian lessons.
You've done an MBA at HEC and a Masters at Fletcher - are you an advocate for postgrad management studies?
I’m glad I did it and I don’t think you’d ever regret it but I’m not convinced it’s necessary. I wanted to make a big change of direction. The confidence the degrees have given me across a wide variety of topics and functions has put more options within my grasp. Had I decided to stick to doing what I was doing the gains from further study wouldn’t have been so great.
You speak a lot of languages. Do you think this is essential in modern business?
So much modern business requires intercultural communication. That is what’s most important. My passion for languages is the product of an interest in other people and the way they express themselves. I don’t think you need to be a linguist to be sympathetic to that. But it’s a skill like any other – the more you have, the easier it is.
On Purpose is currently recruiting for its October 2012 intake. To find out more and apply please visit their website here!