In Conversation with Derval O’Brien, CSR Programme Manager with EirGrid Group

We are back with our In Conversation Series getting to know CSR and Sustainability professionals leading the sustainability agenda for Ireland’s top businesses. This month we hear from Derval O’Brien, the CSR Programme Manager with the EirGrid Group.

Please describe your role and responsibilities and how many years you have been in the company

I am the CSR Programme Manager with EirGrid Group. I am responsible for developing and managing the CSR strategy and the implementation of the supporting CSR programme across EirGrid in Ireland and SONI in Northern Ireland.

I have been working for EirGrid, and in this role, for just over 2 years.

 What was your background previously? How did you enter the CSR field?

Prior to working for EirGrid I spent 15 years in the charity sector working as Corporate Fundraising Manager for Concern Worldwide.  I was very lucky in that I got to spend time working for Concern in New York, Darfur (Sudan), and Banda Aceh (Indonesia), in addition to Dublin.

In my role as a corporate fundraiser I was exposed to the community pillar of CSR from the other side when working with CSR managers in companies that supported Concern. The impact that companies could make on society was an area that I was really interested in and appealed to me.

While I absolutely loved working for Concern, after 15 years it was time to do something different, and CSR seemed like a natural progression. I saw the EirGrid job advertised and was lucky enough to be appointed to the role.

How has the sustainability/CSR programme evolved at your company?

EirGrid Group had been carrying out multiple great CSR initiatives, but a huge opportunity was identified to build on what we were doing to maximise the impact. As part of my role, I lead a committee comprising representatives from across the business to develop a CSR strategy to address this. This three year strategy was launched in December 2017. This is the first time that the EirGrid Group has had a dedicated CSR strategy.

Our CSR strategy comprises five key focus areas which link to our values and support the overall corporate strategy. These are the five pledges that guide us as a responsible business:

  • Principles: We do the best job – in the right way
  • Power: We power better lives today and tomorrow
  • Preservation: We respect the environment
  • Positivity: We value and support positive relationships
  • People: We appreciate our people

This has helped to raise awareness and commitment to CSR internally, and also given us the scope to communicate all of the good things we are doing externally.

In addition, through our membership of the BITC Leaders Network, EirGrid was responsible for chairing the Low Carbon Economy sub-group. Being part of this group, focussed on achieving ambitious shared objectives, has raised CSR to another level by ensuring that it continues to be driven from the top.

What are the challenges you encounter in driving the sustainability agenda and how do you stay inspired?

Embedding CSR across the business to ensure that it is the way we do business rather than an add-on is a challenge that I think many CSR managers face. I am lucky that the development of our CSR strategy including cross-directorate KPIs has made CSR a shared objective. A KPI to report regularly to our Executive team and Board has helped to raise the profile and buy-in from the leadership team. A focus on increasing internal communications around our many CSR activities has resulted in increasing employee engagement with CSR. The imminent appointment of a cross-directorate CSR committee to monitor and manage the CSR strategy implementation will also help to ensure commitment.

I stay constantly inspired by seeing the impact that our CSR initiatives have internally and externally e.g. we partner with Margaret Aylward Community College through the BITC Skills@Work programme. The teachers and pupils in the school are incredible and getting the positive feedback on the programme from them every year is awe-inspiring.

What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?

I joined EirGrid four weeks before our Business Working Responsibly Mark re-certification submission was due and was tasked with filling the gaps in the draft submission that had been prepared. It was definitely a baptism of fire and involved many late evenings and long weekends.

In hindsight, my complete lack of knowledge or understanding of EirGrid at that point was extremely beneficial because I was able to question company and industry jargon and seek clarification. It also meant that I got to meet lots of my colleagues very quickly as I harassed them with all of my queries.

The upshot was that we were successful in achieving BWR Mark re-certification, and I was very proud and relieved!

What are the business benefits of having achieved the Business Working Responsibly mark?

For me, the Business Working Responsibly Mark is a great accolade for two reasons.

Firstly, the fact that it is a third-party validation of your responsible business credentials is key. We can stand up and talk about how responsible EirGrid Group is, but the fact that somebody else has examined the business and is happy to declare that we are responsible, gives us credibility.

Secondly, the group of companies that hold the Business Working Responsibly Mark is a veritable who’s who of Ireland’s top companies with impressive CSR programmes. To be associated with this group of elite companies is of huge benefit.

What is your motto in life?

I am a big believer in always treating others how you would like to be treated yourself.  A great man that I worked with in Concern, the late Fr Aengus Finucane, used to always say ‘ Be nice to people on your way up, because you’ll meet them on the way down’ and I think that is a good motto to live by.

What would a perfect day entail for you?

A lazy morning at home with my husband and daughter, a walk in a park with a playground (for my daughter – not me!) followed by a late lunch in town with friends and family. I love theatre, particularly musical theatre, so definitely a trip to the theatre in the evening.

Find out more about the Business Working Responsibly mark.


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