Talking Purpose With Carolyn Berkowitz, featuring Kathy Gu of Pinterest

ACCP wraps up our final Talking Purpose with Carolyn Berkowitz feature for 2022 with Kathy Gu, who leads Purpose Partnerships, Social Impact and Philanthropy at Pinterest.

How did you get your start in corporate citizenship?

Like many others, I didn’t have a direct path into the field. Service has always been a calling for me, an influence I credit to my grandmother. I chose to attend Georgetown University because of its emphasis on social justice, its core value of “Cura personalis,” and nurturing students to become “people for others.”

I started my career in financial services in New York, where I asked questions about what the company was doing in the community and got active in corporate volunteering. Soon I longed to do more and took the leap of leaving my finance job for an entry-level job at a local nonprofit, where my early days included fixing printer jams, stuffing envelopes, and cold calling while learning fundraising basics.

I eventually grew to lead corporate partnerships, responsible for raising dollars annually. I loved working with all different types of companies, from startups to Fortune 100 companies. Learning about the reality and challenges of operating a nonprofit has been hugely informative in how I approach my work and nonprofit relationships even today.

I reached a point in my career where the natural progression would have been to lead development broadly, but I wasn’t excited about that. I wanted to be at the intersection of companies and society.       I ended up at what was the perfect next step for me on the Corporate Responsibility team at Silicon Valley Community Foundation. I served essentially as a CSR consultant with one primary client, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and was embedded into their team while supporting a portfolio of other SVCF corporate clients. I had the best of all worlds: learning from the biggest community foundation in the world and a juggernaut in the field while also being hands-on with HPE, a company that pioneered corporate responsibility before the term became widely popular.

I consider this point my official foray into “corporate citizenship.” Eventually, my time allocated to HPE increased, and I joined the team full-time. After crossing many milestones at HPE, last year, I joined Pinterest’s founding social impact team for an opportunity to build a program again.

The field is evolving rapidly. What are the most important skills and knowledge social impact professionals need to stay ahead of the curve and be successful in the future?

The field is indeed evolving rapidly, and I’m observing many of my peers burning out. We take on a lot in our roles and are often underappreciated by others at our companies who don’t fully understand the work involved. Add on pressures from the pandemic and the growing spotlight on social impact, ESG, and DEI from all stakeholders, and it is not surprising that citizenship professionals are burnt out.

Despite the increasing interest, however, the core content is familiar. Managing our energy and well-being is essential to sustaining ourselves and succeeding in the future. Because Pinterest’s social impact work is strategically focused on emotional well-being, I have become more acutely aware of the need to manage my emotional well-being to best show up for others.

This quote from Peter Drucker reinforces this idea: “Your first and foremost job as a leader is to take charge of your own energy and then help to orchestrate the energy of those around you.

What advice or lesson learned do you most often share with members of your team or other CSR professionals?

I often share the importance of investing in people and processes to accelerate your impact journey. With people, it’s building strong relationships internally and externally and investing in them, whether on your team or as leaders of external organizations. Whom I work with on my team as a funder has an outsized impact on my work life. Good processes provide clarity and facilitate scale when done right and help the team get more done and make a more significant impact.

Taking out your crystal ball, what current trend will still be a force five years from now and why?

I think of DEI not as a trend but as a force here to stay five years from now and beyond. In the past few years, I have been part of many conversations about integrating DEI among non-DEI professionals. However, much is still to be done to embed equity into corporate social impact and corporate practices broadly. ACCP’s recent report, “Advancing Equity in the Corporate Social Impact Profession,” illustrates this in our profession. Gen Z workers have arrived in the workforce. As the most diverse generation, I love their engagement and expectations for companies’ DEI efforts. As they comprise a more significant portion of the workforce, I believe they will pressure companies to engage more authentically and meaningfully in bringing DEI values to life across all parts of the business.

One fun/personal question – who’s someone you admire and why?

One person I admire is André Leon Talley. I am pretty oblivious to fashion, but I love documentaries and watched The Gospel According to André after his death early this year. I’m inspired by how he pursued his passion, shattered precedence, and showed up unapologetically as himself, even in challenging environments. He believed that just by showing up, he could impact the culture. This is a message I often remind myself of and is powerful for anyone operating as “one not like the others” in their profession or craft.
I am also fortunate to work with and know many incredible individuals in my constellation whom I admire for different reasons. One of those is Shannon Farley, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Fast Forward, an organization I partnered with at HPE. Shannon is a powerhouse who builds incredible organizations that make profound impacts. She is whip-smart and thoughtful, a combination I’m always drawn to. She carries strategic ambition and the tactics to execute consistently and clearly articulates the “why,” I can always count on Shannon for a fresh and, more importantly, honest perspective.

Thank you again to Kathy for joining us! We will be back in 2023 as we continue speaking with corporate social impact thought leaders and learning more about their journey.

Kathy Gu, Pinterest

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