Undergraduate students Qibin Jin and Dhivyan Karunakaran, class of 2020, interviewed Emmy Lang-Kennedy, MBA '13 as part of their 2019 Impact Ambassador Experience with the Center for Social Value Creation at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Q: Could you tell us about yourself and the path that brought you to where you are today?
A: My path is grounded in how I grew up. My parents’ careers were about helping people in different ways, so that shaped my outlook on the world. In high school, I was involved in a youth group at my church that did a lot of community service. A project we did with Habitat for Humanity had a really big impact on how I thought about what I wanted to do with the world.
For my undergraduate education, I went to Earlham College, a small Quaker liberal arts college in Indiana, which had a strong foundation in social justice and was globally focused. I had the opportunity to study abroad in Senegal. At that point, I thought I wanted to be a photojournalist, as I wanted to shed light on injustices through photography. Later, I decided I wanted to make an impact from a more systems-based approach, so I decided to major in international studies and minor in economics.
When I finished college, I received a yearlong fellowship from Mercy Corps, a large international development nonprofit organization, to work on their youth programming. Afterwards, I wanted to gain more field experience, so I joined the Peace Corps. As a small business volunteer, I worked with small businesses in a small town in Senegal for over 2 years. I taught business classes at a women’s vocational school and worked with a group of women who sold juice and jelly products.
When I came back to the United States after completing my time in Peace Corps, I worked at IREX, an international development nonprofit where I worked in new business development. My time in the Peace Corps taught me how business could be an agent of change in communities, so I decided to go back to business school. The Smith School’s Center for Social Value Creation and unique focus on creating impact attracted me to the Smith School for my MBA. At Smith, I was the president of the Net Impact chapter and worked at the Center for Social Value Creation. Also, I did a Social Ventures internship at Western Union. After I earned my MBA, I joined Deloitte’s Government & Public Sector practice because I wanted to learn how organizations work, and help organizations function better. Additionally, I wanted to gain a variety of experiences and skills. I have been at Deloitte for more than 5 years and am now a Manager.
Recently, I actually completed a six-month sabbatical, one of Deloitte’s benefits! I used that time to do pro-bono work for Earlham College and became a yoga teacher! In the future, I aspire to focus more on the people-side of change by helping leaders manage large-scale change, and incorporate wellbeing and wellness into the workplace.
Q: How do you think the position you are in creates social value in a company or in society?
A: Within Deloitte, we focus a lot on people and creating a diverse, equitable workplace. There has been a lot of discussion within the firm, and focus by myself as a Manager, on how to ensure that employees with different cultural experiences, socioeconomic backgrounds, and roles outside the workplace (e.g. as a parent, a caregiver for sick parents/siblings, etc.) have access to the same opportunities. Progressive policies, such as family leave, have been implemented at Deloitte to address these issues, and we hope these initiatives will set a standard in the industry and support employees in not having to choose between life and contributing at work.
For clients, I strive to use my skills to create systems that enable clients to focus on implementing their mission and make the use of public funds more equitable and efficient.
Q: How did your Peace Corps experience prepare you for the work you do at Deloitte?
A: First, I think my Peace Corps experience made me resourceful. I developed a strong understanding of the limited resources I had at my disposal and was able to effectively use them when needed. Whenever my team at Deloitte faces a problem, I always bring two or more solutions to the table, and I encourage my colleagues to do the same. Additionally, I learned how to communicate better and work with people who were different than myself. While in Senegal, I was different than everyone else in my community. Hence, I learned a lot about cross-cultural communication and non-verbal communication, which has helped me read people better. Finally, my Peace Corps experience has built a big network for me. Washington, D.C. has a large Peace Corps alumni network, and that has been a great support system that I have been able to learn from.
Q: How did your Smith School experience prepare you for the work you are doing at Deloitte?
A: Before coming to Smith, I had supervised others at my jobs, but I had never led a team. Now, I am constantly leading teams at work. I may not always be an expert in the topic we are working on, but I can bring people in who have that expertise. I was able to use Smith as a lab to test and build my team leadership skills. As president of the Net Impact chapter, I led a team of ten people to execute big events, bring in speakers, manage a budget, and utilize people’s diverse skill sets to achieve the best outcome possible. Additionally, prior to coming to Smith, I had a liberal arts background, so I took as many quantitative courses at Smith as I could, including data modeling with spreadsheets, market forecasting, and valuation. Basically everything Dr. Lele taught! These courses helped me build language around problem-solving, especially as Deloitte consultants use a hypothesis-based approach towards consulting.
Q: How does your perspective on social impact tie in with your career aspirations?
A: I constantly think about where I find purpose. My purpose can change depending on the circumstances I am in. Sometimes my purpose may be the implementation of a mission I am passionate about. At other times, my purpose may be to create a strong team environment or help clients move forward in their careers. Overall, my passion is to use my skills to make organizations better. The millennial workforce is really focused on the end impact of what they are doing, and they want to see and understand that. In my career, I have been able to translate that focus to people on my teams. For example, my last client was the IRS. The IRS is the accounts receivable for the US government. The government provides several essential services with these funds. I helped my team understand that the work we were doing would improve the IRS’s hiring processes and contribute to refunds that would go back to people and communities. Because I have a foundation in social value creation, I help my teams understand the impact of our work and keep that at the forefront.
Q: What is the most common mistake organizations make when implementing social impact initiatives?
A: Not connecting the initiative to their business and its expertise. Social impact initiatives are much more sustainable if they are directly related to the business’ mission. For example, Deloitte has strong initiatives around veterans, such as hiring veterans. It benefits Deloitte to have skilled people in our workforce, and it helps veterans integrate into the workforce. Deloitte also does a lot of philanthropic initiatives for veterans because Deloitte wants to attract veterans to the company while making a positive impact on society. It is important for companies to make employees understand how social impact initiatives support the company’s mission to motivate employees to engage in these initiatives, making them last.
Q: Could you describe your current community involvement?
A: I am really driven by connection to my local community. I volunteer with DC Greens, which is a program organized by the Washington, D.C. city government that makes shopping at farmers markets less expensive for low-income residents. The program runs on the weekends through farmers markets and during the week through volunteers. DC Greens encourages farmers markets to go to communities where their customer base may not be strong, and it encourages communities to shop at farmers markets. I also teach yoga and have used my yoga skills to raise money for local non-profits through donation-based classes.
Q: What advice do you have for students like us who want to pursue social impact within an organization even if we do not work for a strictly impact-focused company or have a strictly impact-focused role?
A: I would recommend understanding how and why decisions are made in your organization and asking “Why?”. Be a voice for what the end impact is. Bring in new ideas. Ask about the assumptions or the reasons used to make decisions. Is the goal always to maximize efficiency or are there other benefits we can derive? How can we measure those benefits and report them? If you are in a supply chain role, this could mean vetting vendors’ facilities and evaluating the content of the products. If you are in a finance role, this could mean suggesting that part of the portfolio be invested in renewable energy. Asking key questions and bringing new voices to the table are extremely important and can have an impact regardless of your role.