GLOBAL CSR (CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY) MANAGER MARIA ESCOBAR GRANET’S CAREER WAS INFLUENCED BY HER PERSONAL DRIVE TO TACKLE INJUSTICE AND INEQUALITY IN THE WORLD.
Based in Paris (Havas SA), Maria chats about her role in coordinating Havas Group’s global CSR strategy and why B Corporation certification is vital to the organization’s future success.
What sparked your interest in CSR and how has your career led you to Havas?
Justice and equality have always been important to me because of my immigrant experience. I moved to the States when I was 15 from Colombia and I watched as my parents experienced injustice. I experienced it myself. I had many friends who were undocumented, and I watched how difficult and unfair things were for them living in the United States. I chose this career path because my life experience made me passionate about tackling societal injustice.
At the beginning of my career I worked in the non-profit world helping students and associations by crafting public and private alliances to work toward an inclusive and sustainable society. I was interested in exploring Corporate Social Responsibility because I thought it would be a good compromise between working in the private sector and the work I was doing on the ground. When I moved to France, a work/study program allowed me to work in Havas while completing a master’s in Corporate Social Responsibility Management. This enabled me to understand the power and responsibility the advertising industry has to influence society and make a positive impact.
Can you tell us a little bit about your role?
I would say primarily, I am a coordinator and a communicator. At Havas, CSR is part of the Group’s communications department which is not the case in many companies. This is a real advantage because it means we have the necessary communications tools available to amplify our CSR actions. 70% of my time is dedicated to managing the Group’s CSR reporting, which involves gathering data on the environmental, social and societal performance of our agencies. This data is audited by a third party and then published as an annual CSR report every Spring. From this data we produce many other reports, as well as analyze our carbon footprint. Coordination is vital. We work with 170 different Havas CSR contributors. This can be tough but, the biggest challenge is to strategize for the whole Group in its entirety, knowing that agencies have different CSR maturities. Some are just getting started on their CSR strategies, while others already have a pretty robust operation going. It is an interesting challenge to figure out what the best strategy is and how it can be implemented and adapted throughout the network.
Havas London became a B Corporation certified agency in 2018 and Havas Lemz has just completed the certification process. What does becoming B Corp mean?
Being B Corp certified is more than an award or recognition. It shows that you are a part of a community that really believes that the planet, people and profit all go hand-in-hand.
B Corp starts with a questionnaire that measures the way in which companies do business, taking into consideration three pillars: people, profit and the planet. It verifies that the organization considers not only shareholders’ expectations and interests but also the stakeholders’. B Corp is a way of changing how we do business, and these three pillars are the core of our CSR strategy at Havas Group.
Havas London was certified in 2018 and Havas Lemz has just received certification. Right now, many of our agencies are answering the questionnaire to see where they fall and assess how they can improve and how we can help them in this journey. Currently, we are working on how we can consolidate our efforts and seek a certification for a larger subset of agencies.
Is this push because clients are more keen to work with B Corp certified agencies?
Yes, the clients are, but it’s because they are being pushed by consumers. The consumers want brands and corporations to do better and in turn, clients want organizations like Havas to do better. Consumers are asking our clients about their purpose and their contribution to society. Companies continue to be questioned on their labor practices, their human purpose and their commitment to sustainability. That then makes our clients ask the same questions of Havas. I think it’s a welcome shift. Organizations should be contributing positively and using their power to make a difference. B Corp has a role in that it is pushing businesses to analyze and verify their positive role in society.
How has the pandemic impacted CSR?
I think this experience has changed us all. You see it on the TV – most of the ads right now talk about how companies are on a more virtuous path after this pandemic.
I was just in the supermarket yesterday and they had big posters up explaining their CSR engagements and how they are supporting local businesses and environmentally conscious practices. This experience has made every single one of us think about what is important to us and why we are here. It’s certainly made me ask myself how I can make a bigger difference. The pandemic has spurred the important conversations we are having now about the world we want to live in.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
That being on time shows that you have respect for other people and that you care as much about their time as your own.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I really love music. My husband is the manager of a band so when they are on tour, I love to join them on the road. I recently saw The Cure and they were amazing. They were really up there for me on my list of favorite gigs ever. I’m really looking forward to being able to go to a concert again. I’ve missed it so much and definitely took it for granted.
Outside of Havas, what would you do to make a meaningful difference?
I’m passionate about human rights and the environment and I always have been. For example, Colombia was the deadliest country for environmental activists in 2019 – 64 activists were murdered in just one year. It makes me incredibly sad. It would be important to be able to go work on the ground with local communities and try to bring international awareness to this issue. No matter what, I know I would still be trying to make a meaningful difference.