Creating a Lasting and Meaningful Impact
An Interview with Suzanne DiBianca, Chief Impact Officer at Salesforce
On IT Visionaries, we talk to many different CIOs, but recently, the CIO we chatted was is different than what you were probably expecting. We were excited to welcome Suzanne DiBianca, the Chief Impact Officer and Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations at Salesforce onto the show to share her journey.
Suzanne has been with Salesforce for 20 years and helped the company build up its philanthropic arms, including pioneering the 1–1–1 model so many organizations now adopt. In the discussion, Suzanne took us through her history with the organization and talked about how to build a culture of sustainability. She also explained some of the climate initiatives that Salesforce has been spearheading and why a project like One Trillion Trees is so important right now in this decade of action.
If you look back at the history of Salesforce, you’ll see that Suzanne has been there almost from the very beginning. But she didn’t always hold the title of Chief Impact Officer.
In the early days, she built and ran the Salesforce foundation, which became Salesforce.org, which she lead until a few years ago. While she was building the philanthropy arm of Salesforce, Suzanne says that everything she did was — and still is — guided by the company’s values. At Salesforce, there are four values that Suzanne brings up:
- There is nothing more important than trust with customers, employees and all stakeholders.
- The company believes that it’s not successful if the customers aren’t successful.
- There must be a focus on innovative and driving growth.
- Value equality.
“I think about those four values and how we built the foundation and it’s a combination of a democratic approach and a strategic approach,” Suzanne said. “And what I mean by that is instead of having a foundation that just sort of sat off to the side and did its own thing in a room, we were really intentional early on about bringing people and their ideas into the fold so that we could create broad ownership for it.”
Ultimately, Suzanne wanted to do more to build out and highlight all the ways that Salesforce was, in fact, a platform for change. So she approached Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, and pitched the idea she had, and the role of Chief Impact Officer is what emerged from that discussion. Many things fall under Suzanne’s umbrella, including sustainability, workforce development and more. She says that she serves as an incubator of ideas and helps other business units and departments implement and find success with ideas that will promote change, growth, sustainability or other goals. In order to get buy-in from others, Suzanne believes that you have to make it easy for them to make the change that they want to make, not force change upon them.
“I inherently believe people want to make change,” Suzanne said. “And given how much we all work, in this sort of 24/7 environment, having it be part of their day job is an important avenue for people to feel committed to the company, to feel committed to their team.”
Today, one of the ways Suzanne is having an impact is by building a culture of sustainability.
In order to create a culture of sustainability, Suzanne says you have to meet people where they are already. You need to engage people in ways that they understand and that links them personally to a larger goal.
“The macro question overall is it’s all about empowerment,” she said. “It’s all about asking the CIO what they’re committed to. It’s all about talking to leaders and frontline workers and engaging them where they are.”
One way to do that is to let the people you are working with formulate their own ideas on how to implement some sort of program or idea, and then you can help them make that idea a reality.
At Salesforce, becoming a more environmentally sustainable company has become a huge goal. Recently, Salesforce made the decision to become a net-zero company, which means they want to leave no negative impact on the planet. In order to do that, there needed to be a great deal of research, time, buy-in and investment in taking the steps to become carbon neutral. But when you take it a step at a time, stick to your values and hold yourself accountable, it is possible.
Additionally, Salesforce has committed to taking part in the One Trillion Trees initiative.
The decade we just entered has been deemed the decade of action. The things we as a population do in this decade will set the stage for how the climate crisis will unfold. We can take steps to try to reverse some of the effects of climate change, and Suzanne believes that there is an opportunity to make a huge difference.
Suzanne points out that currently, we are in the midst of a three-tiered crisis — a healthcare crisis, an economic crisis and a climate crisis. It can be overwhelming, and the climate crisis aspect can get lost. But there is not much time to make change in the timeframe that has been given so it is important to still take action to help restore our planet. As Suzanne says, there has to be a focus on both reducing emissions as well as taking the emissions that are currently in the climate out of it. Oceans, forests, and agriculture are the areas that are being affected the most by the climate crisis. The one area that Suzanne says they have found a good way to give back to those areas is through trees.
“What we love about it is you can engage anyone, right?” she said about the tree-planting initiative. “You can get it to a child, you can engage an older person, you can engage a team, you can engage a family, you can engage anyone. Like it’s completely unbiased as it relates to age, race, anything. And it’s also totally nonpartisan. Who doesn’t like a tree?”
By planting one trillion trees, studies have shown that you can take about 25% of the carbon out of the atmosphere and help the environment in a nonpartisan and easy way. At Salesforce, Suzanne says the company has committed to putting one-hundred million of those trees into the world and they are working on plans to make that possible now. Salesforce is learning from its peers who are out in front of this initiative and partnering with companies to help create an even larger impact.
There is always more to be done, though, and Suzanne is helping to be a leader in making an impact. If you’d like to hear more from Suzanne, check out her episode of IT Visionaries here.
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