Brandee is the 2022 recipient of the ACCP Trailblazer Purpose Award. Each year, the Trailblazer recognizes a senior corporate social impact department leader whose governance, strategy, and programs demonstrate significant and measurable business and social impact over time.
As this year’s recipient, we wanted to learn more about Brandee, personally and professionally.
Tell us a little bit about your path to corporate social impact and your current position at Citi.
I have been in corporate social impact for over 30 years! From my start as an intern in 1991 for what was then Citicorp Foundation to my current position as Global Head of Community Investing & Development at Citi and President of the Citi Foundation, three themes have defined my career and my approach: a focus on innovation; a commitment to strengthening community organizations that serve as anchors of underserved communities; and a “more than philanthropy” approach that leverages employee volunteerism and business activities.
In my early years with the Foundation, I focused on grantmaking in areas like financial education and small business, which help people build assets to alleviate the conditions of poverty. But what I quickly realized was that there is a huge role that the bank itself can play in advancing these financial assets and boosting economic opportunity. So, I then spent a good chunk of my career in affordable housing and community finance.
My biggest takeaway? It’s not an either-or strategy. It’s not philanthropy versus market-based solutions – you need both. My current role as Global Head of Community Investing & Development is a culmination of this approach. I spend my time thinking about how we can catalyze social impact across Citi’s businesses and functions through equity investing, innovative financial solutions, community partnerships, and the philanthropy of the Citi Foundation.
How do you see the field changing and progressing in the coming months and years?
Over the last several years, we’ve seen growing divisiveness and a lack of trust in institutions. In this type of landscape, we can serve as bridge builders. We need to identify and invest in solutions that unify communities and continue to drive positive social impact. And it also means that we need to be careful that as leaders fear doesn’t squash our creativity.
What do you wish those outside the field knew about CSR?
People don’t often realize that as a funder, the job tends to require saying no more than yes. But it’s essential for everyone in the social impact space to recognize the enormous opportunity we all have to drive impact beyond just deploying financial resources. Harnessing subject matter expertise and increasing networks dramatically increases capacity and field building, which in turn accelerates social impact. In my career, I’ve witnessed how people united and acting under a single north star can drive more powerful results than any individual grant.
What is a strategy you use that has contributed to your effectiveness as a senior corporate social impact leader?
Investing in talent and building a great team is the best way to be effective. It isn’t about hiring people who know all the answers on day one. It’s about finding people who ask the right questions and then can learn how to apply those responses to make effective change.
What piece of advice would you give someone new to CSR or considering entering the field?
I used to say to specialize in one area and go deep. But the days of this approach and working in silos are over. Society’s most pressing challenges are interconnected, so it’s essential to remain versatile and open to moving the needle on many fronts. I would advise anyone new to corporate social impact or entering the field to be inquisitive, to always be in learning mode, and to build the skill of absorbing a lot of information basis consistently. By doing this, you can better understand how issues are connected, and you can evolve quickly in this fast-moving field.
And now, a few fun questions:
What’s a favorite quote or saying?
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou.
I always keep this quote in mind, especially when working with partners. Our partners are innovative leaders and big thinkers. As funders and investors, we can listen to their needs, learn about their ideas, and support their work. It’s all about humility and trust.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
I am creative, hardworking, and bold.
Share one person you admire and why.
I admire my son, who is a public school teacher. I think teaching is one of the hardest and most important jobs we have in our society. Today, teachers can be heroic figures in children’s lives, and their ability to help students realize their potential is invaluable.
Congratulations again to our 2022 Trailblazer Purpose Award recipient, Brandee McHale from Citi!