AG: I’m the Director of Partnerships at Pearson, leading our engagement with organisations focused on addressing the world’s biggest global education challenges, particularly those affecting underserved and marginalized communities. These organisations tend to be UN and donor agencies, NGOs, and multi-stakeholder initiatives like the Global Business Coalition for Education, Global Partnership for Education, and World Economic Forum. In addition to managing relations with these stakeholders, I build strategic partnerships that leverage Pearson assets and competencies, in order to extend our social impact and create business value.
Much of my job is externally-facing, but I also support Pearson’s leadership to develop frameworks for managing partnerships in the countries where we operate. For example, my team led a stakeholder mapping effort to identify the organisations and issues we should be prioritizing across key markets. And we recently concluded a social impact assessment in one of our key geographies, looking at how our operations have influenced the education system, supported job creation, and improved access to education for low-income communities.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
AG: I love operating at the convergence of social impact and business strategy, making the case to leaders both inside and outside of Pearson that partnerships and ‘shared value’ models are the most sustainable way for us to make a contribution to improving global education for the most marginalized. That’s what motivates me and gets me out of bed in the morning.
Delivering real social impact goes beyond donations, causes, and giving programs – though of course these are important – to understanding the needs of underserved communities where we operate, and adapting our business practices and processes to meet those needs effectively. It’s not easy, and partnerships are essential to make it work, but I believe this kind of social innovation will ultimately deliver more significant social and business returns.
I’m also a people person, and one of the greatest perks of my job is the opportunity to work collaboratively with many different business units, as well as with a variety of external partners. When I think of ‘my team’, I imagine people from all over the world, both across the company and in NGOs, governments, and other organizations. I really value that diversity, the richness of being able to access different voices and perspectives.
BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?
AG: Ha! Explaining what I do is always a challenge! Many people (still) assume my work is about philanthropy, but a large part of my ‘every day’ is about changing mindsets, and challenging the way people think about the role a multinational company like Pearson can play in improving development and education outcomes around the world.
Another challenge I have faced – in many jobs – is balancing the need to institutionalize partnerships inside an organization, with the need to sustain and nurture the personal relationships through which those partnerships form. Too often, the value of personal relationships is undersestimated in this field of work. I believe finding the right balance is crucial if partnerships are really to thrive and succeed. What makes this difficult is that the balance is different for different people, institutions, and relationships. But that’s also what makes it fun.
BFP: What has been the secret of your success? / What advice can you give others?
AG: While ‘shared value’ partnerships are becoming more mainstreamed, the reality is that this is still an emerging field of work. It is therefore important to find pockets of great people who understand its potential, and use them as advocates in advancing the agenda.
Internal champions are particularly critical for success. In almost everything I do, whether it is developing a strategy, scoping a partner, or building a new project, I try to enlist support from a senior-level champion inside the company. This could be a global executive, a country president, or a business unit head. The important thing is to convince someone who makes – and influences – big decisions inside the company that a particular piece of ‘socially-focused’ work has the potential to add real business value.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do – where do they start?
AG: There is no right path. After studying music in college and European affairs in graduate school, I essentially fell into business partnerships work during a brief stint at UNESCO early in my career. The experience made me realize there is huge, untapped potential for social impact in the corporate sector. I was hooked. My peers have come from business, academia, non-profits, and just about all over. Some have held roles in communications or project management, others in sales or product development.
The skills I find critical to do my job include the ability to: empathise and communicate; interpret complex situations; project manage from end-to-end; and ultimately, create opportunities out of chaos. Diplomacy is important because of the need to negotiate different perspectives, motivations and intentions in order to arrive at a set of common goals among partners. Exposure to and understanding of both business and development issues are also incredibly helpful.
BFP: Finally, What do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?
AG: Business Fights Poverty is unique in that it brings together people committed to the role of business in development. The community of professionals is incredible – a core crowd of intelligent people who are truly passionate about this issue. What ties us all together is an aspiration to mainstream and evolve the notion of business for social good. And we’re all just a click away from each other.
BFP is a go-to source of information for me – I follow BFP on Twitter, enjoy the weekly updates, and look forward to insights from business and other leaders via blogs, webinars and BFP-supported events. Because the BFP platform curates cutting-edge thinking on the issues most relevant to my work, it’s at the top of my list of great resources. And of course, Pearson is a proud supporter of the ‘Education Zone’.
Thank you to Amanda Gardiner for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.