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A Career of Responsibility – and Collaboration

How would you define CSR?

I believe that corporate responsibility is about the principles and beliefs that guide how a company responds to or engages with broader society. CSR is an opportunity for companies to demonstrate their higher purpose, mission and comprehensive values, and can also foster employee pride and motivation – as well as provide opportunities to connect meaningfully with stakeholders and customers.

Is CSR for just anyone?

Some who love the idea of CSR end up struggling with the part of the job that is often embedded into a corporate hierarchy, somewhat removed from “the ground” – local communities and people. At the same time, there are those who never imagined themselves in the private sector or in a CSR role who discover how to effectively leverage the corporation and position themselves to help make some big changes in the world from a business angle. . I’d say I fall somewhere in-between. I certainly never thought I would end up directing CSR for a company in the pharma sector. My original plan was to head to New York and become a lawyer! But what has not changed is my sense that I have a responsibility to give back to my community - both global and local. I am thrilled to be living out my own personal sense of mission, in alignment with Catalent’s.

How did you enter the CSR sector?

The event that changed the course of my career came out of the blue. One of the deans of the University of Texas (where I was studying) asked me to lead a volunteer project aimed at improving local community relations on behalf of the university. The project involved hundreds of students, City of Austin representatives and community members, and became the largest day of service in the university’s history (at that time). Through my participation in the project, I realized that I enjoyed (and had a knack for) organizing large, multi-faceted projects – and developing relationships with people and forming teams to get the job done. I have since come to realize that connecting and bringing together different people from different sectors and various walks of life is hugely important for international development, local community-building and CSR. I learned powerful lessons about listening and creating space for those who don’t always have a megaphone or voice to speak and take part in social programs.

Instead of law, I chose to study non-profit management at New York University. And I really caught the international development bug during my thesis project, which included developing a strategic plan for a hospital in Mozambique. At the same time, I landed my first CSR role working for The McGraw Hill Companies, where I was able to launch the first “global volunteer day” for the corporation.

After graduating, I had to choose between making my CSR job permanent, or doing something different. In the end, I decided that I was still young, had a lot to learn, and that the world was a big place – so I decided to join the US Peace Corps. This led me away from the concrete jungle to a village in Bolivia – quite a change! The project involved working with local communities, municipalities and businesses to foster economic development, and gave me an understanding of what it is to be a citizen of another society and community.

After my Peace Corps service closed, another opportunity came my way when an organization called UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) – whom I had worked with on the Mozambique hospital project – asked me cultivate and implement a $75-million partnership between the United Nations Foundation, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and UMCOR. The aim was to reduce death and illness from malaria as part of a greater maternal and child health strategy in Africa. It was a real eye opener. First, I learned the value of partnership and cooperation, working with ministries of health, non-government organizations, donors, and corporates. And second, the malaria program shaped UMCOR’s health sustainability strategy, meaning that not only did we work to fight malaria in Africa directly, but did so by investing in local leadership and health infrastructure, and by building and connecting national teams who led the programs on a country-by-country level. The impact was real – we demonstrated that lives could be spared and improved with our health programs. And I realized that there is no better professional achievement than to prove that you can promote life.

I worked for UMCOR for seven years before deciding, after so many years of travel and intense humanitarian work, that it was time to transition and grow into another professional direction. It just so happened that a former boss was now head of CSR at S&P Global (SPGI). As part of their re-branding process, the company was launching a new, aligned CSR strategy and they had an opening. Despite being out of CSR for a decade, I went for it. I wanted to see if I could take what I had learned across the world in international development – especially as it relates to partnership-building and working with local communities – apply it, and make some impact through the ever-evolving CSR sector, which had changed quite a bit in a decade!

Two years later, Catalent reached out – and I’m now responsible for building up the CSR strategy of a company that went public only three years ago. The Catalent opportunity was incredibly interesting to me because the leadership was convincingly committed. In addition to more deeply engaging our communities and demonstrating Catalent’s commitment to improving health and the environment, I look forward to helping us more meaningfully connect to employees, customers, and stakeholders. It was a thrill to return to the global health sector. Healthcare is such an important sector; companies in this space have unique capabilities to make an incredible difference to people’s lives. We will be formally announcing the new CSR strategy very soon, but as a top-line preview, I am hoping to continue what I (and Catalent) have been doing for a long time: promoting better, healthier lives. There will be three areas of activity that will drive our strategy, including supporting local communities and organizations, minimizing our impact on the environment, and leveraging our Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative (PSCI) membership to further develop and execute our environmental strategy.

What do you think are the most important aspects of CSR?

In many ways, we as a global community and business sector are still grappling with “the basics,” as outlined by the ten Principles of the UN Global Compact: human & labor rights, environmental responsibility and corruption. So at a minimum, proactively honoring the principles – and holding suppliers and customers accountable – is what businesses must strive for when fulfilling their leadership role in greater society. Going beyond the minimum, I think companies in the healthcare space are uniquely placed to solve many social problems, and contribute to decreasing poverty and improving economic and market opportunities by helping people live healthier lives. 

Through my time in international development, I’ve learned that real change is only possible though collaboration – charity and philanthropy alone are never enough to address the systemic, root causes of social ills and poverty that impact us all.

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About the Author
Shannon Trilli

Shannon Trilli is Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Catalent.

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