Q&A Discovering India: Salt Farming, the Taj Mahal, Carbon Markets and More

Posted on January 12, 2012 by Comments Off

Rhian Rotz, Manager, WE Citizenship — Interview with Devon McGill,  WE-Seattle

Devon McGill is a human resource benefits analyst at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide (WE) in Seattle, Wash. She is pursuing her MBA from the University of Washington and recently, as part of her course, she visited India to carry out a project with a nonprofit organization called Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). In December, Devon took advantage of WE’s 16 volunteer hours benefit and used her personal leave to explore cultural gems such as the Taj Mahal and fell in love with Indian food, chai and the head bobble! I  interviewed Devon to learn more about the trip.

Can you summarize your trip to India in 140 characters or less? 18 days: glimpse into a salt farmer’s life, soaking in the Taj Mahal, learning about carbon markets and inspired by the work of SEWA.

Before we move onto the important stuff, what is a head bobble? The head bobble is an important communication tool in India. It can be used to convey understanding or happiness or to say “it’s no problem.” Basically it’s the most infectious and endearing part of the Indian culture. Spend a couple of days in India and you’ll find yourself involuntarily performing the head bobble.

What struck you most about the people and culture in India? That they can be so happy with so little. The salt farm workers we visited uproot their lives for eight months out of the year to live in a straw hut with no running water or electricity so they can make a meager living for their family. The entire family, including the children, must work to produce the salt. The family we visited with had a little girl who was helping to build a well, and the entire time she was running around with a smile on her face. Her parents expressed how hard it was for them to make a living this way, but how grateful they were to be able to take care of their family.

Working with SEWA was a focus of your trip. What is SEWA’s mission? The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA, http://www.sewa.org) is an organization of 1.3 million self-employed farmers, laborers and entrepreneurs based in Gujarat, India. SEWA has designed a solar- powered lantern and a clean energy cook stove that will extend the workday of its members — most of whom do not have electricity — to ensure them safe, energy-efficient cooking. These products are currently in the testing phase, and now SEWA needs a strategy for financing the sustainable production and distribution of tens of thousands of these products to be sold at a low price through the use of microfinance and carbon trading.

How much progress did you make on the project with SEWA during your visit? I spent a good portion of my time at the SEWA offices working with its partner organization Grassroots Trading Network (GTN, http://grassnet.org/). GTN is tasked with the logistical challenge of delivering a solar lantern and energy efficient cook stove to the homes of all 1.3 million members over the next two years. SEWA has secured financing that will allow it to issue the products on credit to the members, and the women will make monthly payments for a year to pay for the cost of the products (plus interest). They have successfully piloted the products in the village of Manpura and are looking to expand as soon as possible to the many villages where they have members. While in India we were able to conduct on-site research to help us understand the problems the women are facing and the ways that these products can help. The information we gained there will help us create a much better solution for SEWA.

What is the next step in the SEWA project? Will you be returning to India anytime soon? Over the next three months my team will provide SEWA with our recommended process strategy, social metrics and methodology and carbon market strategy for the project. My main focus on the project is to determine what the social impact of the solar lanterns and cook stoves will be and to define the quantitative measures of success for the project. I will also provide SEWA with a methodology for collecting the data from the members. We have a lot of hard work in front of us, but are motivated by the chance to make a small difference in the lives of the SEWA members. No future trips are planned yet. We will provide SEWA with biweekly updates and a final presentation via Skype. The wonders of technology!

Do you plan to publish the results of your MBA project with SEWA? This project is the first of its kind at the University of Washington, so we are still looking at options for publishing the project. We have a blog where we posted pictures from the trip and will continue to post updates on the progress.

What was the highlight of your trip? Other than the food (and yummy chai), I really enjoyed our village visit to Manpura. We were able to see the cook stoves and lanterns in action and talk to the women about how the products impacted their lives. We got to experience what life is really like for the SEWA members, and their stories brought our project to life.

Do you have any advice for individuals contemplating an international volunteering experience? If you get the chance, do it! It was an amazing experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

The Art of Giving: WE’s Zimbabwe Artists Exhibition Empowers Women

Posted on January 11, 2012 by 2 Comments

For the third consecutive year, Waggener Edstrom hosted an art exhibition for the nonprofit Zimbabwe Artists Project (ZAP) in our Portland, Ore. office. During the month of December, WE’s walls were graced with beautiful artwork for employees to enjoy and consider purchasing while giving financially to a worthy cause.

ZAP’s mission is to empower female artists in Weya, Zimbabwe to become economically self-sufficient through education, sale of their art in the U.S., and special projects. The organization’s approach is based on the belief that self-respect comes through people’s own accomplishments, with a goal to foster self-respect and self-reliance through collaborative projects.

The idea of exhibiting ZAP’s art in-house first came about during a WE employee volunteer event at ZAP in 2009. WE was home of ZAP’s first corporate office exhibit. Year over year, employees have enjoyed the colorful displays and opportunity to do some holiday shopping while supporting the mission of this unique nonprofit. WE’s December exhibition raised more than $1,500 for ZAP and three pieces of artwork found a permanent home in our office.

ZAP’s art is for sale at their Portland gallery located here or online here.

WE-San Francisco Adopts Two La Casa de las Madres Families

Posted on December 22, 2011 by Comments Off

Jessie Wong, Sr. Account Executive, WE-San Francisco

The holiday spirit continued at Waggener Edstrom’s SFO office in December as employees participated in a mini holiday party with a BIG purpose. The focus was to wrap WE gifts that employees hand-selected for two families at La Casa de las Madres; California’s first (and the nation’s second) shelter dedicated to women and children escaping domestic violence.

The families, two moms and six children, had requested basic household items including a sheet set and toaster, shoes, a doll and makeup, as well as V-neck shirts and skinny jeans for fashion conscious boys ages nine and 10. In addition to gift giving, the office made a $1,000 cash donation to help La Casa de las Madres give survivors of domestic violence the tools to transform their lives.

A dynamic coalition of Bay Area women founded La Casa de las Madres in 1976 and chose its name, The Home of the Mothers, to honor the memory of one of their mothers; a woman brutally murdered by her partner in front of her 14-year-old daughter. The founders also sought to convey the safety, nurturing, and unconditional acceptance within La Casa’s doors.

Today La Casa provides expert intervention and prevention services to 15,000 individuals each year.  The organization strives to educate, promote awareness, and change the community’s perceptions of domestic violence and its survivors, reaching over 50,000 community members annually through our education and outreach activities. La Casa offers an essential safety net for local women, teens, and children: a refuge, an advocate, a strong voice against domestic violence.

A Very ThankFULL Bag! WE-Bay Area Assembles Holiday Dinner-in-a-Bag for 250 Seniors

Posted on December 8, 2011 by Comments Off

Jessie Wong, Sr. Account Executive, WE-San Francisco

Waggener Edstrom’s San Francisco office kicked off their holiday giving by bagging 250 Thanksgiving dinners for Groceries for Seniors at Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral as part of WE’s Make a Difference Day (WMDD) program. A team of 10 volunteers - Lisa Allen, Kelsey Grossman, Nadine Haija, Adrienne Refsgaard, Mallory Richards, Jean-Louis Robadey, Oona Rokyta, Darlene Scheurich, Monique Singh and Jessie Wong –  spent the morning of November 21 packing grocery bags to the brim.

Everything but the BIRD

What went into a bag? 6-8 potatoes, 1 bag rice, 1 can peas, 1 can cranberry sauce, 2 gigantic onions (the size of extra-large grapefruit!), 8 oranges, grapes, 1 head lettuce, 6-8 carrots, 2-3 sweet potatoes, 2 cans corn, 1 can Chinese beans, 2-3 bell peppers, 1 celery head, 2 bread bags, 40 oz. can green tea, misc. fruits and veggies, and for dessert…1 package Girl Scout cookies. [ The bird was delivered seperately].

How did you STUFF it?

“It’s like trying to fit ten pounds of potatoes into a five pound bag!” commented one of our volunteers. Yep, it wasn’t always easy, but it was done with a collective smile. In the end, as if by a miracle (and a lot of shaking, settling and finagling), all the “stuffing” for each meal fit into a single grocery bag (double bagged for the heavy load).

Home delivery

The groceries were loaded up into a van, which set out to hand-deliver the bags and chickens to recipients that very morning. Every day, the organization utilizes volunteers to pack up and deliver free groceries to seniors in need. We all felt grateful to be able to donate our time and energy to such an important cause, particularly at this time of year.

In addition to volunteering their time, the team also delivered a $500 check to Groceries for Seniors.

About Groceries for Seniors

Operating out of the donated basement space in Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Groceries for Seniors provides food that seniors need to stay healthy and remain living independently in the community. The program provides nearly 1,200 seniors with a free bag of groceries every week. In a city that is home to more than 27,000 seniors with income below the federal poverty line, where seniors are often forced to choose between purchasing food or medicine, the organization is truly making a difference in each recipient’s lives. The organization operates with just one staff member and a roster of dedicated volunteers, rescuing food that would have been thrown away by local supermarkets, and receives other food items from the San Francisco Food Bank.

Old Saint Mary’s is located at the intersection of Chinatown and the financial district, was built in 1854 as the first cathedral of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Old St. Mary’s survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, only to be gutted a day later by the fires started by the earthquake. The fires were so hot that they melted the church bells and marble altar.

We look forward to our office’s next WDMM and hope that your holiday season is full of cheerful events and giving spirits!




WE Employees Report on Behalf of Net Impact: Behind the Scenes at Net Impact 2011

Posted on November 23, 2011 by Comments Off

Holly Roe, Account Coordinator (and Rhian Rotz, Manager WE Citizenship)

This year, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide (WE) partnered with Net Impact, a nonprofit organization that inspires a new generation of leaders to use their careers to tackle the world’s toughest problems, to support its annual conference in Portland, Ore., with pro-bono services. Net Impact believes it’s possible to make a net impact that benefits not just the bottom line but people and planet too. I found this truly inspiring and wanted to share some wisdom that resonated with me throughout the conference: 

1)      Occupy Wall Street From the Inside: In a keynote kicking off the conference, Liz Maw, executive director of Net Impact, challenged everyone to “occupy Wall Street from the inside” by leveraging their careers to drive real change.

2)      Overcome Cynicism: Lord Hastings, KPMG‘s global head of Citizenship and Diversity, shared that the single most effective way to change the world is overcoming cynicism — not a product or a business model, but by changing an attitude.

3)      Take the First Step: Speaker Vail Horton, CEO of Keen Mobility and chairman of Incight Foundation, was born with improper bone growth in his arms and without legs but lives a life defined by his passion to make the world a better place — not his disability. He stressed the importance of taking the first step and “staying pleasantly persistent” no matter the task.

Elisia Choi, Amy Dunn, Rachel Coussens, Anna Friedges and I had the privilege of representing WE as volunteer reporters at the conference, covering sessions on topics ranging from sustainability and microfinance to healthcare reform. As communications professionals, it isn’t every day that we receive a press badge (which was definitely an exciting perk) and asked to report stories, but it definitely made for a unique opportunity and allowed us to experience our jobs from the other side of our industry. This experience reinforced the fact that although anyone has the ability to tell a story, by truly listening to your audience and understanding the reason for telling the story, we can help others strengthen their business in new and creative ways. Read our coverage here.

My colleagues Erica Hubby and Katy Hagert, members of the WE Studio D® and Insight & Analytics teams, also brought their expertise to bear after the conference. They delivered a report to Net Impact designed to provide analysis of the key influencers, online discussions and themes about the Net Impact conference using some of the coolest tools and services that we offer. Check it out!  

Being able to take a step back from my day-to-day activities and apply my professional skills to benefit a nonprofit was truly rewarding. I look forward to participating in similar events in the future.

A Culinary Field Trip: WE-UK Team Teaches Inner-City Kids How to Cook

Posted on November 20, 2011 by 2 Comments

Kristi Lewandowski, Senior Account Executive and Sam Whitby, UK Operations Manager

On Nov. 11, several WE-UK employees volunteered with Kids Company, a London-based charity that supports vulnerable inner-city children, to spend the day cooking with children in a local classroom. The goal of the day was to interact and teach kids in Grade 1 (5-6 year olds) how to cook. The day was broken into two sessions (30+ kids each) where the staff cooked and spent time with one classroom of kids in the morning and a second set of kids in the afternoon.

During the sessions we helped teach the kids how to make three different recipes. The first was the London favorite Banoffee Pie, where the kids learned skills like safe chopping, whisking cream and smashing cookies to make pie crust. The second recipe was a more exotic Moroccan Couscous, where the kids got to experience different spices, learn another chopping skill and how to measure ingredients. The last recipe really engaged everyone, by making smoothies that were blended using the pedal power of a bicycle. In order to properly blend the smoothies the kids had to nominate three adults to take turn pedaling the bike before they could enjoy the smoothies.

It was a great experience for the kids and the WE staff. While kids learned basic cooking skills, the staff was able to utilize skills not used in our everyday jobs. From bike riding abilities, to playing games with the children, to the most difficult task of answering the really tough questions only kids can ask. The biggest takeaway was that when working with someone new, be it a client, influential or kids, we need to adjust our communication approach and find commonalities. Which could be as simple as pretty headbands or a love of kittens.

Kids Company provides practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children. Their services reach 14,000 children across London, including the most deprived and at risk whose parents are unable to care for them due to their own practical and emotional challenges. Kids Company provides a safe, caring, family environment where support is tailored to the needs of each individual. Their services and support empower children who have experienced enormous challenges to lead positive and fulfilling lives. Despite great difficulties, the children they work with are hugely courageous and embrace the support they offer.




Taking steps to end cancer: I finished my first marathon with help from my friends!

Posted on November 18, 2011 by Comments Off

Jessica Hastings, Account Executive, WE Portland

As I wrote in my October Blog post; when I started training, the goal of finishing my first marathon seemed impossible. Even after having completed the training, I was struck at the Top of the Rock just a couple of days before the race by the incredible distance I’d be running. Still, with a lot of help and encouragement on the way, I managed to do it, finishing all 26.2 miles of the ING NYC Marathon with my sister and father on behalf of Fred’s Team on November 6 with a time of 5:26:37.

As if running a marathon weren’t enough of a challenge, I gained entry by signing up to raise $5,000 in support of pioneering cancer research with Fred’s Team, a charity affiliated with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York. After giving them my credit card number so they could charge the balance of my goal if I don’t raise all of the funds by November 21, I was able to officially register for the Marathon.

I have put a lot of time and emotional energy into both the training and fundraising since then. There were many times, particularly in the middle of my longer training runs, when I would wonder what I was thinking. I discovered in these moments, however, that running’s all about the mental game. Sure, you have a lot of physical challenges, but those are easily put to rest at any moment by walking or hopping on a bus. You keep going because you need to reach the goals you set for yourself.

And now, I know I CAN run a marathon. Having achieved this year’s goal of finishing, I am beginning to think about what’s next. I caught “the bug” and am trying to determine when I’ll run my next marathon and what goal would be just enough of a stretch. That will help me set my goals for races at more sane distances along the way, and the goals collectively will help keep me heading out the door, even very early on cold, rainy mornings.

I transitioned from our WE Insights & Analytics team to a WE Microsoft account team in August, giving me a whole new set of personal goals and insecurities to think about during my longest training runs. I discovered that, at least for me, the mental game of running is a lot like work. You put one step in front of the other, hoping to gradually be able to do so faster and better, setting milestones along the way for what turns out to be a greater journey with no single finish line.

Most importantly, though I’m ultimately the one in control of keeping those feet moving, I can’t do it without the support of family, friends and others along the way (thank YOU!). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we have a lot of runners here at WE – we are mentally disciplined, goal-oriented people with inner strength but also the humility and intelligence required to come together in support of both individual and collective goals. WE has been incredibly supportive of my running and fundraising goals so far, and I look forward to seeing one more round of support as I race to my fundraising deadline on November 21.

With just over $1,000 left to raise in a few short days, it will truly take a village but every donation counts – even $5! The donations mean a lot to me personally, as I not only am extremely proud of the fact that I finished a marathon and am not sure I would have made it without the commitment to the charity this year, but MSKCC’s research also saved the life of a close friend of mine this year, and helps to bring us closer to a world without cancer – a disease that has affected a large number of my friends and family members over time, most recently a loved one who was diagnosed just days before the marathon.

Going the extra mile for a cause….by night, day, road or boat

Posted on November 15, 2011 by Comments Off

In response to Waggener Edstrom employees’ active participation in races for charities, WE supports employees’ fundraising efforts, favorite causes and healthy lifestyles with athletic sponsorships. Following are examples of employees and causes who’ve benefited from the program in the fight against cancer.

WE’s Petrina Marks organized a team of 10 employees to walk 20 miles in the London Night Hike. A massive accomplishment for all who participated! The walk involved stops at landmarks including City Hall, the Royal Institute of British Architects and Maggie’s Cancer Centres; the event’s benefiting cause.

Maggie’s Cancer Centres empowers people to live with, through and beyond cancer by bringing together professional help, communities of support and building design to create exceptional centres for care.


A team of 34 employees, family members and friends registered to hit the downtown Portland roads early in the morning for the Race for the Cure to help Susan G. Komen save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.

In addition, Jessica Polley (left in the picture) participated in the Eugene (Ore.) race at Autzen stadium. “Supporting Susan G. Komen is personal, as I lost my mom to the disease when I was just a teen” Jessica shared. “To think how far research has come in just the last decade, and how that has impacted detection, treatment and survival rates, is truly remarkable.”

WE paddlers combined fun on the water and camaraderie to raise funds for an important cause. The team of 16, led by WE’s Sandi Glasow (pictured front row, in the middle) a long-time dragon boat competitor and cancer survivor, competed in the Celebrating Life! Dragon Boat Festival  on Lake Washington, Seattle.

The event benefits Team Survivor Northwest to help women in their cancer recovery through empowering programs of physical activity and health education.

My Journey to the One Young World Summit Part 3

Posted on November 3, 2011 by Comments Off

Guest Post by Zamafuze Ngcobo – South African delegate and student at the University of Johannesburg. WE was honored to sponsor Zama’s attendance to the annual One Young World (OYW) Summit, Switzerland (Sept. 1-4, 2011). This blog post is the summary and final in the series about Zama’s journey to the OYW summit.

It has been almost five months since WE Johannesburg made the decision to sponsor me to attend the OYW summit held in Zurich a week ago. On August 31st, the big day finally arrived and I flew out to Zurich, Switzerland.

On my first day in Zurich I had to pinch myself several times to remind myself that this was really happening. The calibre of young people and leaders that I found myself amongst was incredible. From all walks of life each of them was passionate and driven, from as young as fifteen years of age to twenty seven. Between the several plenary sessions during the day and the night life the city had to offer, there was just no way that I could afford to waste time on sleep. I wanted to get to know each person, hear their stories and to share in their valuable knowledge and experiences.  It almost felt like I was visiting over 150 countries in three days through the stories of 1200 young leaders from every corner of the world.

Each day was dedicated to at least three of the following resolutions, namely: global health, global business, environment, leadership, interfaith dialogue and media with informative plenary sessions. Counselled by world leaders such as Sir Bob Geldof, James Chau, Fatima Bhutto and HRH Crown Princess of Norway, there was so much to learn and meditate upon.

My personal favourites included Doug Richards on his “School for startups”, Mark Lovell on CSR and Fatima Bhutto who spoke candidly on women and gender issues. There were so many key takeaways from each of these speakers. I was moved to tears when Doug Richards introduced us to some of the people who had changed their lives by starting small businesses. This made me think of the many young people in South Africa who are despondent, unemployed and spend every day kicking the curb. Hearing the real stories that Richards presented made me realise that we cannot change people no matter how hard our efforts – people change themselves only when they want to. I guess the trick is: we need the type of leadership that does not force people to just do things but rather inspires them to WANT to change their lives; a challenge in South Africa, where some still feel entitled and constantly wait for government to save them.

Another session that etched a mark in my heart was centred on global dignity, where we each were posed with this question; “What have you done and what will you do for the next year to strengthen someone’s dignity?” The stories that came out of this question were moving and made me realise that what may not be important to me, may actually mean the world to someone else. Simple things like providing sanitary towels to women in rural communities or even a word of encouragement to a stranger.

A theme that seemed to be threaded throughout the summit was the role of CSR and its relevance and legitimacy in contemporary society. The views that came out of the various discussions throughout the summit were very critical of this term, which caught my attention as my dissertation topic for this year is focused on positively encouraging CSR initiatives by business, particularly in the fight against HIV/Aids in South Africa. This forced me to step back and critically challenge the efficacy and legitimate function of CSR programmes within business. Mark Lovell spoke unequivocally on this topic and shared insights on how the social and commercial purposes of business should not be mutually exclusive but rather be integrated into operations as both a profit and a cost. I have been since making changes to my dissertation after this insightful talk.

On the last day of the summit, my nerves shot through the roof with excitement and anticipation for the speech that I had been nominated to deliver on a resolution for Global Health. In a lot of ways, I was more privileged than most to have a great mentor in attendance:  WE General Manager, Marcus Sorour. When I was overwhelmed and anxious, Marcus was there to put things in to perspective for me. And so by the time I had to deliver my resolution on Global Health, I had the confidence and mind-set that I needed to stand in front of over 1200 young leaders. Frightening indeed!

Extending from the CSR debate and also based on the research that I am currently undertaking at university, the resolution that I proposed was a challenge to corporates to start investing in the health of the people living within the environments where they operate. This includes workers, their families and immediate communities – an initiative that has already been used by companies such as Anglo-American and BHP Billiton; who provide free HIV/Aids treatment to their workers and families in South Africa.

In between the summit sessions, there was never a dull moment; I had the opportunity to meet and connect with so many young bright minds. However, one of the biggest actions that I took from this experience came from the Grameen Creative Lab Founder Hans Reitz who spoke on social innovation. His key points that I have now made a part of my own personal manifesto were; “plan for financial sustainability, be excellent, be innovative, don’t do it alone, measure your results and do it with joy”.  

Although it only lasted three days, my experience at One Young World has been a tipping point in my life.  It has inspired me to come back home and answer two questions; how can we motivate our people to WANT to change their lives for the better and what business model can I work on that will solve community problems. It’s a work in progress. I am thankful to WE Johannesburg for influencing and enabling me with the invaluable tools and knowledge that I need to get up, start something and impact my community.

WE joins Net Impact’s Global Gathering in Portland

Posted on October 27, 2011 by Comments Off

This week, 10 Waggener Edstrom Worldwide employees are gearing up for a one-of-a-kind volunteer opportunity to support Net Impact, an amazing, international nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire, educate and equip individuals to use the power of business to create a more socially and environmentally sustainable world. This topic is at the heart of WE’s sweet spot and is a passion for many employees at our company. This year’s Net Impact Conference will be in Portland, Ore., home to one of our largest offices. WE is donating time and in-kind services to the organization. The enthusiastic team of volunteers will be gathering content and reporting on behalf of Net Impact from the conference sessions.

I’m particularly excited about the Portland Impact sessions. These are workshops in which attendees will serve as business consultants to a group of Portland-area nonprofits and social innovators. I envision this as a scenario that brings out the best of speed dating and crowd sourcing in a spirit of open innovation. Organizations under the spotlight include The Bus Project, Focus the Nation and GO Box, a new service providing reusable to-go containers for food carts and their customers. In Portland, food carts are monumental symbols of the city’s cuisine culture.

Portland will welcome more than 2,500 Net Impact visitors from across the U.S. and overseas. The conference will feature more than 300 leading speakers, 100 sessions and four keynote speakers including Sally Jewell, president and CEO of REI, and  Hannah Jones, vice president of Sustainable Business & Innovation at Nike. The program covers a wide variety of topics, including corporate impact, energy and clean tech, environment and natural resources, social innovation, international development, finance and investing, and career and professional development.

Follow and engage in lively conversations via Twitter #NI11, and follow the Waggener Edstrom team @WE_Citizen. Let us know if you’re planning to attend!

Newer Posts / Older Posts

← Back to WaggenerEdstrom.com