by MeiMei Fox, Forbes Contributor
“Businesses hold most of the resources in the world, and I believe they have a responsibility to be part of the solution to many of the world’s most pressing challenges : poverty, hunger, climate change, etc. The state of the world demands that businesses step up to do their part.” So says Atlanta McIlwraith, senior manager of community engagement and communications at Timberland.
[Photo: McIlwraith celebrating Timberland's two-millionth tree planted in Northern China’s Horqin Desert. (Courtesy of Timberland)]
The global lifestyle brand works hard to make its products responsibly, protect the outdoors, and serve communities around the globe where employees live and work. Lately, McIlwraith's focus has been on meeting with potential partners who can help bring Timberland’s urban greening efforts to life. From 2001-2015, the company planted 8.7 million trees. They plan to make that 10 million trees by 2020.
In a nutshell, McIlwraith’s role involves building partnerships, driving community impact, and telling stories. She leads a team of Global Stewards, passionate employees who volunteer for a two-year term to drive service and corporate responsibility in their locations, adapting global strategies in locally-relevant ways. She also manages Timberland’s award-winning Path of Service volunteer program, which provides employees with 40 paid community service hours per year. For partnerships, McIlwraith recommends and manages Timberland’s relationships with nonprofit organizations that align with company goals.
[Photo: McIlwraith led volunteers to reconstruct gardens in the South Bronx, NY. (Courtesy of Timberland)]
As a child, McIlwraith already was deeply connected to her life purpose, which was to save the environment and help people less fortunate than herself. It wasn’t until she got to college, however, that she learned how to channel that concern through activism. Her first jobs focused on community organizing for an electoral campaign and then Public Citizen’s CongressWatch in Washington, D.C.
While living in D.C., McIlwraith had an idea to launch her own socially responsible business. Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, was her inspiration. McIlwraith read Roddick’s book, Body and Soul: How to Succeed in Business and Change the World, to determine the best way to approach the business leader, and found that she couldn’t put it down. “I literally stayed up all night to finish and walked away with an overwhelming conviction that I needed to work with Anita,” McIlwraith said. Eight months later, she had secured at job at The Body Shop, designing and launching the company’s public awareness and action campaigns for its U.S. retail stores.
Eventually, McIlwraith landed on corporate social responsibility (CSR) as the place where she wanted to play, and Timberland has proven a great place for her to do so. Her job allows her to make a difference on a global scale and empower others to do the same – whether by supporting a community garden in the Bronx that enables residents to grow their own food, or helping reforest Haiti and improving farmer incomes in the process.
McIlwraith finds that cynicism and apathy are some challenges she faces in her chosen career path. But, she says, “the reward is knowing that I’m part of creating a successful model of sustainable business. I am proud to work for a company that sets an example of doing well while doing good. I don’t have to check any values at the door to get my job done at Timberland.”
McIlwraith offers this advice to young people who want to make a career change or start a new career that is aligned with their life purpose. “Be curious, take risks, and trust your gut. Leverage your networks. Learn what you need to do to get hired in that field and read relevant books, follow the news, take a class, and/or join a professional network or association with people who can guide and mentor you (like Net Impact). Volunteer in your community on specific projects that can help you have a meaningful impact while developing the skills and experiences you’ll need to make your case to potential new employers. Ask for feedback on every interview so you can learn and improve. Finally, don’t give up. The right opportunity is out there for you; you just need to find it.”
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