In Conversation with Michelle Toner Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at eir

In this month of our In Conversation with series we are delighted to talk to Michelle Toner Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at eir.

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

My position is Head of Corporate Social Responsibility; I’ve been with eir for five years and in my current role for almost two. Before I moved into CSR full time I headed up eir’s Internal Communications team and managed our CSR activities alongside the day to day of that role. When the opportunity came up to move into CSR fulltime I jumped at it. I feel fortunate to work in a dedicated CSR role, I work with a great team who support me to make positive change, and we have delivered a lot of transformation in recent years.

In March of this year we launched our CSR strategy taking us through to 2019 alongside a new CSR investment programme, the eir Fund – Connecting Communities. My day to day work is the implementation of that strategy and the achievement of each and every challenging CSR objective we have set for ourselves, most recently the Business Working Responsibly Mark.

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

I came from a public relations background and joined this company as PR Manager for Meteor initially. I had spent the previous five years working with communications agency Fleishman-Hillard. Working in an agency provided me with a great deal of exposure to CSR in both the UK and Ireland. My preference was to work on campaigns with a charitable or community message such as supporting the work of UNICEF through the “1 Pack = 1 Vaccine” Pampers campaign or the Bord Gáis Energy Community Energy Fund.

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

In the past I think people generally associated CSR with charity and fundraising. Our ambition was to move the agenda on. eir’s CSR strategy is focused on three core areas, eir in the Community, Diversity & Inclusion and Sustainability. The eir Fund was designed with these key pillars at its core, when we select an initiative to support it must be relevant to at least one of these. We want to support programmes where eir can deliver real positive and sustainable change; we’re best placed to do that when the initiative is closely tied to our business. eir is rolling out High Speed Fibre Broadband throughout Ireland so helping people get online and improve their lives by doing so makes sense.

We have supported 12 charitable programmes through the eir Fund to date; currently we’re working with NCBI in conjunction with University of Limerick to hold intensive IT camps for children and young people with vision impairment. Technology can enhance life for blind and visually impaired people. The new training programme will introduce children to technology and up skill teenagers in the most up to date technologies which can help improve their lives.

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

 My focus and challenge is embedding CSR in all aspects of our business. Measuring and communicating CSR benefits for business holistically is difficult. We can measure various aspects, PR coverage, employee engagement and opinion, funds raised and so on but linking this to corporate reputation and customer loyalty is challenging. That’s why external benchmarking programmes such as the Business Working Responsibly Mark are vital to managing CSR.

  • What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?

2016 has been a hugely positive year for our CSR programme; there have been so many high points that I couldn’t list them all. In September eir was listed 6th on the Workplace Equality Index highlighting the Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality. This is an important validation of our work to promote LGBT inclusion and it is one that says this work is making a difference. Recently we achieved the Business Working Responsibly Mark for eir which I am particularly proud of because it was extremely challenging. Our teams came together to ensure we succeeded, demonstrating the importance our business places on CSR; we want to be benchmarked against the best because we aim to be amongst the best.

  • What is your motto in life?

Carolan Lennon, Managing Director of open eir, leads the CSR agenda for our company. Carolan’s motto is ‘go big or go home’! Every time I present a proposal or a programme she’ll end the meeting with, go big or go home. It says to me, be brave, make it work, you’ve got our support.

I’m now working another motto into my day job. It’s from Spiderman: ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, surely that’s one of the reasons businesses should invest in corporate social responsibility.

  • What would a perfect day entail for you (outside of work)

 These days every free moment is spent studying for my Masters in Ethics and Corporate Responsibility. The issue is; there really aren’t enough free moments or days. So with a number of submissions due I would like to spend my morning in the Phoenix Park with my dog Holly. I’d get a solid eight hours of study in before heading off to one of my favourite restaurants for a well-earned meal and a glass of wine, or two. A guaranteed A-grade at the end is the vital piece that would make that day a perfect one.

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