Outstanding Corporate Citizenship Awards Finalist Interview with Robin Portman, Executive Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton
1. Why do you believe CSR strategy is important for a company/you?
CSR is important, because essentially we all share the same road. Booz Allen has an obligation to be a good corporate citizen in the communities in which we operate and in which our employees live. There’s a lot of evidence that proves that the most successful businesses are the ones that that incorporate good corporate citizenship into day to day operations. When we sign on to help ease some of the burdens in our communities, we’re helping our neighbors, our employees, and working to create a better environment for all of us. And our staff are committed corporate citizens who want to work for a company that makes CSR a key corporate priority--- they enjoy being deeply involved in the firm’s CSR efforts.
2. Do you believe that the CSR work you participate in should be affiliated with the work you/your company does? For example, should an Oil company’s CSR be in cleaning up oil spills?
We have tremendous impact when we align our CSR with our business mission. As a company, we make it our mission to solve our clients’ toughest challenges. When we apply that experience and expertise to making a difference in our communities—it’s a powerful intersection. We support charitable programs in several key areas, including Health, Human Services, Military & Veterans, and Youth & Education—areas that closely align with our business mission. For example, our work in support of military and veterans causes through initiatives like the Wounded Warrior Mentor Program, USO-Metro, and Operation Homefront, is closely aligned to the firm’s work with clients like the Department of Defense.
One example of our CSR aligning with our business is in the firm’s partnerships with nonprofits that promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. At Booz Allen, STEM is the foundation of everything we do. So we’re invested in developing a strong pipeline of future STEM professionals through our participation in events like Discover Family Engineering Day and programs like FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Booz Allen provides financial, board and volunteer support to FIRST and sponsors a number of FIRST Robotics Competitions in the region—including the regional competition at George Mason University in Fairfax.
3. What makes you/your company stand out compared to other individuals/companies participating in CSR?
Community engagement has been embedded in Booz Allen’s culture for more than 100 years, and our employees are passionate about giving back. A differentiator for us is that, in addition to our strategic alignments, we also align our resources with the interests of our staff, empowering them to be catalysts for change. Our people help us identify the programs that will have meaningful results and lasting impacts, and as employees personally commit to serve socially responsible causes, the firm backs them up with corporate resources. In 2014, our employees volunteered a record 152,713 hours nationwide, including 34,611 hours in support of 290 nonprofits in the Northern Virginia region—as part of our 100th year “Centennial Community Challenge.” We don’t just write a check to good causes, we choose to support those things that inspire our employees themselves to participate. This employee-centric approach is an integral component to the Booz Allen corporate giving and philanthropy philosophy.
4. Do you believe contributing back to the community allows you/your company to have a deeper connection with your/its consumers?
Booz Allen was founded on the belief that helping our clients succeed requires a human touch, and our founding partners advocated that each person has a responsibility to support his or her community.
Working to have a positive impact in our communities is a core value at Booz Allen, and certainly our work with non-profits—particularly those that support veterans and wounded warriors—gives us a deeper connection to our clients. The Department of Defense is one of the firm’s biggest clients, and there is no better way to feel personally connected to the Department’s mission than to spend time with wounded warriors and military families.
For four years, the firm has been a sponsor of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NWG), put on by the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the VA. Many of our employees have volunteered at this rehabilitative program for military service veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries. More than 500 wounded veterans participate in the NWG each year in more than 15 different sporting events.
Booz Allen also sponsors and provides employee support to other adaptive sports related programs for disabled veterans such as the National Veterans Winter Sports Clinic where I volunteered in March and the 150-mile Face of America Ride from DC to Gettysburg that I participated in two years ago.
As volunteers, Booz Allen employees have the opportunity to witness the strength and perseverance of the men and women who participate in these events. In my experience, getting to know these athletes and their families is essential to understanding the importance and reach of our work in support of the Department of Defense.
5. What are some events or causes that inspire you and your team?
As someone who has worked on behalf of military and veteran clients for many years, the firm’s work with TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) comes to mind as particularly inspiring to me. We’ve supported this Northern Virginia-based nonprofit—that offers compassionate care to those grieving the death of a loved one serving in our Armed Forces— for 4 years. We recently completed a 2-year pro bono consulting project valued at $200,000 to assist in evaluating the impact of their important programs. Booz Allen also supports TAPS’ Good Grief Camps for children who have lost a parent, its “Run and Remember” fundraising event, and more. TAPS has helped more than 50,000 families since 1994, and we’re proud to support this important work.
Recently, the firm has supported the Elizabeth Dole Foundation (EDF) in its mission to uplift American military caregivers by strengthening the services afforded to them through innovation, evidence-based research, and collaboration. In February the firm hosted “Hidden Heroes: Military Caregiving in the United States,” an event to address the pressing needs of our nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers— the spouses, siblings, parents and friends of wounded warriors who are responsible for their care. It was an honor for me to serve as a facilitator at this event and to help develop actionable, sustainable solutions to the most pressing problems faced by military caregivers and I’m flattered to have been asked by Senator Dole herself to continue to provide advisory support to the EDF in a board member role.
6. What advice would you give to individuals/companies trying to participate in CSR?
Within Booz Allen, we will often refer to a quote shared by one of our founding partners, Jim Allen, “Activity and participation—those are the keys. There are many things in which to participate: community affairs, schools, clubs, welfare organizations, professional and industrial groups. Choose wisely, but participate.”
I think this statement remains as relevant today—more so even—then when Mr. Allen originally said it. The stability and vibrancy of our communities is the framework upon which our society exists—and in order for us to thrive, our communities need to thrive. We each have an obligation to act within our spheres of influence—as individuals, and as corporate leaders, to ensure that we’re doing our part.