An introductory interview with Susana McDermott, ICCR’s Director of Communications
What was it that attracted you to pursue the role of CEO at ICCR?
What really attracted me was the potential for doing groundbreaking work in advancing social justice at an organization with such a long and storied history as ICCR. Even in my short time here, I am so impressed with the talent, passion and commitment of the staff and members, and am so excited by both the history of the organization, and the scope of what we can accomplish together.
Can you talk about what it is that makes our coalition unique? What do you see as ICCR’s role in the responsible investment community and what special insights and perspectives do you think our members bring to shareholder engagements?
The unique role of faith-based investors’ voices in pressing corporations on social justice issues is as relevant today as it was during ICCR’s founding during the time of apartheid in South Africa. While ICCR’s membership has evolved to include a wider variety of organizations, faith-based and secular, we are bound together through a deep commitment to social change, and the issues we address together as a shareholder coalition remain fundamentally about the effect of corporate practices on communities. This deep commitment to economic, social, and environmental justice, grounded in faith and combined with years of experience in corporate engagement, gives our coalition a unique and powerful role in holding the world’s largest corporations accountable.
Because so many of ICCR’s faith-based members are linked to ministries on the ground in impacted communities, we are also uniquely positioned to bring community perspectives to the table so that companies better understand the true impact of their practices on affected people. There is tremendous potential in growing this collaborative model to further increase the impact of our corporate engagements and truly hold corporations accountable.
What prior experience or training do you bring to the organization that you think will be of value in your new role as CEO?
As a public interest lawyer and in my previous leadership roles at NGOs, I have had a specific focus in pressing for greater corporate accountability in the financial sector -- concentrating in particular on the effect of banking and financial services practices on low income communities and communities of color prior to, during, and in the aftermath of the financial crash. I have long experience running non-profit organizations and programs, with a deep understanding of how to advance organizational and strategic goals. I have built and facilitated broad coalitions that have advanced successful policy and corporate accountability campaigns. We were successful by forging partnerships with key allies, raising up community voices, using communications effectively, and strategically engaging stakeholders, including policymakers and companies. My years of experience have given me an appreciation of how critical it is to constructively engage corporations, as well as an understanding of how to maximize the impact of those engagements.
What are some of the priority projects you see for the organization heading into 2016?
One of the things ICCR will be very focused on this year is developing more sophisticated tracking tools to help us better understand the impact of our engagement strategies: what works well and what is not as effective. Being able to more effectively measure the tactics and dynamics that make for a productive corporate engagement will help us develop best practices across the organization and member base, and increase our impact in pressing corporations for social change. There are some data points already being captured, but our staff and members are eager for deeper insights into the process that will help us assess not just the progress being made by companies, but our own effectiveness against the goals we’re setting. We think more effective measurement of progress (or lack thereof) will give us more powerful leverage with corporations, will bolster the skills and capacity of staff and members, and will aid in our strategic communications, influence-building and fundraising.
We are also focused on increasing and diversifying our member base, and on building up the base of existing members who are active in the working groups. We are looking at ways to expand our partnerships with community-based organizations, and at finding other ways to bring community voices to the table in our corporate engagements, including by working with our faith-based members with deep roots in communities. We had early discussions on all of these issues at our February meetings, and we hope to have more in-depth discussions with members at the June AGM.
In general, I am so thrilled to be leading ICCR, and am looking forward to working closely with such a passionate and committed group of people to tackle some of the most critical issues of our times.