Talking Purpose With Carolyn Berkowitz: LinkedIn’s Meg Garlinghouse

ACCP Staff

How did you get your start in corporate citizenship?

After college, I joined the Peace Corps in Niger, West Africa. After two years of service, I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer instead of a career in international development. I took a job at a corporate law firm in Boston and helped manage their pro bono practice and philanthropy program while I was there. 

Although I ultimately decided not to pursue a law degree (and instead got a master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard), this was my first exposure to how companies can leverage their core assets for good.   

In the late 90s, I left my job at the World Bank, moved to California, and took a job at an internet startup called Netcentives, which sold “clickmiles” (essentially frequent flier miles) to companies to incentivize people to buy goods online. I started as an Executive Assistant but quickly moved around the company in several roles until I finally convinced them we could sell “clickmiles” to nonprofits to incentivize people to donate online. And it worked!

“At this point I had a unique set of skills working at the intersection of the internet, technology, and philanthropy, and that is when Yahoo recruited me to lead their CSR program.”

I joined Yahoo in August 2001, just three weeks before 9/11 and at the beginning of the dot com bust. A few days following the 9/11 tragedy, we placed donation buttons on the front page of Yahoo and quickly raised nearly $30mm from more than 400,000 people.

Given that this was the first time many individuals had ever made an online donation, the total amount and engagement were significant. Creating this donation option from a trusted brand and making it seamless and transparent (we had a ticker) once again reinforced how companies can use their core asset for good.

Today, I lead LinkedIn’s social impact program, where I have been for nearly 13 years. LinkedIn’s vision is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. 

My team is focused on that word “every” – ensuring that two people with equal talent have equal access to opportunity. And again, a wonderful example of how we are leveraging our core asset – connecting talent with opportunity – for good.  

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

The shelf life of skills has never been shorter. For social impact professionals to continue to be successful, we must be in a constant state of learning – especially regarding technology. 

Today, nearly every industry runs on technology. With the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a powerful tool and accelerant, it is even more critical than ever that we have a voice in the right rooms to ensure ethical uses and practices. And that requires us to stay informed on the upsides and downsides of these technologies so we can help contribute to guardrails and guidelines for our companies.   

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

“Take the professor, not the class.” My dad gave me this advice during college, but it has transcended my career. At its core, it means finding someone to learn from who will challenge your thinking and equip you with the skills to tackle problems without clear solutions. This feels more relevant than ever, where the issues we need to solve tomorrow are unknown and have no playbook to follow. Learning how to lead, be resourceful, ask the right questions, and bring diverse perspectives and stakeholders together are critical skills that we are more likely to learn from each other than the classroom. Find the leader who inspires you and will invest in your future and worry less about the functional role.

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

Move from generosity to justice (thanks to Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, for starting this movement and strongly recommend his new book). Walker’s thesis is that the philanthropic industry (including CSR professionals) has focused too much on generosity at the cost of addressing the root causes contributing to these inequities.  And, sometimes, this generosity masks the fundamental structural issues that are more pervasive and endemic in our communities.

This means we need a significant shift in strategy where we bring in beneficiary voices to ensure better solutions, and we invest in less traditional initiatives (such as movements and policy changes). 

And perhaps most notably, as practitioners, we must stay vigilant and ensure that the products and services our companies are building aren’t unintentionally creating more harm in the world. 

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

Wanda Holland Greene is the Head of a K-8 all-girls school called Hamlin, based in San Francisco, where my daughter is fortunate enough to attend. The school’s mission is to educate girls to meet the challenges of their time and inspires them to become extraordinary thinkers and innovators, courageous leaders, and individuals of integrity. 

Wanda’s role as the school leader only begins to capture who she is in this world. I have never met someone who so fully embodies the Mary Oliver quote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Her zest for life is only eclipsed by her love for all humans in the most non-judgmental, authentic, and inclusive way I’ve ever seen.

She could literally do anything in this world, and she has dedicated her unique powers to educating girls to develop their convictions and find their voice to address the growing number of inequities in our world. This is one of the most compelling ways to move upriver and ensure the next generation will usher us into a better world for everyone. 

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