FICRS Elisabeth Rochford - Partnerships Manager, O2 (Telefonica UK)
How did you get into CRS, and why did you choose this profession?
I did an MSc in Human Rights and spent some time with charities working on a range of issues – from women’s empowerment to academic freedom to impact measurement. I was increasingly drawn to the private sector and the opportunities to harness business for good. This led me to eastern Uganda where I spent some time with a social enterprise delivering business training to local small business owners. Believing there is a huge amount of potential in purpose-led business, I was keen to get into a role where I could influence this from the inside. CR felt like a natural fit – but at the time there didn’t seem to be many obvious routes into the profession. I tried to speak to as many people as possible that worked in CR or adjacent fields to get their perspective and keep an ear to the ground. When a role came up in O2’s in-house sustainability team as a Social Impact Manager, I jumped at it. I’ve been there three years now and have loved every minute. In-team progression can be hard in CR when teams are often quite small, but I started a new Partnerships Manager role back in March and have found the past 8 months both challenging and satisfying. It’s a demanding time for sustainable business – responding to a range of global crises in a tough economic market. It feels more critical than ever.
If you didn’t work in CRS, what would you do? Be as far-fetched as you like!
I’ve always been fascinated by foreign affairs correspondence and drawn to the career of Marie Colvin, the American journalist who worked as a foreign affairs correspondent for The Sunday Times from 1985 until she died while covering the siege of Homs in Syria. Prior to my MSc in Human Rights, I wanted to work in journalism and to cover the global humanitarian and environmental crises that we face. In my effort to build my experience and expertise in these areas, I ended up pursuing different levers of change.
Which professional project or achievement are you most proud of?
Back in the spring I began working with environmental charity Hubbub on a digital exclusion campaign. We’ve all seen this year how important digitally connectivity has been. Yet 1.9m households in the UK don’t have access to the internet. And at the same time, there are four phones sitting unused in UK homes for every phone in use. Together with Hubbub, we launched Community Calling to connect some of these dots and put unused smartphones into the hands of those needing them most during lockdown. We called on the public to donate their old phones which we data-wiped, refurbished and repackaged with O2 SIMs and top up. Working with local community groups, these phones were distributed to elderly members of the community, asylum seekers, low income households, and survivors of domestic abuse. Our first phase gifted 538 phones in the London Borough of Southwark. Now we’ve rolled out a nationwide campaign across 6 cities, aiming to give 10,000 people a smartphone and a year of free connectivity from O2.
Digital exclusion is a complicated and pervasive issue. This is just a start but it’s a campaign I really believe in and am proud to be driving forward. It’s already making a demonstrable difference in people’s lives through something seemingly as simple as a phone and top up – something I’m sure many of us take for granted.
What makes your sector unique from a CRS perspective?
The telco sector is interesting because we have the capacity for a huge amount of impact, relative to our size. Taking carbon as an example, a 2019 report from the GSMA and the Carbon Trust found that mobile technologies have a 10:1 enablement ratio compared to our industry footprint. By 2025, that number could double through growing numbers of smartphone users and IoT connections. There’s a huge amount of opportunity here for mobile to power a lower carbon future. This potential is something we investigated recently in our Greener Connected Future report with IC&CO and Cenex which looked at ways 5G solutions can be used to avoid and reduce carbon emissions in key sectors – transport, utilities & home energy, manufacturing and healthcare. There are a lot of opportunities for innovation in this area. We’ve been trialling connected self-driving cars with the Smart Mobility Living Lab; tackling transport and air pollution as part of the Adept Thames Valley trial; and connecting a ‘Smart Ambulance’ at Millbrook Proving Ground. We’ve also been providing the connectivity for smart meters up and down the UK and, most critically in 2020, providing the tools, services and connectivity to support the flexible working revolution. I’m excited about these use cases and the varied ways connectivity can support smart homes and cities, next-generation factories, and greener ways of living.
What do you think are the most important skills for working in CRS?
Resilience! A good understanding of the way businesses operate and the ability to manage a range of stakeholders with differing priorities, interests and ways of communicating – and crucially the know-how to influence them. You need to really believe in what you’re doing and have the business case and the demonstrable impact to back it up.
Who or where do you look to for inspiration on CRS topics? And, who do you follow on Twitter?
For expertise and insight I go to TCFD, Climate Outreach, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, as well as journalistic insight through Tortoise Media, The Economist, National Geographic, and some great podcasts: Hubbub’s What on Earth, Sustainababble and The Sustainability Agenda. On Twitter, it’s the usuals: Greta, Mike Barry, Kate Raworth, Jonathan Porritt, Trewin Restorick, Mike Berners-Lee, Clover Hogan, Sue Garrard, Solitaire Townsend, Fiona Harvey, plus edie, Pebble Magazine, CISL, The Restart Project, WRAP, ERM, Good Business and of course ICRS!
Follow Beth on Twitter at @bethrochford