In this month of our In Conversation with series we are delighted to talk to Angela Smith, Head of CSR at Diageo Ireland.
Please describe your role and responsibilities and how many years you have been in the company
I joined Diageo in March 2004 and worked in a variety of roles within the Corporate Relations team. My current role is Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for Diageo Ireland.
My particular focus is building thriving communities to equip people, particularly young unemployed people, with skills and resources to build a better future for themselves.
What was your background previously? How did you enter the CSR field?
I have worked in many functions from marketing, operations, HR to office manager in a past life. However when I joined the Corporate Relations team in Diageo I naturally gravitated towards the CSR role as it fitted my core values.
Guinness has a strong heritage of doing good and has always been an enterprise-led, socially aware company. Arthur Guinness and the Guinness family bequeathed a great history of philanthropy and their legacy is something that Diageo is continuing today.
How has the sustainability/CSR programme evolved at your company?
A couple of years ago we decided to carry out a thorough review of our CSR activities. Diageo has a long commitment to entrepreneurship and the Guinness 250th Celebrations in 2009 were the perfect catalyst for the creation of the Arthur Guinness Fund.
The Fund was an innovative investment vehicle that supported the big ideas and the passion for community of social entrepreneurs. A total of €7.4 million was invested in the fund. Globally, €3 million was distributed to programmes in the US, Indonesia, Nigeria and Ghana. In 2014 we launched a new training initiative called Learning for Life. This training initiative is the current cornerstone of our CSR activity and equips young unemployed people with the skills necessary to enter employment in the hospitality industry.
Participants in the programme receive training in a variety of areas including food and beverage skills, serving skills, customer engagement skills and more importantly life skills.
This is then followed by paid work experience with placement partners in the hospitality industry. Currently we have a 70% success rate in participants retaining jobs.
What are the challenges you encounter in driving the sustainability agenda and how do you stay inspired?
Diageo continually looks for solutions to help it become more sustainable. “Business as usual” is not appropriate anymore. We continually change the way we operate in order to face any unprecedented challenges that might lie ahead. The use of technology such as websites and social media can help us communicate with our consumers and increase transparency and we are working to develop our social media strategy.
What inspires me in my everyday job is the satisfaction that our CSR programmes continue to have an influence in the community and have a real impact on people’s lives. Working with external agencies such as Business in the Community inspires me to keep monitoring and reviewing our CSR activities.
What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?
I always get great satisfaction in driving and delivering complex projects from start to finish. I started small with Learning for Life in Dublin 8 last year and eight out of the twelve participants are still in full time paid employment. One year on and following the success of the pilot programme Diageo Ireland reinvested in the programmes which has now expanded into Dublin 1, Dundalk, Co. Louth and Belfast with 60 young people participating in the programme in total. The ambition is to expand this programme from January next year.
It’s been a steep learning curve dealing with various government agencies, members of the hospitality industry and in particular dealing with young unemployed people who have been out of work for a while. However Diageo has developed strong relationships as a result of this programme and it has really helped to enhance our reputation.
What is your motto in life?
Always behave with honesty and integrity and treat people the way you would like to be treated.
What would a perfect day entail for you?
Getting a phone call from a hotel or pub to say they are going to offer one of our Learning for Life participants a permanent job on completion of his or her training thus changing lives in a meaningful way.