I acknowledge that I’m insignificant in comparison to what needs to change, but if I don’t make a start, then I’m worse than insignificant because I’m doing nothing.

Giovanna Jagger – Co-founder, WokenUp

WokenUp is a new, purpose-led global social network, which has been created to help drive positive social and environmental change. Action-focused and built around the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it provides an opportunity for individuals, companies and not-for-profits to work together and give back to the causes that matter to them.

Co-founder Giovanna Jagger talks about being a woman, an immigrant and the importance of letting go of the past, so that you can create a better future.

Tell us a little about your backstory…the people, places and experiences that have helped shape you.

“I’m originally from Bolivia in South America, where I completed a degree in Social Communications.

I come from a family of strong women, who are financially independent. My grandmother was a real matriarch of our family, and my mother has always run her own business – I don’t know how she did this in South America – but she did.”

“You’ve got to be willing to do the most boring things you’ll ever do in your life.”

“My career started in the UK. My first role was a supporting role. I say to my 18-year old, if you aren’t willing to learn and have the patience to do the most boring things you’ll ever do in your life, you cannot lead teams because you need to know what it’s like.

I learnt all about British office life; it’s very unique…the tea, the breaks, the conversations. Living in South America, you have an idea what European life is like but the reality is very different. Here in Britain the differences are quite noticeable.”

“I’ve worked with lots of different people some were memorable, and some I hope to forget about one day.”

“Coming from another country in my 20s, I had to deal with a lot of things that I’d not been exposed to before.

There were times when people thought it was OK to make fun that I had an accent. And, the experience of being a woman in an office – I hadn’t planned for that. How men referred to other women, how they spoke about me; it was wrong, it was inappropriate.

So, I had to think – OK I’m very different from a lot of people here, I have an accent, I’m from another country, I’m female. And it wasn’t always men, women can be very critical of one another, too…”

“There was this one time when my team leader told me to dress down, because people thought I was senior to her. The very next day I bought more suits.”

“But all this showed me the type of business leader I didn’t want to be. My biggest fear is if I ever realised that I’d said or done something that had put someone off from wanting to progress. That would be the worst thing.”

“Right now, with everything that’s going on with racial concerns and inequality, you can get caught up in how you’re told you are. If you believe in who you are, you can see beyond those comments.”

“Sometimes people get so consumed by the anger of what they’re trying to change, nothing moves forward. If I’d got stuck on the fact that people used to make fun about my accent and ask me to make the tea at meetings all the time, then I could have felt, Oh that’s my role in life.

I have been very privileged, so lucky, and given every opportunity in this country – I’ve taken it all in my stride. So people were stupid and made silly comments, so what? We need to let go, otherwise we get held back by the things we carry around with us.”

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) often gets accused of ‘green-washing’ or ‘purpose-washing’, what do you say to that?

Image by Boxed Water Is Better on Unsplash

“I believe in the role of CSR; that you can make an impact to your bottom line, at the same time as making a social impact. I’ve no problem with companies having a purpose and making profit. It is part of what we do, whether an individual or a company, we all have to pay our bills.

As long as you are working on something that you believe makes a difference, and makes you happy. And, we all have to start somewhere – every action counts.

We expect a lot from corporates because they have money; there is a lot of corporate bashing. But the money has to come from somewhere – without money the UN SDGs cannot be delivered. And, whilst there is a lot of bad leadership, it’s not the majority.

We can’t just criticise. We also have to praise them for whatever they are doing, and then ask what do you want to do next? That is how corporates deliver real social impact.”

“Everyone wants to work with the Patagonias of this world, but we have to work with the Shells, the BPs and the H&Ms – everybody needs help to be able give back.”

“Corporates sometimes don’t know how to give back. How to create a strategy that allows them to give back without comprising their bottom line, which is a big part of what they are doing not just for them, but for their employees and the wider community.

Shell has over 80,000 employees but if you look at the number of indirect jobs Shell creates, it’s much larger. So a lot of families livelihoods, directly or indirectly depend on the company. We are also important to pensions, for example, pensioners in northern England who trusted their funds to invest in the company.

Rahul Malhotra – Head of Brand Strategy, Shell

“People don’t want to accept that there is a bigger picture here; it’s a journey. We need to work with them and understand where the pressures are – why they do the things they do.

The supply chain is the most difficult area, because you don’t have access to the decision-making.

Two of the biggest things corporates can do is combine CSR and procurement into one team, so they can do responsible sourcing. And also, ESD (Education for Sustainable Development); take it to the people who need it most, and take the time to educate supply chains on human rights.

The other aspect is identifying the right tech, like AI and Blockchain, to help organisations move their strategy forward, and create greater impact and purpose.”

There has been much talk about how individuals, business and society should use the pandemic as an opportunity to drive positive change, and ‘Build Back Better’. Do you think this is happening, and how can WokenUp help with this?

“I’ve asked a number of organisations if money is not an issue, and resources are not an issue, what’s stopping you from giving back more to society? The most common answer is stakeholder engagement, and you can break that down into employees, customers and investors.

We need to understand that people have different ideas about what giving back means.

There’s so often a cultural aspect that influences that, for example the way NGOs are treated in this country versus other regions – sometimes what communities need is not necessarily funding, they need time to understand them, and their needs.”

“You have to make it about something other than yourself, it frees you. I constantly ask myself the question – is it for me or for my son?”

“I started to see that younger generations were rising up to the challenge about what sort of future they wanted for themselves.

People like me in their 40’s have a responsibility to be leaders to them, but also work with them towards creating a sensible framework where they can deliver projects and see the impact they are making. Otherwise they are just fighting and screaming about all the things they care about, but none of it is landing.”

Image via WokenUp

“WokenUp is about helping people with shared goals to collaborate and learn from each other, and was born out of a specific need to have a more positive relationship with social media.”

“I don’t want to be where everyone is bashing each other with their opinions. WokenUp is a place where we can stop listening to the rubbish that’s going on in social media, and focus on legacy and purpose.”

“People have so much to think about at the moment, what are the causes I really care about? How can I get involved? How do I connect with similar people? Who do I buy from?

Education is key to what WokenUp is all about, you have to educate people on the SDGs. We can help each other by sharing knowledge that’s going to be helpful, and help people change their behaviour.”

Image via WokenUp

“The UN SDGs are at the heart of WokenUp. It’s an incredible framework, and the more you understand it, the more you can see the difference you can make – even at a personal level.

You can decide who you want to work for based on what causes you care most about, or see that you are contributing to SDG 3 by going to the gym and keeping fit, so you don’t have to use the NHS for every little thing. It’s about everyday decisions.

And for businesses that are on the SDG journey, WokenUp can help to communicate your progress in real-time; smaller initiatives as they are happening, and get feedback without waiting for your next sustainability report.

It is a space that allows people and organisations to talk about the good things that they’re doing, stories that are so often lost in amongst all the bad news.”

You’ve talked about being a woman in business, and about being a mother. What role do you think women can play in all of this, and what support do they need right now?

“You look at the female leaders who have done well with the Covid crisis, and they are allocating their success to empathy. I don’t know if it is innate in us, if it is a maternal thing. But I know if I have ever seen someone in need of anything, I go to it straight away.

If you think about that on a larger scale when you are a leader of a country, and you have that instinct, you are going to just act in that way.

I have also worked with men who have similar attributes; some male leaders have looked out for me in the way a father would.

With my co-founder Simon, I’ve never felt more listened to, respected, supported and appreciated.”

“He gives me space to expand, and when you have that it frees you to give back, because you know someone is looking out for you.”

“We all have the capacity to do that for one another, I don’t know why we don’t do it more.

Mentoring is a great way to do it. You can offer mentoring through your WokenUp profile and make it easy for people to find the help they need.”

“Being a migrant, being a woman. Those were my areas of vulnerability, but they are now my areas of strength.”

“It’s not always about mentoring somebody that’s in the same industry. I thought about the areas that could have held me back…because I’m a migrant, because I’m a woman. I can use that to help push other women forward.

I have signed up for Migrant Leaders, to try and help others like me who want to progress in their professional lives in this country. I can mentor online and help them build their business, from just sharing what I know. Things that they would not necessarily learn at university.”

“Us women need to constantly come up with ways to support one and other, otherwise we are easily left behind.”

“Mentoring other women is also important to me. So I’m involved with One World Women as their Impact Director; an international women’s charity for female entrepreneurs in Western Africa.”

Image via One World Women

“I believe we can learn from each other. It doesn’t matter what age we are – I learn from younger women, too. We must pass on what we’ve learnt through our experience.

Don’t wait. Just do it whenever you can.

Right now, I’m working more hours than I’ve ever done, but I purposely make time to spend with my family. Professionally, I’ve never been happier with new challenges everyday – and it helps to remember who I’m doing this all for.”

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