Working On The Inside

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Issue 10 - Heritage


Sublime: Hannah, your experiences at the BBC were key to inspiring you to social activism. What do you remember about that time?

Hannah Jones: It was a fantastic experience. I had always wanted to report for the BBC, and I was fortunate enough to be there just as Radio 5 Live was taking off. Those early programmes were very focused on trying to be cutting-edge, on involving youth in reporting and looking at youth issues in a more challenging way. Then I moved to Radio One’s Social Campaign Unit, where I worked on all their big campaigns like Action Special, and other projects giving voice and providing support to young people who were living the issues. This really sucked me in with a great passion to how I could be involved in social issues, leverage-campaigning and the media, and to talk about subjects that were sometimes considered taboo.


S: Then you became the European manager of a non-governmental organisation called Community Service Volunteers Media. What did this involve?

HJ: On the first day of the job, they admitted they had forgotten to tell me I was responsible for fundraising my own salary and all my own costs. So I learned firsthand about poverty of resources and the creativity that necessitates! A lot of the campaigns were about empowering young people to tell their stories, and training them to take hold of the media. We did a lot of prevention work and distributed condoms all over Europe, which was controversial at the time, as you can imagine. One of the highlights was working on an AIDS campaign that ended up being carried by 500 radio stations around Europe.


S: At the time you were involved in campaigning work, tell us what you thought of big corporations such as Nike

HJ: Corporations were very much on the periphery of my world. No one in my direct family had ever worked for a company, and I always imagined I would work in the public sector. My awareness of Nike was minimal, although I was definitely picking up the anti-corporate noise. There were campaigns that were just emerging: around the Exxon Valdez, Nestlé baby milk and the Nike sweatshops. The term ‘corporate and social responsibility’ didn’t even exist then. I don’t think anyone had pieced together that these campaigns were marking the birth of a new movement.

S: What led to your ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ move, from being a campaigner to working for a corporation?

HJ: It was partly driven by the necessity of raising my own salary and expenses. I believed that getting companies on board would help us scale up what we were doing. Very naively, I wrote letters to about five hundred corporations asking for sponsorship for our AIDS campaign. To my surprise the jeans manufacturer Levi Strauss said yes – kudos to them. But another company – a youth brand that will remain nameless – replied saying that as AIDS was not an issue for their consumer, they were not interested. That triggered something in me. I literally had this moment of great clarity in which I decided I needed to go and work in the corporate sector.


S: That sounds like a big jump. Did you feel you were betraying the cause?

HJ: The counterbalance between Levi Strauss’s inspiring, positive response and the other company’s negative one reminded me of something I was told as a teenager. While I was growing up, I did the typical rebellion against the system and parents, fighting for my space, listening to loud music and doing strange things to my hair. I was disconnecting with my family and the normalised environment around me, but while everyone else looked on me as some sort of lost cause, I had a 70-year-old friend who treated me like an adult. At one point he sat me down and said, ‘You know, Hannah, at some stage in your life you will have to decide whether you are going to be more effective shouting from the outside or working through the system.’ Those words totally resonated with me as a choice that we all have. Some people are there to shout from the outside, like the campaigners I have so much respect for, and some people need to work from the inside. Just at the time when companies were beginning to think seriously about corporate responsibility, I realised that my job was to try to change the system from the inside.


S: So how did you make the transition? Did you find it difficult to connect, at the beginning?

HJ: I began to look proactively for a way in by networking, and I had a few lucky moments where I was in the right place at the right time. A PR company approached me on behalf of a client to help set up a community investment programme. So I served as a consultant to Microsoft and Kimberly Clark. Crossing the bridge between an NGO and a corporate culture was a great learning experience, and I loved the clarity and delivery in the corporate world. I felt that if I could just take a bit of what I was learning in terms of business acumen and reinsert it into the NGO world, it would make NGOs much stronger. Finally that is happening. More NGOs are bringing business into the way they operate, and more businesses are learning from the NGOs, and the ravine is beginning to close. We are even at a place where we can see hybrid organisations emerging.


S: Hybrid organisations, such as Good Energy, are a fascinating way forward. But Nike was nowhere near that place when you were recruited by them – in fact they were embroiled in a crisis over sweat shops. What common ground did you find?
HJ: 1998 saw the height of the conflicts between the NGO campaigners and Nike. My new colleagues explained that Nike did not know what had hit it, and their initial defensive response towards the campaign organisations just fuelled the fire. The tipping point for Nike was the internal realisation that they needed to engage, to listen and learn to work in partnership with NGOs. One of the reasons they were open to hiring someone from my background was that they wanted to find out how Nike could go beyond this conflictual stand-off to a place where everyone involved could sit down and share a common vision of what good looked like. The problem we both faced was that neither of us knew the roadmap or the solutions, which is why we were better off collaborating than fighting.


S: I was part of the Lloyds/Midland and Nestlé boycotts as a student. Those boycotts managed to have an impact and changed the corporate world.

HJ: I supported those boycotts too. I believe there is always going to be a role for bodies that campaign and galvanise public attention around social and environmental issues that are not getting sufficient attention from the different stakeholders, whether companies or governments. They keep people true, honest, authentic, accountable and engaged. From the other side, I am now responsible for being an active force in solving some of these difficult issues. The issues of working rights and labour conditions in emerging economies are not a simple matter of ‘pull-this-switch-make-it-better’. However, I encourage my campaigning friends to make sure they’re telling the public to ask the companies the right questions. The balance is understanding that the simple soundbite is not going to create real, positive change on the ground because the issues are so much more complex. We are still on a journey, and now there is a whole raft of NGOs and unions that are practising the skills of collaborating with companies to enable the game to be changed on some of these environmental and social issues.


S: How can this collaborative approach be facilitated? Many campaigners still feel they are not being heard.

HJ: First, I would tell the campaigners to think hard about when to leverage which tactic. The strategic but difficult question is deciding the right time to campaign, the right time to engage and how can they do both. Second, for the companies I would encourage principles of honesty and transparency. If you are going to collaborate, you have to have some honest conversations and tease out what the real issues are in order to be part of the solution. The last two Nike CSR reports have been deliberately honest, which has made people nervous, and not just at Nike. For example, when we broke with the industry and disclosed all our factory locations we thought it would encourage everyone else to do the same, which would lead to greater collaboration throughout the industry. It was the right thing to do and it began to move the needle on working conditions and supply chains.


S: Thinking beyond what is good for the company to what is good for industry or even the world must involve a trade-off. At what point does this become damaging for the company?

HJ: We absolutely see our role as a catalyst for change, not just in our business but beyond, in the industry as a whole. Commercially we compete fiercely with companies like Adidas, but when it comes to labour conditions we all sit down together round the table and try to work as collaboratively as we can. I have come to believe that for CSR to become mainstream it has to work within the paradigm of economic growth, by creating economic models that couple economic growth with positive social and environmental impact. There is no way we will get to 80% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050, for example, if we do not see companies challenge business models. I also want to be able to demonstrate a return on investment by making CSR a business priority. In just one instance, in our effort to reduce our environmental footprint we found that in one year Nike footwear alone generated around $800m of unused materials. If we reduce that waste by recycling or reusing, we are not only making our Chief Financial Officer happy, we are also making the world happy, which we call ‘return and investment squared’.


S: How can this model be applied to labour rights and working conditions?

HJ: The argument for this is very simple – you can’t make good shoes in a bad factory. We are a premium-product company, and in order to produce quality products that are innovative, and are used by some of the world’s best athletes, we need to see the most skilled and talented workers on the factory line. If we begin to pay higher wages and improve working conditions, that costs money, but if that then outputs in terms of greater productivity, lower turnover, higher retention and better-quality products, then we change the conversation. We can even start to see people competing around corporate responsibility as an investment, rather than a policing function, a moral judgement or a cost to business.


S: What’s the future of CSR, in your view?

HJ: I think we’re going to kill the term CSR, as the goal for Nike is to see our team as an innovative engine, helping the company grow in a sustainable way. Every designer at Nike is challenged to create products that are best-in-class performance, beautiful and considered. This ‘considered’ ethos is based on a Native-American principle which considers the impact of solutions on the seven generations ahead. The result is unbelievable; instead of sustainability being a limiting factor, it is a design principle, and it’s even becoming an innovating factor. Another future aim is to unleash the wisdom of our employees. Every day I meet a Nike employee who in their spare time is a social entrepreneur as a result of what is happening in web 2.0 and the power of social networks and wikinomics. If I can empower that entrepreneurship among our 30–40,000 employees, that powerful and as yet untapped resource just blows my mind. What Nike needs to do to effect world change around the millennium development goals, climate change and poverty alleviation is to bring together our core competency, business acumen and employee entrepreneurship.


S: Can you give us an insight into one specific Nike product that embodies some of the principles you have been talking about?

HJ: As part of my work with the UNHCR, I began to think about bringing sport into refugee camps. Our research found that most of today’s 9m refugees will spend a minimum of 5 years in the camps, and many of them their whole lives. These are mainly women and young people who do not have access to education and sport, even though it is supposed to be a universal human right. I visited a camp called Dadaab on the Kenya–Somalia border which is the closest embodiment of hell I have ever seen. There are 127,000 people and 13 water pumps. We helped provide schools and sports programmes, but we were aware that we could not do this in every camp. So we helped UNHCR start a campaign to give better access to education, sport and technology. We also saw that the refugee communities – like any community in the world – will always find a way to make and play with a ball, but even our best footballs would be destroyed fast by the harshness of the terrain. So we came back and asked our designer to make us a durable football around considered principles that we could distribute to those communities. The result was a ball made partially of waste and recycled materials that is one of the most durable balls ever produced. We distributed 40,000 of these balls to refugee camps around the world. They became symbolic of solving a problem using synergy of design and environmental and social concerns. You can read the story of this life-changing ball at

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