Behind the scenes of the impactful roles we place, the teams we build, our dedication to tackling climate change and sustainability challenges, is our ever-growing and passionate team. In our ongoing ‘Faces of Acre’ series, we want to shine a spotlight on the people who make up the Acre team and give our employees a platform to share their passions, speak up on important topics and talk about the pro bono work they take part in.
In our latest Faces of Acre instalment, we sat down with Catherine Harris, Head of CR and Sustainability in our New York office, to discuss her pro bono work as a board member for the Future-Fit Foundation, a non-profit organisation whose goal is to develop the tools companies and investors need to make better decisions in pursuit of a flourishing future. Catherine shared with us the work she takes part in for the Future-Fit Foundation, the incredible projects that Future-Fit are working on, along with why giving back means so much.
Who is the Future-Fit Foundation?
Future-Fit Foundation provides businesses with free tools, all of which are built from a systems science perspective, to help guide, manage and improve their social and environmental performance. It’s effectively having a business or an investor look at their impact and ask what they can do to take them to a place where they’re no longer causing any harm – but also in the longer term, giving back. For a lot of frameworks, it's a box-ticking exercise which is what I think makes us different. The big difference is we're science-based and not many frameworks can say that they are. It is so important these days when investors are wanting to be sure that portfolio businesses are making changes that are going to have a material and measurable impact.
How did the opportunity to be on the board at Future-Fit come about?
It came about through Amy Clark, who is a previous colleague of mine, she is one of the advisors for Future-Fit. She's since set up Tribe Impact Capital, an Impact Wealth Manager which offers discretionary and advisory portfolio management. She's an amazing human being and a very inspiring one at that. She'd been asked by Future-Fit if she knew anyone that she would recommend for the board and immediately suggested me, so I was very honoured. I then went through the process and met with Martin and Geoff, the two co-founders. When they offered me the position, I’ve never looked back, it’s an honour to be part of the team.
As a Board member, what tasks do you take part in?
We have a board meeting every quarter and that means not just showing up but reading through all the papers beforehand and making sure you're up to speed with the minutes from the previous session. That means knowing what the action points have been since then, and just getting yourself in the right mindset. At the actual board meeting itself, we always have healthy discussions around how the organization's doing from a financial point of view and in terms of their focus, and some of their major successes. It's an amazingly diverse board, just in terms of everyone's backgrounds, and skillsets. Another task of mine is to help them find board members. Using my recruitment skills, I have been able to identify and qualify candidates for their now incredible board of individuals. That was an honour to be able to help them with that. I've been working with them as an organisation to help build out their advisory team called the ‘Expert Council and I'll find people within my network who are experts, in circular economy, chemicals, biodiversity or niche-based solutions. I will introduce them to Future-Fit in the hope that they might go on to perform an advisory role for the organisation.
Aside from the recruitment focused work that I do, I have also helped Acre to become a Future-Fit Pioneer, which means we have committed to becoming Future-Fit as an organisation. I'm driving that process for Acre by looking at our environmental, social governance, challenges and opportunities and helping us to commit to improving those over the coming years. It is a lot of work but it's amazing and such a pleasure. It's the kind of thing that I really enjoy doing pro bono and Acre allows me to do this on company time, too.
What projects are they working on or something that we can look out for?
Three areas come to mind. Firstly, a growing number of companies are using the Future-Fit methodology to guide and transform their business – examples of great reports to read include Better Energy in Denmark and Tourism Holdings Ltd in New Zealand, and watch this space for some bigger brand names soon! Second, they're working with a number of banks, including Virgin Money in the UK, to create a tool kit for SMEs to help them become Future-Fit, whilst keeping the process as simple and as manageable as possible. Virgin Money is then offering improved loan terms to SME customers who can demonstrate their positive purpose, commitment and actions. And thirdly, more and more asset owners and fund managers, like Regnan/J.O.Hambro, are using Future-Fit to understand the impact of their portfolios and using that information to guide their engagement and portfolio construction. It’s all very exciting!
Why did you choose Future-Fit to do pro bono work for?
In 2000 I did my Masters in Sustainable Tourism, Development and Environment and as part of my dissertation, I did a piece on social frameworks and measurement of the tourism industry. I was interested in the challenges of measuring social impact – quantitatively. I looked at a lot of different benchmark frameworks that were doing well or less well on that front. I've always been interested in benchmarking, and in measuring, the impact of an organisation and that’s what I love about Future-Fit. I'm a bit of a science geek and I'm a big believer in science, and the fact that it underpins this framework is massively important to me. The second thing is I want to support the rest of the community and the planet essentially to get to a place where we're not seeing massive swathes of the country on fire and in a climate crisis. It worries me incredibly, and I think so much positive action needs to be taken now. I feel that we're part of that process. It's harder, but it should be hard for businesses to really make these steps because of the state that we're in right now.
What are some of the other charities you support outside of Acre?
Since I moved to New York it has been challenging because the city is so fast-paced and getting Acre up and running in the US has been very time-consuming. When I did find time around the pandemic, I was able to support a charity that works with homeless people here, providing backpacks full of COVID relief ‘goodies’, including hand sanitiser and food. We would then distribute the backpacks to people on the street. The homeless problem here in New York is really upsetting – and is set to get much, much worse if the eviction moratorium is lifted. So, it was really nice to be able to support them. I wish I had more time to do this kind of thing. I trained as a nurse, so I've always had a heart for people. I really feel in a privileged position and if I have more opportunities to help I will.
For anyone who was interested in taking part in pro bono work, what would you say to encourage them?
Make the time even though you think you don't have time because it's so rewarding. It energises you; it inspires you, but it also helps to energise and inspire others. I’ve met so many incredible people through volunteering. One that comes to mind – a young man who was packing backpacks with me and told his story of being homeless as a kid - throughout his childhood. His mum somehow managed to hide it from the authorities, he got through school and now has a scholarship to study law with a bright future ahead of him. I just felt so inspired, coming away from that, again, just being very conscious of my own privilege and the responsibility I have for making it count.
How has Acre supported you with Pro Bono work?
Acre has very generously allowed me to use company time to volunteer because it's enriching for me and it's enriching for Acre. And, of course in the case of Future-Fit it's supporting an organisation with an incredibly good cause. I'll never forget when I first asked Richard Wright (Acre’s CEO) if he was happy for me to take part and he didn’t even hesitate. I think it was a proud moment maybe for him and I know for me with nearly 3 years now as a Trustee – it’s something I’m very proud of too!
To learn more about the Future-Fit Foundation and how your organization can become Future-Fit, please go to: https://futurefitbusiness.org