Mark Topley FICRS - Director, The CSR Coach
How did you get into CRS, and why did you choose this profession?
Back in 2003 a chance encounter involving a presentation on development work in East Africa and a curry resulted in me moving to live and work in Tanzania for over a decade. It was there that I worked on the establishment of a health training charity which brought me into contact the highest levels of government and the C-suite representatives of several national, international and global corporates and their community programmes. Through this, I witnessed first-hand the huge value for communities, NGOs, companies and donors when CSR programmes were done well. Some of our partners have a 30-year life-cycle in country, with CSR budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars, so the potential to make a sustainable difference was huge. When I finished my charity career after 7 years as CEO, I wanted to take what I had learned and create a model for implementing that best practice in smaller organisations who have the passion for sustainability and responsibility, but lacked the structure to make it manageable and effective. I also wanted to help leaders create places where people love to work, because of that level of value-drive and responsible leadership.
Describe a typical day in your current role
Nowadays it’s all in my home office! I have 3 kids and so if I want any focus time then that has to be early. I’ll typically start around 6.30am and work on a project for an hour or so. Then it’s time to get some fresh air with the dog, and then get started with either home-schooling or work. Most days I am either creating CRS plans for clients, coaching clients through aspects of their plan, or with larger clients, I am working on designing projects for them. During the pandemic, much of my work seems to have shifted towards the people aspects of wellbeing and communication, as well as helping companies respond meaningfully to support their communities.
What do you need to do your job brilliantly? Include qualifications, informal experience and capabilities.
For me, it’s about being able to apply my knowledge to solve the client’s problem or achieve their aim. This requires flexibility, creativity, deep engagement as well as CRS knowledge. I think we all bring our own experiences to bear as well as our values in any project. And so I think the anchor of values combined with the technical, strategic and communication skills, and CRS specific knowledge is what helps me do the best for clients, their teams and their stakeholders.
Why did you join the ICRS?
The ICRS is made up of a wide range of people and access to their knowledge and experience is invaluable. Things move so fast nowadays and CRS is no exception. So staying current is a big part of my reason for joining. I also wanted to ensure that the work I do is to a professional standard and the recognition as a Fellow by peers was another motivation.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your role?
To be honest I enjoy it all! Now that my practice is more established, I’ve been able to delegate the aspects I enjoy less or I am rubbish at such as finances, diary management etc. I love writing and presenting – the opportunity to inspire an audience with a vision of what great CRS can do for their business, people, communities is something I love to do. My model also involves a level of coaching for CRS Champions and mid-level leaders and seeing their growth in skills, knowledge and confidence is hugely rewarding. Creating a plan and then taking it to implementation is also a lot of fun.
What advice would you give to others on getting into CRS?
I think we bring the most to our roles when we live in a way which is congruent with what we do for a living, and when we can contextualise our CRS knowledge and experience for the client. That means we need to have some! So I think experience and understanding of a wide range of CRS situations is where I would encourage people to start. In the past I have advised people to volunteer, travel, intern etc for both large and small organisations to get exposure to the good, bad and the ugly of their CRS work. That knowledge and experience should be combined with your personal commitments and values, and then seeking opportunities to develop as a leader – strategic thinking, communication, emotional intelligence etc. These will all help you to excel as a CRS professional.