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Rethinking corporate responsibility: An interview with Deloitte's Leila Fenc

Leila Fenc.

Leila Fenc thinks that philanthropy is due for a major overhaul. As Deloitte Canada's director of corporate responsibility and the Deloitte Foundation, Fenc is responsible for overseeing the ways in which the Canadian branch of the massive global firm can leave a lasting impact on the community it's part of. Lately, what that means is thinking beyond dollars and cents and into the realm of ideas.

“We are a firm of thinkers, and when you think about the most meaningful impact that we can make as a firm, it's not in terms of cash donations or something like that but really in terms of leveraging the expertise that we bring day-to-day to address some of those societal challenges,” says Fenc. As such, the organization is beginning to reframe its giving program to reward a social lens.

Heralding this change of tides was the September 2013 publication of The Solution Revolution by William D. Eggers and Paul Macmillan, respectively the Global Research Director and Global Industry Leader for Deloitte's Public Sector practice, which deigned to probe how a collaborative and productive economic system might offer solutions to today's most vexing social challenges. We spoke with Fenc about how the process is shaping up, and how other organizations might follow suit.

Yonge Street: When did it become clear to Deloitte to begin a move toward mass social innovation?

Leila Fenc: Over the last year or so we began to consider how we have a greater global impact than each individual firm around the world. So, we have a global corporate responsibility team that helps us try to figure out what we, as individual nation states, can do collectively. Social innovation is the recommendation that they put forward to all of the member firms. As soon as we saw that information it immediately resonated with us as the Canadian firm, because we're already doing so much work in impact investing and we have an innovation practice—it was a natural fit. We're hopeful that by the end of the year we'll be able to make a significant commitment, but we're doing some internal strategy as well to validate that this is the direction we're wanting to go in.

What were the first steps?

One of the first little forays we made was the Changemakers scholarship that we do internally, for kids of our employees and partners to apply to post-secondary education. We focus not on academic achievement but, instead, on how they have been a changemaker in their own community. So, what have they done to address challenges and innovation in their own community. So that's just a little example of how we're trying to sort of reframe our thinking around community support into this idea of really thinking outside the box for what we can do to make a substantial difference.

There's a whole process of reframing that's going in Deloitte that's less about traditional philanthropy and more toward creating a real impact through social innovation.

When you talk about societal challenges, are there any specific issues that you've honed in on?

I don't think we've narrowed it down yet, but it's one of the big things that we're working on. In the meantime we've done a whole series of reports around the future of Canada, and what that could look like. One of them talked about the productivity gap that Canada has been facing, and what we can do to address it. So, how can we improve some of those economic conditions that might be holding back our country and address them specifically. Our global organization, Deloitte Globally, has also been focusing and reframing more around social innovation specifically, and the support that they're offering is more around how can we scale up social innovation so we can make a global impact.

We have a new practice area that talks specifically about impact investing, and we've really dedicated some significant resources to developing this practice area.

Let's go back to the Changemakers Scholarship program. What are the criteria for awarding that scholarship?

We ask applicants to submit an essay talking about the positive change that they've made in their communities that would support the title of changemaker for them. So, thinking outside of the box to approach a conversation in a new way.

How can smaller organizations, that might not have the kind of global manpower that Deloitte has, help to foster innovation in their own right?

For any organization, whether it's a post-secondary educational institution, a small to medium enterprise, or even an individual, you need to figure out what is your capacity to affect change and what is your interest to affect change, and do what you can. If you have an interest, and maybe you have a new way of doing something, then really look at that. I don't think that there's any one model that people need to follow, but you need to work at a scale that makes sense for you and where you can affect real change.

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