Interviews

Sarah Saso. Managing Director Social Innovation. Green Shield Canada

Sarah’s story is a tale of bridging the gap between the non-profit and the corporate sectors. As a pioneer in the field of Community Investing, Sarah has been a part of the growth of the social impact sector. Now the Managing Director, Social Innovation at Green Shield Canada (GSC), Sarah is happy to be a part of a company where the CEO believes in CSR and it’s been imbedded into the DNA of the organization. For someone who could add value to many different places, it’s a testament to the type of company GSC is and sends a message to employers about why it’s worth integrating CSR into your business. Sarah’s story also teaches us of the importance of staying on top of trends and creating goals for yourself. Sarah is an inspirational person and a wonderful leader who continues to push the field of CSR forward in Canada.

When did you know you wanted to work in the CSR field and how did your previous life or work experience prepare you? 

I started my career in the non-profit sector. My role was in corporate fundraising and as such I was working with 50+ senior leaders of some of Canada’s top Companies.  Those at the VP and CEO level. I was in my twenties and this my first job, provided me the opportunity to learn about business first hand from these senior business leaders. It was early days in the concept of cause marketing, and I was seeing the strong connection between the business sector and the non-profit sector.  I was intrigued that there might be a role in business for someone who understood the non-profit sector and could be in effect a translator for how business and non-profit could work together so both sectors would benefit.

It was the early 90’s and I was one of the first in the sector working at what is now known as the intersection of profit and purpose.  As you can imagine it was an evolving and ever changing concept.

As a result my career path, was a little like the Star Trek motto “to boldly go where no one has gone before”. My end goal was to get a role in business as a Community Investment Professional. I realized that to do that I needed to acquire business skills – public relations, risk management, reputation management, marketing, event management, communications, corporate donations, employee engagement, sponsorship and corporate social responsibility.

How did you get your current job?

In 2011, I found myself armed with a big tool kit of skills, along with the practical experience of having spent 10 years in the non-profit sector and 10 years working in the CSR/Community Investment departments of the corporate sector.  I was looking for an opportunity to continue to be challenged, and to contribute in a meaningful way.

A recruiter contacted me about a role at Green Shield Canada as they were looking for their first Executive Director of the Green Shield Canada Foundation. The more I learned about Green Shield the more impressed I was. They are the country’s only national non-profit health and dental benefit specialist. Their mission was related to “creating innovative solutions that improve access to better health’.  At the interview I met the CEO, the Chair of the Board and the VP of HR, this told me how seriously they took this Executive Director role and they explained how it was an important one to help bring to life their mission, vision and values.

GSC, CEO Steve Bradie further explained that CSR was part of GSC’s DNA and was imbedded in their reason for being. That fundamental to GSC’s approach is the philosophy of enhancing the common good by seeking out innovative ways to make health care more accessible to all Canadians.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get a job like yours one day?

With respect to CSR – CSR is about the integration of social, economic and environmental practices into day to day decision making. If CSR becomes truly embedded in an organization then the need for a formal CSR department might go away in the future. In effect CSR becomes everyone’s job.

I would say that the sector continues to change and that you should try to make yourself relevant and stay on top of trends.  What is your end goal?  How can you gain the necessary skills, tools, education and networks you need to achieve that goal?

What is your expertise? If you don’t have one, what can you make yourself an expert in to stay relevant and to be a leader that people seek out to learn from?

…try to make yourself relevant and stay on top of trends.  What is your end goal?  How can you gain the necessary skills, tools, education and networks you need to achieve that goal?

What is your expertise? If you don’t have one, what can you make yourself an expert in to stay relevant and to be a leader that people seek out to learn from?

What can you identify as the biggest opportunity in your sector right now?

I am definitely seeing the sector moving toward making the business case for the proof that the intersection of profit and purpose is happening and is a good idea. That companies can do well by doing good. That it is a win-win situation.

I’m also seeing the continued emphasis being placed on social impact. Be it social impact investing, social return on investment, social enterprise granting, social finance or non-profits building social enterprises as a way to sustain programming.

Companies who can use their core competencies to solve society’s biggest problems will be companies who realize the intersection of profit and purpose and see business growth.

Having a skill set that can help a company do this, will serve CSR/Community Investment professionals well in the future.

I just got a new title!  My progressive company changed it to Managing Director, Social Innovation.

I am encouraged by this and know that as a sector of practice we are headed in the right direction.

 

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