43. Balance IT. with Angela Ortiz, Social Impact & Sustainability Entrepreneur

"Angela is a woman with a mission. Her knowledge on topics related to sustainability, down-to-earth approach, but most importantly, personal experience and connection with the subject will have you listening to this episode till the very last minute. I loved speaking to her, as she's an expert on all things CSR related, and also explains why Impact is the direction absolutely necessary for any company, large or small in 2021. I can't wait for you to hear it!" Agata Solecka, Host.

Topics discussed:

Please tell our listeners about your experience with Corporate Social Responsibility. First H&M. You were a CSR manager there for over 2 years. 

Then Adidas. You were a CST manager for almost three years there as well. What were your most important projects? What did you learn?

Tell us what happened in 2011 in Japan, and why that influenced you to build your own nonprofit Place to Grow?

Can you tell us more about Place to Grow?

You are currently focused on building Stratechist (Stratechist Corporate Consulting).

Can you tell us more about the services you provide?

Why did you chose this career path?

How do you become a leader in Social Impact

How do you help companies strive in a “more sustainable way”? 

What if Social Impact is not aligned or integrated with the commercial targets of your business.

In which areas of social impact do you see technology as playing the most important role in the upcoming years?



Transcript:

Agata Solecka: [00:00:00] Hi, everyone. Welcome to the CTO to CTO Podcast, to the Balance IT series. My guest is Angela Ortiz today. Hello Angela!

[00:00:09] Angela Ortiz: [00:00:09] Hi! Thank you for having me.

[00:00:09] Agata Solecka: [00:00:09] Awesome! 

Angela Ortiz is a dynamic and authentic social impact professional with 9+ years experience across business sectors and cultures. She is an in demand public speaker and has recently published a book on leadership in social impact titled “Place to Grow- the 8 principles that will make you an effective leader in Social Impact”

She founded and leads a community building nonprofit established in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear meltdown.

In addition, she has 6+ years in Corporate Social Responsibility, leading initiatives with various global companies like the fashion retailer H&M and the iconic sports brand, Adidas. 


[00:00:52] So thank you, Angela, once again for joining me today in the Balance IT. series, is there anything that you would like to tell us before we get into the heavy topics of CSR, maybe something that I haven't mentioned about your experience? Professional or private life that you'd like to give us a little bit of background on?

[00:01:12] I guess 

[00:01:12] Angela Ortiz: [00:01:12] I could share that I am of Columbian-American ethnic background, but have been living in Japan and Tokyo mostly for the last, almost 30 years. So that's an interesting, like cross-cultural background from myself. I was a single mother for most of my adult life and recently got engaged and now we have four daughters all in their early twenties. And I am just starting on a new sort of part of my life in the consulting space around social impact and sustainability. 

[00:01:45] Agata Solecka: [00:01:45] Amazing. So, first of all, a very diverse cultural background and perspective because you bring that all into Japan, which is also An extremely rich culture in itself and huge family. Did you say four daughters at the moment?

Angela Ortiz: Yeah. Together.

[00:01:45] Agata Solecka: Together. Okay. And congratulations on the engagement! So let me start with the first question that I've prepared. Tell us more about your overall experience with CSR. So corporate social responsibility. I have noted down that your first major job in CSR was the H&M job, but maybe there was something before that? So tell us a bit more about. Your first experiences.

[00:02:25] Angela Ortiz: [00:02:25] So prior to H&M, I had become kind of by accident, a point person for CSR program development, for many corporations who were exploring this new phenomenon in Tokyo and in Japan. Corporate employee volunteering. And this obviously happened in the aftermath of the 2011 disaster in northern Japan.

[00:02:50] And so, for a lot of companies, CSR sort of kick-started into action and they were constantly going to the devastated areas and they were looking for programs. They were looking for partners and actors. So far, it was almost like consulting in a way. It was just like project base work. And that led me actually, that was the first time I heard about this term CSR or social impact in a sort of business from a business sense, but that led me to become very interested in the subject and there that led me to study it more.

[00:03:20] And then that led me to having the opportunity to put my hand up and apply for H&M. Funny thing was in my role in nonprofit, I had been giving a lecture on social impact and volunteering, and it was the CEO of H&M at the time that was in that room later, like six months down the line we met in the interview and she remembered me.

[00:03:42] And I think that was probably one of the reasons that I was hired. Because she had sort of seen me in action and was giving a speech on something. It was quite, I guess it's not a very traditional slide into the field, but also sustainability social impact. It's also quite a new sector. That I don't know many leaders in the field now that kind of went the traditional route. Like you study in university and maybe do an internship. And so that's just sort of how I ended up there. 

[00:04:11]Agata Solecka: [00:04:11] So can you tell us a bit more about the type of projects you did at, at H&M? 

[00:04:16] Angela Ortiz: [00:04:16] Absolutely. One of the first projects I was in charge of was their closed loop program. So they had launched this globally and it was their first consumer facing recycling program where customers could return unwanted items, not just H&M branded products, but any sort of textiles, even sheets, towels, et cetera.

[00:04:37] And H&M had a partnership with recycling. A global recycling company, and that allowed them to ensure that nothing was going into landfill or being burned. What I did for that was really step in and help global and local alignment. So in Japan, we named this project, it was called Close the Loop to the consumers, but for the employees, I named it Recycling.

[00:05:04] And we had to set up a huge education program because a lot of our employees didn't know why we were doing this. They didn't know what was happening. And because Japan is a developed country, you know, most of our employees had very little experience with no running water or what happens when water routes get contaminated?

[00:05:29] They don't understand a lot of the issues in the supply chain. They don't understand the, you know, the needs for strong human rights policies. So I basically had to visit every single shop. We had a thing. 70 shops around Japan at that time. And I spent almost a full year going to every single shop, having meetings with the manager, and having meetings with the recyclers.

[00:05:52] We set up, we put two in each store and these were designated employees that would know more than the average employee on our environmental and social sustainability. I also had to manage the logistics of how many kilos, how many tons, where we collect every year the way H&M had it set up, the partnership with the recycling company actually generated an income. So for every kilo, it wasn't a lot like, you know, it was a couple cents or something, but this income was in, like a charity account. And then we would donate that to an NPO you felt was, was within the scope of the problems that H&M was trying to find solutions for.

[00:06:35] Agata Solecka: [00:06:35]  Did I get the timeline correctly? You said this is some, some somewhere around 2010, 11. 

[00:06:40] Angela Ortiz: [00:06:40] No, this was 2016. Yeah. So I started in the non-profit sector in 2011 and then moved fully into the CSR corporate sector in 2016 January, actually. 

[00:06:54] Agata Solecka: [00:06:54] Okay. Okay. Cause I was going to say this sounds still very forward compared to what a lot of companies are doing at the moment now.

[00:07:02]It only feels like the major brands are catching on to you know, recycling, reusing pretty much now in 2020, 21, I can see it as more of a trend. So that's amazing that you were part of that. 

[00:07:20] Angela Ortiz: [00:07:20] So like just this morning I was reading some articles on this, and I noticed that on my social media feed of specifically like Facebook and Instagram, I am constantly seeing like ads for a, get your sustainability degree or look at it.

[00:07:32] My company is here. And I was thinking like, wow, when I started at H&M one, you didn't see any of that. And two, I remember being in rooms where people looked at me and was like, but why should we do this? Why is it important? So in addition to employee training, I did a lot of public speaking and working with stakeholders like our business partners, for example, our landlords, because we had very clear benchmarks from global on how to reduce our carbon footprint or reduce our energy intake and this required conversations with our landlords and different business partners that we had right.

In order to get them to cooperate so that we could achieve some of these goals. And at that time, you know, I was hit with that like, oh, well, it's very nice to do. It's very, like, very admirable that you want to do these things for the environment, but where's the business sense?

[00:08:21] Agata Solecka: [00:08:21] Have fun with your little project, right?

[00:08:28] Angela Ortiz: [00:08:28] Yeah, yeah. A lot, a lot of, sort of like head patting and nodding and and now it's like, I see all their mission statements on their websites and I'm kind of like, yeah but I told you!

[00:08:39] Agata Solecka: [00:08:39] At the same time it's one of those trends that you're really glad to see. And I really don't care. You know, what's the motivation. If the motivation is to look good for your customers or to go with the tide, it doesn't really matter. It's all about the fact that companies are making a real change and it's all thanks to the education and the perseverance of people like you, who were there at the very beginning saying, hello, it's high time that we start these kinds of initiatives.

Okay. So what came after H&M?

[00:09:14] Angela Ortiz: [00:09:14] So with Adidas, I moved there because there, the role they needed was someone to specifically create a strategy for Adidas Japan's CSR. And my heart really lies in strategy and the big picture thinking. And because I, through my nonprofit world, and then of course, with H&M I had a really large network and I was very excited about doing something.

[00:09:40] Like a cross-sector project that we could actually pick one issue and try to overcome that also the Olympics was on the horizon. And so I was excited about working with Adidas. Well, I've just been a fan since I was a kid. And so that was very exciting. So I moved into the business development team there and got to work like right with the CEOs.

[00:10:04]Sort of what they call in Japan, the [Japanese term], which is like the president's team. So we're helping him manage various aspects of the entire company. And it was really exciting for them to put sustainability right there at the top. And so for them, what I did, of course, I'm doing employee engagement. Again, they had a lot of projects using sports to rebuild communities in the north of Japan, where I was already working as a volunteer.

[00:10:30] So that was just like a dream come true to be able to support them in a much more powerful way, with a lot more money. You know, bigger names. We had athletes go up there and run workshops for the community. But one of the biggest things that I thought was really cool was because of my experience at H&M with this close the loop program, I was able to roll out the take back program for Adidas, Japan, which was essentially the same concept except Adidas was also accepting shoes, and that was really needed because H&M is in partnership with the German recycling company called I Collect, but they weren't able to recycle shoes. You know, the technology wasn't quite there yet because it's a lot more difficult to recycle shoes. And so we rolled that out and we were able to accept shoes as well.

[00:11:14] And that was just really cool. I felt like I was able to use all of my experience and help. I need us to make a bigger impact. 

[00:11:24] Agata Solecka: [00:11:24] Okay. Okay. I'm wondering, because at the beginning you mentioned I was already volunteering. There is now the right time to start talking about your volunteering work. I feel like it is.

[00:11:36] Angela Ortiz: [00:11:36] Sure. It's very intertwined. In 2011, I moved to Miyagi to work as a first responder. And we were doing things like delivering food and water. We worked alongside the Japan self-defense force to re-establish the lifeline for the displaced local races. In 2013. So two years later, we moved into economic enhancement.

[00:12:04] So we were working with companies and this is where I started to learn about CSR to help kickstart or rebuild the economy. So small businesses help get funds for farmers specifically. So also with the fishing industry. And then I realized as the infrastructure was rebuilt, the biggest need was to rebuild the community.

[00:12:24] So it's such a soft skill because they lost so many people. There was a massive emotional impact to the community and the survivors. So that's when I rebranded the organization to A Place To Grow, a community, building a nonprofit. And that was the same year that I moved into H&M. And so I went from a sort of more standard nonprofit or structure where I was getting a salary into a hundred percent nonprofit and we organized fitness events and language exchange events for children throughout the year. And then at the end of the year, we had a sort of a cross community project where schools would exchange greeting cards with. Families in the displaced areas and volunteers would go up there and sing and dance and eat cake and give out presents. And just like, just like a lot of inspiration to sort of help rebuild their, the emotional fabric of the company.

[00:13:25] So I continued this volunteer work as I was working for H&M. And then as I was working for Adidas and the ID does project, it was called the, it was a marathon like helping the city rebuild a marathon. It was literally like 20 kilometers north of where my nonprofit base is. 

[00:13:43] Agata Solecka: [00:13:43] Okay. So I know we're, we keep taking a step back here, but because our podcast is basically based in Poland and we have a lot of European listeners, mainly some in the US maybe because I'm sure, you know, all of our listeners know that in 2011, there was an earthquake in Japan, but maybe can you tell our listeners a bit more detail of what was the impact, where it was exactly and why you got involved in the process of the rebuilding of the community in the first place? 

[00:14:12] Angela Ortiz: [00:14:12] I will try to keep this short. Yeah, basically. Yes. So on March 11th, 2011, there was a huge earthquake off the coast of north Japan. We call that area a whole group and that sparked the largest tsunami in history. Basically in Japan, the earthquake was the fifth largest in the history of the world.

[00:14:32] The most financially devastating for Japan. But to give you a little bit of context, it actually moved the Earth's axis about five centimeters and the whole island of Japan was moved eight feet closer to California. So it was a catastrophic disaster that a tsunami came in. They were told it was going to be a high tsunami, like a big one, maybe six meters.

[00:15:00] What ended up happening in the highest reaching place? It was 40 meters high. So entire communities that were not even prepared for tsunamis, because usually they're not at risk. We're just swept away. And then the tsunami hit the nuclear reactor in Fukushima. And that exploded. So now we had a nuclear disaster on our hands, so there was basically three, there was an earthquake, a tidal wave and then a nuclear reactor had expired.

[00:15:30]In all there was about, I think it was just under 20,000 people that perished. And in the years after that almost I think it was like Fukushima that lost as many people. It was just about a thousand 500. They lost about 1,500 in that one town. But then the next year, because so much infrastructure was gone and people are living in such depressing situations. We lost the same amount of people to depression, to suicide, to ill health brought on by the emotional duress. It took them three years just to sweep up the rubble. And this year in the 10th year, they finally said, okay, we have recovered to a degree where everyone's out of temporary housing and has been able to be moved into government housing spaces now, but I cycled the coast last October and I still saw people living in temporary housing. And so needless to say it was one of the most devastating incidents for Japan after world war II is what the prime minister at the time said. I got involved because my parents live in the Northern City of the Japan island, the Honshu island.

And by chance, I knew someone in that town and had gotten in touch with him, had went down with a truck full of supplies, and then one thing just led to another and I ended up starting a nonprofit. 

[00:17:01] Agata Solecka: [00:17:01] Thank you. Thank you for that, because that really sets the tone, I think, for this conversation, and also explains your involvement in all of these initiatives. And this is very intense for a very, very small scale. I can only imagine the trauma that people have gone through. So. Even more respect to you for stepping in right away. And, and also not doing that just for a moment while everyone is talking about it. And while, you know, the most basic necessities are needed, but you also refocused your career at that point,  I have a feeling. 

[00:17:37] Angela Ortiz: [00:17:37] Yeah, completely. My background is in education, so I was a kindergarten teacher in Tokyo. Before this, but the, you know, the devastation was definitely like the catalyst for me to go, oh my God, what happened here? And I've never seen anything like it, it was so emotionally traumatizing.

[00:17:55] And then I think it was, you know, the hopelessness that made me continue on, but then I was also very surprised too. About how much I learned in those first couple months as a volunteer. And so there was also this sense of like, this is an opportunity for me to completely grow as a professional. And then who would have, you know, I could never have foreseen that that action would have led to me learning about sustainability and social impact. And then that eventually led to a completely new career. So I always looked at volunteering, not so much from a top down like aid or I'm here to help them, but there was so much for me to learn and so much benefit to my life from those actions. I mean, it was really difficult. Don't get me wrong.

[00:18:40] There were a lot of crazy stories and moments, but you can read about that in my book. Actually, there's a lot in that book about those years. If you want some crazy experience.

[00:18:50] Agata Solecka: [00:18:50] Absolutely. Yes. Yes. So just a reminder for all our listeners, the book is called “A Place to Grow. The Eight Principles that Will Make you an Effective Leader in Social Impact.”

[00:19:00]And I'm sure it's available on Amazon. It is. Yep. Okay. We've spoken about the Tsunami, the earthquake, the devastation that we spoke about your first steps in CSR, H and M Adidas and fast forward to, to that moment now what happens after Adidas? Where, where does your career go? 

[00:19:27] Angela Ortiz: [00:19:27] So with Adidas, another thing that I really worked on for them, as I mentioned in the beginning, right, was that cross sector, stakeholder engagement.

[00:19:35] Of course, the company's agenda was to be seen as a leader in sustainability and the best way to do that was to get out there and start talking to people about what we wanted to do and how we wanted to move forward. Now COVID really came and changed all of that. A lot of the programs. I spent almost two years building, you know, building relationships with the Japanese government, for example, and the different prefectures.

[00:19:58] It was all gone. Everything was canceled, everything was pushed back. And in that process also the restructuring of the company. So I left just a few months ago though. It's just been, it was March of this year that I resigned and one of the things I am. Let's say one of the challenges of corporate social responsibility is that along with the things that are in my like zone of my genius zone, you know, like I think in, in corporate, they call us like your, your, your area of expertise.

[00:20:28]In, along with all of that, you have to do a lot of the stuff. You know, a lot of the admin work, a lot of the meetings after meetings, trying to convince people that this is the direction we should go in. So I was a little bit relieved to say, oh, well, I don't have to do this anymore. I'm moving into consulting.

[00:20:45] So I founded the strata, kissed corporate consulting and strata kiss stem stands for it's like a mix between strategy and techniques. Because I saw a need in the corporate world for people to actually have techniques. There's a lot of strategy around sustainability and we have a lot of moonshots to go, you know, a hundred percent circular and renewable.

[00:21:05] We have moonshots for going carbon free or, you know, reducing our carbon footprint by 2030. But your average corporate manager has absolutely no techniques or know how to implement those. So that's, what I'm moving into right now is to help pinpoint more like on a project base companies that already have a vision, and now they they're just looking for some of that.

[00:21:32] Like, how do we actually do this? What are those techniques we can use? Whether that is, how do I get my, you know, my leadership involved or how do we create a public face on this stakeholder engagement? That's something that a lot of people struggle with. Sectors how to work with, let's say like the governments, because they work on a very different sort of rhythm than corporates.

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