In Conversation with Emily Maher Sustainability Advisor for KBC Bank Ireland

Welcome to our new In Conversation With CSR Professionals Series, this month we are delighted to feature Emily Maher, the Sustainability Advisor at KBC Bank Ireland.


Please describe your role and responsibilities and how many years you have been in the company
Emily Maher Sustainability Adviser at KBC Bank Ireland

As the Sustainability Advisor for KBC Bank Ireland, my role is wide-ranging and very interesting. I am responsible for planning and managing the development and roll out of KBCI’s Sustainability strategy. This includes overseeing a range of projects and initiatives in addition to reviewing and recommending future opportunities for development of the strategy. My role involves a large amount of engagement with key internal and external stakeholders. Communications plays a crucial part, from launching programmes and initiatives, to seeking support and sharing progress updates and successes. I have worked in KBC since 2013, initially in the HR department working on employee communications and now within Marketing & Corporate Affairs where I took on responsibility for CSR last year.

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

My background is in PR and communications; I worked for more than 10 years across a variety of Dublin agencies including Heneghan PR, MKC Communications and Carr Communications. During this time, I advised many organisations on their media and communications strategies and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the inner workings of a range of different sectors. While I was working with Carr Communications, I was seconded for a number of years to the Press Office of An Garda Síochána to work on community relations and road safety campaigns in particular. This gave me a taste for working as an advisor within an organisation and I was lucky enough to join KBC at a really exciting time for the bank.

Having initially worked on employee communications, culture and engagement projects, I joined the Marketing department at the beginning of 2015 and during the year an opportunity arose to work on our CSR programme. Having had some experience of working with charities and not-for-profit organisations on the communications front, I was interested to gain experience in developing and managing programmes which would make a lasting impact and contribute in a positive way to society, customers and staff.

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

Across KBC Group, we are consolidating our approach to Sustainability in 2016. This means that colleagues from across the Group are working together to build a common framework which will help to streamline our activities in order to deliver lasting and meaningful impact.

In so doing, we are better placed to respond to the needs of our customers, employees (and potential employees) and the wider community.

KBC is growing a strong presence in Ireland, with 15 retail banking hubs open in key urban locations around the country. We are completing our transition to becoming a full-service retail bank – we now offer a full range of competitive products, leading rates and flexible services to suit how modern consumers want to bank. We continue to invest in digital and online platforms to ensure the most efficient service for our customers. With the growth of our distribution network, it’s increasingly important for us to support the communities where we live and work.

To show further support for communities in a meaningful way, we developed Bright Ideas, a new programme to fund community groups who are making a real impact in the community.

In developing Bright Ideas, KBC created a community challenge which invites people to have their say by presenting an idea to improve their community. We are directly empowering people in the community to make a difference to what matters to them and the people close to them.

Launched in 2014 and evolved further for a second year in 2015, the Bright Ideas community fund has to date awarded €185,000 funding to 68 innovative local projects across Ireland.

Bright Ideas is part of our overarching Brighter Futures charity and community programme which itself sits within a wider Sustainability agenda at KBC.  Our current charity of the year is the Jack & Jill Children’s Foundation and we are also partnered with Enactus, Junior Achievement and Fighting Words.

At KBC Bank Ireland we are using the opportunity created by the renewed Group approach to develop impactful and measurable plans to address our ambition for Sustainability. As the Bank of You, the lasting impact of our Sustainability programme lies in helping our customers, staff and communities to share in our vision for improving the world around us.

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

One of the key challenges I come across is building understanding and driving engagement – the two are intrinsically linked. If people don’t understand what we mean by Sustainability, then how can they be expected to get involved in projects or commit to new initiatives? For me, communication is crucial in building understanding and engagement and I firmly believe you cannot communicate enough, particularly when it comes to projects which involve change. Increasingly, we are communicating using digital and online platforms and while this has great benefits, we should never lose sight of the value of face to face interactions, particularly when it comes to inspiring people to make a change.

Staying inspired is not a challenge when you enjoy what you do and when the benefits and impacts are visible. I work in a great team here at KBC and I get lots of inspiration from my colleagues across the business.

What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?

My biggest accomplishment relating to Sustainability has to have been the achievement of the Business Working Responsibly Mark last year. It was a proud moment to be present at the Guinness Storehouse with my colleagues last year to witness the presentation. We put a lot of effort into the project management of the process and we enlisted the help of colleagues from across the business. Achieving the Mark was a great result and one which demonstrates our commitment to Sustainability at all levels of KBC.

My biggest learning so far has been to believe in the power of community – at KBC there is a great collective spirit and people are keen to get behind meaningful causes to make a difference. Last year, employees raised over €35,000 for our charity partner the Jack & Jill Children’s Foundation. All the money raised by employees will be matched by KBC so Jack & Jill will benefit to the tune of €70,000.

This €35,000 was raised by employees in a number of ways, including our flagship KBC Can Dance event which raised more than €20,000 last June. What stood out is the sheer drive of people to reach a goal and to do that by leaning on each other.

What is your motto in life?

I don’t have a motto as such but there are two quotes which sum things up for me – both of them related to communications. I’m passionate about keeping communications simple – and this is possible to do but it takes time and commitment.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein

It’s also easy to assume that just because communication has taken place that the message has been delivered – but this is usually not the case and the message needs to be delivered multiple times across multiple channels before understanding can set in.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

What would a perfect day entail for you?

The most perfect days are the ones which bring surprises – good surprises of course! I would spend time with family and friends, have a nice meal and finish a good book or go to see a play.

To find out more about KBC in the Community, visit:

Click here for past interviews from the In Conversation Series.


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