Talking Purpose with Carolyn Berkowitz, featuring Monique Carswell

ACCP Staff

How did you get your start in corporate citizenship?

My social impact roots go much deeper than an actual corporate job and title, but the central professional pivot occurred when I shifted my corporate brand work to cause marketing. My first official role as a practitioner in this space was at Teach For America.

At TFA, one aspect of my position was working hand in hand with our executive directors and development officers to help engage corporate and individual donors in support of our mission. In that function, I used my marketing and advertising background to design concepts and programs that were mutually beneficial for funders to create goodwill for their business and employees and for my organization to promote quality education for all and cultivate stewards of change.

And even before that, as the principal of my own consulting agency, I worked with individual businesses and nonprofits on their diversity outreach and engagement strategies.

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

I gear this advice to my early career folks: show up as yourself as much and as early as possible. A former school of thought said you had to have a work persona separate from your personal identity. That is a huge disservice to your career growth and your effectiveness.

I’ve witnessed people support my voice and leadership, even when I’m not in the room because they knew the genuine passion and commitment I brought to the table in addition to my core skills. When we get to know our colleagues as humans and not merely coworkers, there’s a natural connection and level of care that leads to being actively engaged in one another’s success.  

What is one specific piece of advice you received that has served you well in your professional journey?

“No one has a monopoly on knowledge.” This idiom encourages me to embrace not always having all the answers (it’s liberating when you think about it) and to be curious and learn as much as possible. On the reverse side, it reminds me I can be a teacher and bring people along by sharing my insights because everyone can continue learning on this journey. 

Considering the current landscape corporate social impact professionals are working in, what are the essential things you suggest for them to make a priority?

Pursue personal well-being just as seriously as you pursue justice, equity, and all the issues we care about deeply. As someone living the same experiences as the communities I serve, I don’t get a break from the harsh disparities and inequities that are rampant and seemingly growing. They keep me up at night after I’ve already grappled with them all day in my work.

I recently attended a wellness retreat for women in philanthropy, where we talked about radical rest. One of the speakers kiddingly admonished us for working during our breaks. Although we feel compelled to be fully accessible and tuned in during these turbulent times, we genuinely need rest to show up as our best selves and do the work effectively.

Who is someone you admire and why?

One person I’ve admired for a very long time is Daisy Bates, an Arkansas native who championed civil rights and led the Little Rock Nine. I see a lot of myself in her. Her personal sacrifices took tremendous courage, compassion, and resilience in the face of extreme hate. She also overcame significant adversity in her youth and channeled those experiences into care and concern for others, similar to what drove me to social impact. I was also active in the NAACP, just as she was.

As a former publishing and media executive, I believe in authentic storytelling, and she was a noted journalist and publisher. And I am a firm advocate of education, having been a former adjunct professor and education nonprofit leader myself. When I think about her enduring bravery and leadership during tumultuous times, I know I can accomplish anything by channeling her strength. 

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