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.

What a Difference a Moustache Can Make!

Posted on December 16, 2011 by 1 Comment

As part of the global #Movember campaign WE teams grew staches and raised more than $6,000.

Movember is a moustache growing charity event held during November each year that raises funds and awareness for men’s health. Once registered at www.movember.com, “Mo Bros” start clean shaven and for the rest of the month shape, grow and groom a moustache. Thus becoming walking billboards by prompting conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health and raising funds to fight cancer.

Three WE teams competed against each other to receive an extra $500 donation from the WE Citizenship team to benefit the charities supported by their team.

Who won? Well, all of the mustache growing “musketeers” are winners for contributing to such an important cause, but Team EMEA won the $500 donation from WE Citizenship. Here are the teams:

WE-Movember Team EMEA

Raised $2, 935 (incl. WE’s $500) for The Prostate Cancer Charity and The Institute of Cancer Research



WE- Movember Team USA

Raised $1, 693 for Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG, The Lance Armstrong Foundation



WE-Movember Team APAC

Raised $1,389 for Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG, The Lance Armstrong Foundation






In addition, several individual employees grew facial hair for this important cause – check out this proud display of staches in our WE Portland office.

P.S.:  Did you know that 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime? (More facts about men’s health here.

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 Kicks Off New Partnership with De La Salle North High School

Posted on September 28, 2011 by 1 Comment

This month, four students joined Waggener Edstrom employees in the Portland office to learn life skills and gain valuable work experience as part of De La Salle High School Corporate Internship Program. Through participation in the work-study program, which offers first exposure to a professional environment, the students will receive academic credit, earn a portion of the cost of their education and gain valuable real-world experience that will equip them for life.

Work Experience at WE

The four high school students are employed to fill one full-time entry-level position for a year on a rotation basis. Each student will work one day every week, two days every four weeks. The students will work with mentors across a variety of teams between September and June. They will each receive on-the-job training and independently take on tasks and responsibilities. The students will be exposed to be a variety of administrational, operational and technical tasks.

Supporting Innovation in Education

De La Salle was founded in 2001, and De La Salle North (Portland) was the first school in the U.S. modeled after Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago. The Cristo Rey Network of 24 schools was established for students in communities that have limited access to private education. Within the network, 95 percent of the students are of a racial minority, and 96 percent of graduates are accepted into a two- or four-year college or university. De La Salle Portland offers a college preparatory education to students from families with limited economic means and does not turn away anyone due to inability to pay. The school’s educational approach provides each student with the opportunity to succeed through small classes, high expectations and active participation in the Corporate Internship Program. Watch De La Salle North students describe how the corporate internship program can make an impact: Video 1 and Video 2.

Believing in the Power of Collaboration

This special partnership with De La Salle is the result of shared passion, commitment and cross-agency collaboration between multiple teams and spearheaded by People Services and WE Corporate Citizenship. WE is making a strategic investment in supporting its goal of investing in people, creating a diverse workforce and helping create a brighter future for local students. WE is proud to join a long list of Portland-area nonprofits and corporate organizations who support the program. If the program is successful in our Portland office, WE has the opportunity to expand its participation in its Boston, New York and D.C. offices. PHOTOS: courtesy http://www.delasallenorth.org/

My Journey to the One Young World Summit – Part 2

Posted on September 1, 2011 by Comments Off

My Journey to the One Young World Summit Part 2

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

Leading up to the start of the 2011 One Young World summit, I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on my journey thus far. I have learned so much about myself and others over the past few months, and there has never been a dull moment.  From meeting First Lady Michelle Obama at her South African welcome breakfast, to attending my benefactor, Nelson Mandela’s birthday dinner in Cape Town – it certainly has been an unpredictable and exciting couple of months.

As a Mandela Rhodes scholar, one of the continent’s most prestigious scholarships awarded to postgraduate students, I have been privileged to attend life-changing leadership workshops this year.

A month ago, in the spirit of Nelson Mandela’s 67 minutes of service campaign, I was privileged to spend the day painting the Khayamnandi learning centre in Cape Town. I also had a chance to spend some time with underprivileged township youth, speaking to them about leadership and the lessons that we as young people can learn from Mandela’s journey. This experience was truly humbling, as I was able to connect, teach and interact with other youth who come from different backgrounds. I especially appreciated hearing their perspectives and ideas about how we can change South Africa, which completely altered my current perception about the change that is required. The youth leaders shared personal stories about how they changed their own lives in order to become examples for other young people around them. They also discussed the importance of service leadership and how it can help change and improve local communities.

Back in Johannesburg, Waggener Edstrom SA had aligned me with a great network of character-building opportunities. By supporting my journey to the summit, they have positioned me for success and exposed me to the most relevant media experiences I have ever had. One of which was a radio interview on SAFM with One Young World co-founder Kate Robertson. At first I was shy to the media exposure, however I have now come to appreciate the media as an invaluable advocacy platform, and a powerful voice to the people who will impact change.  As a result I have tried my best to make full use of the opportunities presented by OYW Africa, by contributing to the Mail & Guardian’s blog site Thought Leader and assisting the OYW Africa office to with media outreach across the continent. Together with a week spent interning at WE-SA, the work experience has been  incredibly beneficial – I am fast realising that university does not teach you everything you need to know.

With less than a week till the summit, I wake up each morning in anticipation for the 30th of August, when my flight will take off. Apart from the travel experience, I am excited about the calibre of people, ideas and initiatives that I will have access to. Just thinking about the projects that I have initiated and worked on in South Africa, I can’t wait to be inspired for my next big idea. Hence I am looking forward to exchanging ideas and project experiences with other delegates. I’m especially excited to share my experience of two projects I have been involved in. A year ago I directed and facilitated a theatre in education (TIE) programme, as an intervention for sexual abuse awareness amongst elementary school learners in my hometown, Pietermaritzburg. My team and I were able to engage SAPS Child Advocacy Centre (South African Police Service) and NGO CINDI (Children in distress). The programme was well received, mainly because its focus was to offer solutions and guidance to young learners on the measures that they would have to take, if they found themselves in similar situations.

Another initiative I participated in occurred during a proposed media tribunal and the threatening revised ‘Protection of Information Bill’ in our country. Some students and I got together and staged a silent protest in objection to these threats on media freedom. Although it didn’t change much, it was part of a bigger picture to challenge policy makers.  Today the decisions on both these threats to media freedom are still pending.  Although these projects are in the past, I cannot wait to share ideas with tomorrow’s leaders in Zurich, on how I can make a measurable impact in my community.

Being recently chosen to be the only delegate speaker at the Summit from South Africa, I will be offering ideas on possible resolutions for issues relating to Global Health. This amazing opportunity has challenged me to go outside my world and acquire deeper knowledge and perspective on how we can go about finding ways to secure better health initiatives for our people, specifically those in Africa.  The research in itself has been an educational and empowering experience. My hope is that I can bring a unique outlook on solutions that need uniquely African perspectives. Wish me luck and feel free to get in touch by following me on twitter: @ZamaNgcob. I know I would definitely appreciate questions, thoughts and feedback from the greater Waggener Edstrom community.

Pam Edstrom Inspires Students at Lagrant Foundation Scholarship Dinner

Posted on June 10, 2011 by 1 Comment

On May 22nd WE hosted the welcome dinner for the 2011 Lagrant Foundation scholarship winners which kicked off two days of activities in support of the foundation. The Lagrant Foundation awards scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students from ethnic minorities who are pursuing degrees in advertising, marketing or public relations. 2011 marks the 6th year that the agency has sponsored the scholarship recognition dinner for this outstanding group of students. 

Waggener Edstrom co-founder, Pam Edstrom, is a member of the Foundation’s board of directors and was invited to speak at the intimate dinner attended by 26 people, including the scholorship winners, WE team members, Denise Macrigeanis and Dorie Overby and Kim Hunter who leads the Lagrant foundation.

Pam’s inspirational speech focused on lessons she has learned throughout her career… be prepared, learn from your mistakes, have a sense of humor, be inquisitive, listen and learn to take risks for the worst that can happen is you die, and you won’t, so what do you have to lose? Also, ask yourself what is the business problem to solve and what are the desired outcomes you are looking to achieve. Following her speech, students took the opportunity to ask Pam a few questions including how she entered the  communications industry. They seemed fascinated by her story of how she moved from criminology to communications and helped build a company. 

On Monday, May 23rd, Waggener Edstrom hosted the Lagrant Board meeting in our New York office to discuss the direction of the foundation in the coming year, followed by the Scholarship reception which was held at the French Institute later that evening. The reception, which was filled to capacity, is one of the largest networking events in the communications community in New York. The keynote speaker of the night was founding chairman of Burson-Marsteller, Harold Burson, with CNN National Correspondent, Jason Carroll acting as master of ceremonies. Former WE employee, and current client, Torod Neptune attended as chair of the event along with a number of WE employees from the east coast.

The Lagrant foundation award recipients included a scholarship award of $5,000 presented to 13 undergraduate students and scholarships of $10,000 awarded to 7 graduate students. Congratulations to all of the award recipients. 

Waggener Edstrom at Howard University

Posted on November 3, 2010 by Comments Off

Written by: Nikole Hunt, Talent Acquisition Partner

On October 21, Howard University School of Communications Program hosted their 8th annual Communications Job Fair in partnership with the Council of PR Firms.  I had the pleasure of attending, as well as participating as an exhibitor and in one of the panel discussions.

This fair has students coming from over 20 colleges to meet with companies to learn about their business and career opportunities.  Exhibitors ranged from broadcast to communications agencies to print and online publications.

The panel discussion that I participated in primarily consisted of PR agencies, and the objective was to inform the students of the types of job opportunities we have available, and how they can get noticed and get ahead of the business.  The panelists echoed that having and being able to articulate a point of view, showcase creativity, research the organizations of interest, and build a network of professionals will only help you propel your budding career.

This trip was especially exciting, as we debuted some of our new marketing materials.  We received great feedback from the students and from other exhibitors who ere interested in finding out what WE is all about.

YouTube Preview Image

This is the second time I’ve attended the event, but the fifth time WE has participated.  WE has made a few great hires from participating in this career fair, and we value our partnerships with both the university and the Council. 

The following day, I had the opportunity to work out of the new WE DC office with colleagues from our Public Affairs, Studio D and Microsoft teams. It’s a beautiful space!

It was great chatting with students,  and meeting and reconnecting with colleagues—I mean, who wouldn’t love spending a little time in our nation’s capitol?  I even got to give a shout out to Honest Abe; he says “hello” by the way.

Encouraging and Developing Tomorrow’s Communications Leaders

Posted on June 23, 2010 by 1 Comment

Written by: Heather Flynn, Talent Acquisition Manager


Once again I had the incredible opportunity to go to NY to host the pre-awards dinner for the LAGRANT Foundation (TLF) scholarship winners. Waggener Edstrom (WE) has been a TLF corporate sponsor for over 5 years, and I am very proud that WE is involved with this organization and that I get to work closely with TLF and WE executives to nurture young talent who will be entering the field of communications.  The LAGRANT Foundation is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organization whose mission is to increase the number of ethnic minorities in the fields of advertising, marketing and public relations by providing scholarships, career development workshops, professional development, mentors and internships to African American, American Indian/Native American, Asian Pacific American and Hispanic/Latino undergraduate and graduate students. Our goal with this partnership is to open the proverbial “door” for minorities by providing the necessary resources and tools not commonly available to many minorities entering the fields of advertising, marketing and public relations.


This is also the 5th year that WE has hosted the dinner and that I have partnered with a senior agency executive who served as a keynote speaker.  This year, Seema Bhende, Sr. Account Director, Social Innovation Practice, partnered with me to host the event. The scholarship award recipients included 15 undergraduates and 5 graduate students from Universities across the US.  The students were very focused on the discussion Seema gave around her non-traditional career path into the PR industry and her desire to maintain personal authenticity in career development, while also excelling in the pursuit of professional distinction. I really enjoyed the intimate setting, where 19 of us were gathered around one large table, as this helped to facilitate a conversation where everyone could participate, and did.  The students all took advantage of the opportunity to ask Seema and me questions concerning a variety of topics, running the gamut from resume writing to what makes Waggener Edstrom unique.  The students were all very bright and focused on forging a career in the communications industry and it was clear that they were eager to gain the insight that Seema and I could share.

The following evening TLF held its 12th Anniversary Scholarship Awards Reception at Ogilvy & Mather’s office in NY.  The event was on the rooftop, offering an incredible view of the NY skyline and across the river to New Jersey. During the event, TLF awarded $125,000 in scholarships to 20 students: 15 undergraduates and 5 graduates. This group of ethnic minority scholarship recepients are pursuing undergraduate and masters’ degrees in advertising, communications, marketing and public relations.  In attendance were a variety of industry executives from each of the top global agencies, CNN, the Council of PR Firms and PR Week.  This is always a great networking event and an excellent place to connect with industry professionals that share a passion for bringing diverse talent that will benefit us all into the field.


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