In conversation with Karina Howley, Head of CSR KPMG

This month we have the pleasure of talking to Karina Howley, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at KPMG.

Prof KH 6Please describe your role and responsibilities, how many years you have been in the company?

I am the Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for KPMG. My role is very varied and includes being responsible for all KPMG’s education programmes, skills based volunteering, sustainability and our carbon neutral status, reporting, philanthropy, disaster relief engagement, pro bono activity and the various diverse signature CSR programmes we engage with such as our St. Michael’s House Multi-Sensory Stories initiative and our annual Project Bright competition. I have enjoyed working in KPMG for nearly 8 years.

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

My background is in communications originally and I worked in various roles in Intel for 14 years, covering everything from community relations, to media spokesperson, European CSR Manager and government affairs Manager. During my tenure in Intel I completed my Masters in Journalism and the topic was on Corporate Social Responsibility. I was lucky enough to be part of a small global team in Intel in 2004-2006 who established the CSR agenda for Intel internationally, and we were awarded the company’s highest accolade an ‘Intel Achievement Award’ for the work we did back then.

When I got the opportunity in 2007 to join KPMG and build the CSR function from scratch, I was excited about starting with a relatively blank canvass, having the full support of the Managing Partner and learning about a totally new industry.

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

KPMG was doing a lot of great CSR work prior to my arrival, but it wasn’t strategic. In the last 8 years KPMG has really been very focused at how our CSR strategy aligns with our vision, values and business interests. We have moved away from general volunteering to more skills-based volunteering and using the talent and expertise of our staff to deliver real value to the community organisations we work with.

We have also been Carbon Neutral since 2007 and we continually look at ways we can improve our environmental performance. From 2010 to 2013 we reduced our carbon foot print by 15.7%. We have become more consistent about our approach to philanthropy and ensuring we get maximum impact for any organisation we align with. We also encourage employee engagement and give our staff a voice in terms of the types of projects we do, running a competition called Project Bright for the last five years asking teams of employees to identify with social issues they are passionate about and asking them to come up with solutions that we can implement as a firm. The company buzz and friendly competition around that annually is great fun.

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

One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that we keep evolving and growing our CSR programme, looking at ways we can continue to improve our sustainability agenda and that we continue to deliver real value for the organisations we partner with. It is important to keep things fresh, select unique and innovative projects, and partner with like-minded organisations that resonate with the business. The sustainability agenda needs to keep evolving and being relevant to our organisation, moving with what is happening within our industry and with the wider external CSR landscape.

I am inspired every day, because I know I am fortunate to do a job that I am passionate about and that our CSR initiatives are really adding value and making a real difference. The range of diverse programmes we work on from ‘Time to Read’, our ‘Mentor programme’ with CBS Westland Row, our ‘Bright Ideas’ Charity Blitz, the work I did on One Young World coming to Dublin…….seeing these initiatives come to fruition and the results make it all worthwhile and truly inspires me!

I am continually looking at ways we can improve our sustainability engagement, looking at projects closely aligned with our business objectives, looking at how we can measure our impact and ensuring our staff are motivated, engaged and that they too are inspired to invest time and energy to give back to society.

What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?

One of my biggest accomplishments was setting up Enactus Ireland over three years ago. I set up the company registration, got charitable status, set up bank accounts, got the buy-in of four universities in the first year, delivered the training, recruited the students and faculty advisors, got a number of excellent sponsors on board and hosted our first National Competition in 2012. I am the company secretary of Enactus Ireland and now there is a Country Manager and Programme Manager employed by the not-for-profit organisation. Last year the team from UCD made it through to the final four at the World Cup held in Beijing. Needless to say, I shed a few tears of joy, this was a mammoth result considering the programme is so new in Ireland and we were competing against teams who have a 30-40 year tradition in Enactus.

What is your motto in life?

I have two favourite mottos, the first being ‘Be prepared’ – I am very organised and like to ensure that anything I commit to is done professionally and is results focused. You can tell from that I was a girl guide as a child! The other motto I live by is ‘What is for you won’t pass you by’ and I truly believe that……what is meant to be is meant to be.

What would a perfect day entail for you?

Other than winning the lottery and getting all my family and friends on a flight to somewhere exotic!  My other more realistic perfect day would be spending time with family and friends, soaking up some sunshine, enjoying good food, wine, banter and laughs.


Visit KPMG to find out more about their Corporate Social Responsibility practices


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