By Cassi Lowe
Jane Randel, and her partner Robbie Karp, are merging corporate interests with social initiatives to help companies create maximum impact. Their decades of corporate experience give them unique insight into how companies can fulfil their purpose.
Taking a stand on issues is no longer optional for businesses. As Jane mentions, taking your message out to the world can be risky, but the reward is usually greater.
Read the interview with Jane below to learn more about her insights on balancing business and social impact.
Tell me about your business.
My business partner and I formed Karp Randel a little over four years ago. I had worked in the corporate space, in communications, for 22 years at Liz Claiborne, and Robbie Karp, my business partner, had also worked there for 22 years in a variety of senior roles including general counsel, business development, [public affairs], and compliance. We naturally worked very closely together and started creating the social responsibility function at the company. There was a lot of mutual respect and we always stayed very close friends.
So after I left the company when there was a change of control, I was trying to decide what I wanted to do, figuring out if I wanted to stay in corporate communications. Through lots of circumstances, I ended up working with the NFL right after the issue around domestic violence came to light, and realized that social impact was much more of my passion.
Robbie was running a family foundation, and foundation work is slower, and she’s fast-paced. And I said, “Why don’t we just do something together, because I’d much rather work with somebody than alone.” And lo and behold, here we are.
So what type of work do you do? It looks like you do consulting on integrating more social impact into corporations, is that right?
We primarily work with corporations, and we really do a range of work around ESG — we say we’re the S. We’re much more about the social piece of ESG work. We’re very fortunate, all of our clients are very large, well-known international brands. We’ve created social impact programs for some, and worked with others to help realign their foundation to be consistent with their corporate purpose and support what the company is all about. On the programmatic side, we’re working with Uber now around their efforts around sexual assault and gender-based violence on the platform globally. Our work on the foundation side is sometimes about re-energizing a foundation and other times it’s, almost restarting them from scratch.
I would say the one thing, the differentiator between us and others is that we both worked in corporate America for decades. So we think like business people. Which, to me, is a little bit different, if you’ve not worked this space. Our approach is maybe similar mechanically, but it comes out much different, because of the background that we bring to it.
It’s been really interesting, and a lot of fun.
How did you first get started with that? What made you decide to go into this space or do this type of work in particular?
When I was at Liz Claiborne, I was very fortunate to inherit our cause marketing program, which was around domestic violence, and had a ton of autonomy. We kept with this issue, and we became known for it. Because it was cause marketing, it was always about creating programs, creating content, creating whatever was needed to get our message across. But it was something tangible. And through that work, a colleague and I started what is now an international non-profit called No More, which brings domestic violence and sexual assault together.
And again, I was working at the company, and all of this happened with the support of the company and my CEO and my management. And so between that, and the work Robbie and I did together in the early 90s, on the sweatshop issue, I was immersed in CSR. Liz Claiborne was one of the first companies to get called out, but it was all about the way it was handled and how the company addressed it. Ultimately became about how the industry addressed it. In this case, companies and government and consumer organizations, worked together, figuring out standards for how to treat workers overseas, etc.
And it was all that work on labor conditions that informed a lot of our approach to the things we do now, and my approach when around creating No More. Social responsibility has always been the better part of my job.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned throughout your career so far?
Biggest lesson I’ve learned, I think it’s more of a life lesson: If you don’t ask, you won’t get it — whatever “it” is You must learn to ask a question or advocate for yourself. Don’t assume that you know what someone’s answer will be.
Learning or giving yourself permission to ask the question has been traditionally more of a problem for women than for men in the workplace. I think that’s changing. For sure it could be hard to ask the questions, but again, if you don’t, you won’t get the opportunities.
What advice would you give to social entrepreneurs?
Social entrepreneur is one of those words where it could mean almost anything. You know, when you’re working with somebody who is running a business and has a purpose, either the bottom line is going to be the purpose, or the bottom line is going to be the business. In my experience, if you look at companies who are trying to do good, big companies or small, there is a big push-pull between being socially responsible and successful in a business.
I’m not saying it’s impossible; I think you need to go in understanding that there’s a push-pull and it’s what makes certain social entrepreneurs so successful, honestly. You have to stick to your principles one way or another, but understand that something sometimes has to give, and it’s just a matter of making choices.
Sometimes people are hesitant to put the business first, but then they struggle, because they don’t have the funds and the money they need to make the impact.
It can be a very hard. Especially for the younger generation, I think, where business is a bad word. There is still always that tension. And it’s what makes us better. Tension, I believe, properly placed, is really what urges you to go past your comfort zone.
What’s your vision for the future, either for your own business, or for the world, or for both?
I have been very heartened and intrigued, frankly, by the number of companies and CEOs that have been forced to speak out and take a stand on issues. It is a very tough position to be in. Depending on the issue, the more complicated the issue, the more “dangerous” it is. Because you know you’re going to alienate somebody. Not everybody’s going to believe what you believe.
I’m also intrigued by the push-pull of social media, where it can be so great for things like #metoo and letting people tell their stories, and then can be so horrible at the same time. I think that we’ve all developed a certain sense of anonymity that isn’t always helpful or productive.
On a positive note, the bottom line is that I think that more and more you’re going to see established businesses and new businesses integrating social responsibility into what they do. Robbie and I have a sort of spectrum, a continuum that we put together that starts with just writing a check and ends with integrating social responsibility or social impact into how you run your business. Making sure that you are cleaning and conserving water or regenerating energy as you go, or whatever it is that you’re doing. So there’s a whole continuum. And I think you’re seeing more people moving away from just writing checks, and really starting to integrate purpose and good work and giving back into who they are as a company. Realizing that there are gaps that the private sector has to fill, or they won’t get filled at all. And a lot more people stepping up to do that. That is very encouraging to me.
I think that there is a demand for really authentically caring about society and the world around us, and taking initiative and sticking with it, which I think is really good.
What action would you want readers to take?
I think the action should be for all of us: stop talking to ourselves. You go to conferences, and you end up talking to the same people all the time, because that’s who comes. And that’s lovely, because they’re your friends, and you’ve known them over the years. But you’re not moving the needle that way.
In our work, we try and encourage people not to talk to themselves because you’re not going to do as much as you want to do that way. You have to go where people are, and take your message beyond your world. There’s some risk, but the reward is usually much greater.
I think for all of us: we know you get it. We get it, too. Now let’s find other people that we can teach who also need to get it. And then they can teach other people beyond that, and so on and so on and so on. Start a ripple effect, and start speaking outward instead of inward.