Transparency has long been a key tenet for good corporate governance. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) announcement of upcoming rules on climate disclosures (final rules anticipated for later in 2023) is the latest in a string of regulations requiring increased transparency from companies by mandating reporting on climate impact. Other similar environmental reporting requirements include the European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (EU CSRD); the United Kingdom’s Climate Related Financial Disclosures (CFRD) and other SECR, FCA, and DWP requirements based on the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations; and the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) disclosure standards.
Increased reporting requirements can be burdensome for companies to implement, yet we see these requirements as a positive step in the long run. Climate change presents significant risks to the global economy, including physical risks on company operations, transition risks, and the associated costs of adapting to a lower-carbon economy. Clear reporting and high-quality information will help companies understand the risks to their business and take active steps to holistically address them across their organizations.
Corporate social impact leaders are increasingly being called on by their business counterparts, executives, and board to help make sense of this and other ESG reporting requirements.
I’m lucky to be joined by Admas Kanyagia, the Vice President of Social Impact at DigitalOcean, a publicly-traded multinational technology company and cloud service provider, managing 15 global data centers and providing cloud infrastructure-as-a-service platforms to clients worldwide. In 2022, Admas led the launch of DO Impact, the company’s global social impact program.
Admas, tell us a bit more about DO Impact and your role.
Thank you, Nikhil. I lead DO Impact at DigitalOcean. Our company’s mission is to empower changemakers around the globe through our products and philanthropy, enable our people to do good in their communities, and ensure our footprint is sustainable. On our tenth anniversary last year, we launched DO Impact to meet our Pledge 1% commitment to leverage $50M over the next ten years for social impact. I was excited to join the company to design DO Impact’s strategy and bring it to life. Our three pillars include: Product, where we work with more than 2,200 nonprofits & social enterprises to leverage cloud infrastructure to advance their missions; Philanthropy, where we activate the company and our employees to give back their money, time, and expertise; Purpose, where we amplify the stories of our nonprofit partners; and finally, Planet, where we are working to understand the company’s impact on the environment.
What do the changing requirements mean for your role as the head of DigitalOcean’s social impact work? How have you been involved in these conversations? What is your role in the implementation of these changes?
As a head of social impact, I’ve had to gain more capacity, insight, and expertise in broader ESG strategy and reporting. This was not a required competency for CSR officers 25 years ago when I started in the social sector. Most of us cut our teeth in corporate philanthropy and community relations. The remit of Corporate Social Impact officers has grown with the inclusion of sustainability, ESG reporting, and a heavier emphasis on governance as part of our portfolios. For me, this means closer integration of Social Impact with Legal departments relating to any public reporting requirements related to ESG and Sustainability; with Communications & Marketing to define the narrative of our company’s progress over time; with Operations to drive tangible changes to procurement and operations practices; with Engineering to identify product opportunities for our customers; and with our leadership team to define our overall strategy and long-term goals. One recent example is how I worked with the Legal and Investor Relations teams to launch a new ESG website to tell the story of our progress to investors, rating agencies, regulators, and other key stakeholders. My role is to tie this work together across the company with multiple cross-functional relationships and the support and advocacy of leadership.
Does that mean that, going forward, you will work more closely with sustainability, ESG, DEI, and business leads?
I already do this today, like most of my peers. We all rely on multiple frameworks to define the impact we want to make on social issues as companies (shared value, triple bottom line, etc.) What is common to all Corporate Social Impact practitioners is how our work grows even more cross-functional, even more integrated, and even more critical to the business as stakeholder demands and expectations grow. The regulatory requirements represented by the new upcoming SEC rules are but one example of the increasing expectations for companies to be good stewards for employees, customers, investors, and our communities.
A big focus of the work you lead with DO Impact is thinking about communities and equity. What’s the equity lens on the SEC’s new rules? How can companies like DigitalOcean use these changing reporting requirements to advance their equity commitments?
Like many companies, DigitalOcean made commitments to advance Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging (DI&B) in 2021, which precede any regulatory requirements. I see DO Impact as the external expression of our DI&B commitment as it is directed at external communities. We brought that lens to our first year of grantmaking, by partnering with nonprofits serving underserved communities across the globe and working with our Employee Resource Groups to direct philanthropy to equity causes. In our grantmaking, we support multiple nonprofits and social enterprises who are building solutions to the climate crisis on DigitalOcean technology, like Questagame, Take Action Global, and BudBurst. I would love for companies to talk about whether their operations impact certain communities more than others or whether there are regional differences.
What’s your hope for what comes next for DigitalOcean’s social and environmental impact programs? What would you like for your peers—social impact and CSR leads—at other tech companies to keep in mind as they build their own ESG programs?
DigitalOcean is making progress toward better defining our social and environmental plans, especially as they relate to DO Impact and our three pillars. It is incremental progress, and we are still very early in our development. My advice for my peers at other tech companies who are in a similar position is to use your role to leverage cross-functional relationships to drive your strategy and programs in these areas. Deepen your own expertise and learning on these important topics such as ESG, sustainability, and governance. And make sure to connect with your peers and share your successes and failures. We’re all in this together.
Thank you, Admas, for your generosity and transparency (pun intended) in sharing. As you noted, corporate social impact leaders are now, more than ever, truly being called on to serve as cross-functional leaders. Heads of social impact and sustainability functions have an important and exciting role they can play not just in helping their companies understand these new rules, but to think strategically and more holistically about how they can mitigate climate-related risks, shift business practices, and play an active role in positively contributing to a just transition.
Nikhil Bumb (he/him) is a Managing Director at FSG, a global nonprofit consulting firm that partners with foundations and corporations to create equitable systems change.
Admas Kanyagia (she/her) is the Vice President of Social Impact at DigitalOcean, a multinational technology company and cloud service provider.