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Elizabeth Freele

HUMAN SUCCESS

EPIC Awards 2022 Finalist

"Corporate sustainability is no longer about doing LESS harm, its about doing MORE good; its about using the power, privilege and resource of business for a greater purpose than mere profit, to consciously shape a more resilient trajectory for humanity. What you do makes a difference. What do YOU want to spend the currency of your life on?"

Co-founder & Managing Partner of Sympact. IMBA 2017

I began dreaming of a social impact career early in my life and ended up studying global development, political science, environmental science and gender studies. It was during my coursework that I was introduced to the term “Corporate Social Responsibility”, presented as a greenwashing tool of the corporate world. From that day, I couldn’t get out of my head the thought that just because “CSR” wasn’t working well didn’t mean that’s all it could ever be. And there began my conscious capitalism mission: to use business to tackle humanity’s great environmental and social challenges. I spent my early career years in various CSR roles and social enterprise ventures in West Africa. My work rapidly became about sustainability more broadly, environmental and social, as I came to understand that we cannot address one without the other.

After hopping around between field positions in mining, circular agriculture and renewable energy, I landed on Bay Street, the heart of Canada’s financial industry. It was this corporate office experience that led me to pursue my MBA, knowing that the Boardroom was where I could nurture the most impact on the social issues I was so passionate about. From those early years was born my now unwavering focus on humanity’s relationship with natural resources, the many ways nature provides for us, and what happens to societal and community resilience when the natural ecosystems that enable us to thrive begin to degrade. Whether its through advisory corporate work with my ESG firm Sympact, or the Internet of Nature (IoN) land-healing applications of AI-driven planetary management startup Hyphae, my central goal lately is to help humanity navigate the 500% increase in mineral resource demand, required to power our transition to a low-carbon, high-tech future. This is a transition that forecasts immense ecological and societal impacts, the cost to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. It is a transition that must be sustainable and socially-just, and one in which the business world has a crucial role to play. During the COVID pandemic I actually started a podcast passion project centred on just this – check it out on Youtube (https://youtu.be/6NyWG9uz3so) or anywhere you get your audio podcasts! 🙂

How did IE helped you to get where you are today?

I was drawn to IE because, like the school itself, I too considered myself “out of the ordinary” – an unconventional business school candidate, I hoped IE would help fill my gap in business acumen. Not only did IE give me this, but the customizable nature of the MBA allowed me to develop new interests in topics like digital innovation and robotics, as well as forge peer relationships through the student clubs I joined the boards of – Net Impact and the Energy Club – some of whom I now get to work with today! I also had the opportunity to participate in the Emzingo human-centred consulting fellowship program, supporting a BEE Initiative funded cleantech water startup, Kusini. The program was a chance to bring together my previous international development experience, my foundational business and entrepreneurship learnings, and my budding tech interests. Without the ensemble of these IE experiences I doubt I would have taken the leap in 2019 to start my ESG firm, Sympact, or join AI-driven planetary management startup Hyphae.

In what way your work is impacting the world?

Although I’ve worked in a variety of corporate social responsibility, social enterprise and sustainability roles, I feel most called to bringing my ESG expertise to raw material and natural resource industries, especially those that the majority of people are uninterested in, like mining. Although these raw materials are crucial to power our electronics, our cars, and perhaps most importantly, the renewable energy necessary for a green transition, the current ecological and human cost of business-as-usual is far too great – if you’re reading this, you alone are responsible for about 20 tonnes of raw material extraction every single year. Raw material industries need help from innovative systems-thinkers to redefine their social purpose beyond profit, to find ways deliver on all that society demands of them in a truly sustainable and socially acceptable way. The challenges and opportunities to have tangible impact in this space, especially with regards to local communities, are truly profound and I find the work very meaningful.

What drove you to work for a cause that believes in the greater good?

Growing up in a very multi-cultural and socially unequal environment in the Middle East and surrounding regions as a child, I became keenly aware of my relative privilege in this world at a young age, and as an empath was easily touched by social injustice and others’ pain when I saw it. I was also heavily influenced by having a nurse mother who spent her youth working tackling leprosy in Zaire. Our world is full of opportunities to alleviate widespread suffering and I believe in every one of us doing our part. I’ve never known a time when I didn’t feel called to working for a greater good, for me there has never been anything else. Working in service to something bigger makes me feel alive, it keeps me energized and driven. Using business as a tool to craft a brighter future for humanity is my purpose.

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