Designing Purposeful Impact Strategies with Kevval Hanna of Edelman

August 29, 2023

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Kevval Hanna, Edelman’s Senior Vice President of Social Impact and Sustainability, is an experienced strategist, passionate about the collaborative power of business, philanthropy and government. As a thought leader with deep practical experiences in social impact, economic development, financial inclusion, equity, sustainability, philanthropy and stakeholder engagement she leads with humility.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian. I’m so honored to have with us today, Kevval Hanna. She’s the senior vice president of social impact and sustainability to Edelman. Welcome, Kevval, to the Impact Podcast.

Kevval Hanna: Thank you, John. I’m glad to be here.

John: It’s an honor to have you today. Before we get talking about all the great work you and your colleagues are doing in sustainability, in impact, and social impact at Edelman, can we get a little bit into your background first? I know you live in DC now, but where did you grow up and how did you even get interested in these topics that we’re going to be talking about today?

Kevval: I’m from the islands of the Bahamas and I think for me, coming from a small island nation, always navigating its space in the world, I was really able to see firsthand what economic development initiatives could be, both positive and negative. Because of this, I really kind of devoted my life’s work to the kinds of initiatives that I believe could change, save, and improve people’s lives. For me, I’ve always stayed grounded in impact. I think about access, equity, and inclusion. I really try to do that with a collaborative mindset. I believe that if we can bring the best of the private, public, and social sector together, we can solve so many issues. Before I came to Edelman, I led teams working in about a hundred-plus cities, reimagining what government could be with the Center for Public Impact, which is a BCG foundation. Really looking at what could an inclusive economy be for Roanoke, for St. Louis, for Miami, for any kind of city. I think that ability to work with serving leaders, to really think about what that could look like, is very close to my heart. I also worked with Population Services International, which is a international health NGO partnering with corporations, philanthropists, and foundations who wanted to really transform what global health could be. I worked with Pfizer, Merck, Unilever, really bringing the best of their minds, their people, their talent, and their resources as well to really solve some of these issues. Finally, I’m a former World Banker. What that meant is I had the opportunity to advise governments all over the world that were committed to economic development, or gender equity, or health, or social investment sustainability, or any of these big, large infrastructure projects, which have these huge lofty goals. I came with that mindset of who’s at the table? Do we need to build a table with the goal of, can we create long lasting impact? That’s a little bit about me. My family still lives in the Bahamas. I am very lucky to have them as part of my life and my community.

John: That’s fascinating. I have to be honest with you. I’m 60 years old now, Kevval, and I’ve never met anyone who was part of the World Bank before. How does that really work? Where do you sit? Who do you interrelate with on a regular basis when you’re a member of the World Bank?

Kevval: For me, I worked in a couple of different divisions, but I was really always a social development specialist. In essence, our rule was if we’re going to do a new project or a new loan, really thinking of it from the social lens. Is this going to have harm? How do we mitigate any potential harm? How do we make sure there’s proper outreach and communication to the populations and the communities we intend to serve? For me, I had the opportunity to work in- I’ve worked in Macedonia. I’ve worked in [inaudible]. I’ve worked in Mexico. I’ve worked everywhere, again, with that same lens of if we’re going to do this, let’s do this really, really well. The bank was an amazing experience for me. I started at the bank right out of college. I got to see, touch, and do everything, shaping the world that I believe could happen, could be. I thought it was really about giving people a voice and choice in the process.

John: What an unbelievable education post your formal education to have a chance to work at the World Bank. What a-

Kevval: It was my dream job. When I came out of college, I went to school in Wisconsin from the Bahamas, so minus 20 degrees, 90 degrees. I always knew I wanted to work in international development. It was what I wanted to do. When I finished grad school, I had the opportunity to work for the bank and I started in the social development group, working in Latin America. Then I did some work in Africa. I then went actually to our private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, which looked more of like, how do you activate private sector investment? I worked primarily in South Asia, so India, Bangladesh, Maldives, etc.

John: For our viewers and listeners, I’d like you to share a little bit about Edelman first. You can find Kevval, of course, and our colleagues at What I knew of Edelman, it was always a communications company, but can you explain approximately how many employees and offices you have around the world, and what’s your core business model?

Kevval: Yes. Edelman is a global communications firm that essentially partners with businesses and organizations to evolve, promote, and really protect their brands and reputation. We try to give our clients the confidence to lead and act with certainty, earning the trust of our stakeholders. We have offices in about 60-plus countries and about 5000 or so plus employees. We touch pretty much every specialization from social media to executive thought leadership to what I do in social impact space. We touch a lot of different aspects of what it means to be a communicator, to be an advisor, a trusted advisor in the communication space. Essentially, we help companies define and evolve their role in society, right? How do they want to be engaged? How do they inspire that engagement? How do they work across the entire ecosystem? My role at Edelman in the social impact and sustainability practice, which I lead an RDC team, is really, again, partnering with companies and brands to implement impact and sustainability initiatives that put purpose at the heart of what they do and build trust between business and society. Again, I do everything from thinking about the strategy, to creating signature programs, to creating that narrative. If someone here is going to do this, what does that sound like? What is it going to be? How are we going to communicate it? I talk a lot about trust because it’s in Edelman’s DNA. We believe that it is the foundation. It’s essential for social cohesion, economic growth, and governance, etc. Without it, the world’s going to be a little tough. That’s why you hear me talk about trust a lot.

John: That’s fascinating. You represent some of the greatest brands on this planet, obviously, with your 5000 or so employees and 60 offices around the world. What does the day in the life of the senior vice president of social impact and sustainability look like?

Kevval: I play a couple of different roles. One is I am an advisor for our clients in many ways. A client might come to us and say, “Hey, we really want to invest 10 million in poverty in X community.” They come to me and I say, “Well, why? What are you hoping and intend to do?”

John: Right.

Kevval: “Is this going to connect with your consumers, your investors, your employees? How are you going to shape this program? How do you know what’s going to be the impact of your outcomes? What are your competitors doing? Does this even mean anything?” A lot of times, I work with clients across multiple sectors, pharmaceutical, retail, etc. But really, one coming to me for advice and counsel. Secondly, I spend a lot of time thinking about the strategy. If you want to do a global impact strategy, if you want to do something new, flashing and exciting, you come to me and we’ll do a discovery stage. We’ll ask those questions. We’ll do an audit. Then we’ll think about what is it that you’re going to be, that is unique to you based on what you’re good at. What do your stakeholders want and what does the world need? With that intersection, we’re going to hopefully create something, communicate on that, build that, et cetera, again, with those principles of competence, integrity, transparency, and engagement.

John: What a fascinating role that you play though. You’re not only in an advisory role, but you’re building, specifically on a bespoke basis, the macro model for each of these brands specific to their own needs, wants, and goals from the ground up. You’re building a 360-degree plan for them, looking at all those issues and data points that you just mentioned. My gosh.

Kevval: John, here’s the thing. Not every company is the same, right? When we look at society today, people expect more from business. What that doesn’t mean is that you do every single thing, right? For me, I use those practical experiences working in the mountains of Peru, working with the governments of Uganda. I’m working with all these different places and bringing that practicality to the table and saying, “Hey, X brand. You’ve got this piece and you’ve got this piece. Here’s what you’re going to be known for. Here’s what you’re going to get credit for. And it’s going to fit with your business goals, as well as your employee goals and your consumer goals, etc.” I think sometimes, brands or companies think, “We have to do everything. We have to speak on everything.” Maybe sometimes you should pause and reflect and hopefully bring folks in like us, who have that experience, that knowledge, and can push and pull in different levers, but in business, you’re expected to do more. That’s one of the reasons why I came to Edelman to bring that practicality and that experience so that we can actually do things that are authentic and not just chat boxes.

John: Understood. That’s fascinating. I grew up in Queens, New York and went to one of the first integrated elementary schools back then in the late 60s and early 70s. I also have lived long enough to have lived in Los Angeles during what was then called the Rodney King riots, which now is re-termed as the LA riots. I’m always interested to hear my guest’s thoughts and opinions on where are we today? In many ways, I thought we would be so much further down the road in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, and harmonization in this country. It just seems as though we’ve come far but way not far enough to where we really should be and where we need to go. I’d love your thoughts on that, number one. Following into that, your role at Edelman in giving those who have been disenfranchised, historically, giving the voiceless a voice, and those who have been disenfranchised or marginalized a voice and more of an opportunity to participate in this great democracy, which is now close to 240 something years old.

Kevval: Yes. Your question and your perspectives on are we farther enough? Are we far enough? I thought we were far enough. I think it really depends on a couple different factors. The first, the American experience is not uniform, right? Your perspective is going to be completely different from your neighbor’s perspective. Depending on your parents’ income, place of birth, all these different factors that come into this, we call it intersectionality, right? It actually matters a lot now. That’s the first thing. It’s thinking about how all these pieces come together to make who you are. One, the American experience isn’t uniform. Secondly, there is this increase in polarization, where there’s these factors around economic anxiety or the mass class divide or mistrust or this battle for truth that further and further pulls us away. We saw in our trust data that people trust those that are local and close to them. Before time, it wasn’t really like that. Trust was, again, that ultimate currency. There’s a couple of things. Again, one, the fact that experiences are not uniform. The polarization is continuing to push this agenda that’s raising anxieties and raising some of the behaviors and the attitudes that you see are rising that spew hate and violence.

I think the third thing is sometimes, I think people think about life in a zero-sum game. If this person wins, I lose. Heather McGee is an amazing author in the solidarity dividend and she talks a lot about this. If black people do better, it doesn’t mean white Americans do less. We’re actually all going to move up. I think we’re battling a couple of those things where the zero-sum game is really kind of that narrative that is playing in people’s heads, coupled with that battle for truth, couple with economic anxiety. Everyone’s just closing it. Unfortunately, I think it does create, as you can see, this narrative of violence and hate. But what I’d love to see is that radical joy and that radical positive spirit of people who are going to continue or are continuing to push and fight for what they believe is right and what they believe is true. At Edelman, again, we try to make sure that our clients are thinking about all of these different factors when they say they want to stand up for something. We give a lot of guidance and points of view on everything from the supreme court rulings, to current events, to employees’ behavior. There are so many things that are coming up. One of the big things that we’d like to see is one, pause, reflect, bring the right people in, have a system in place, have your crisis team ready. We also do crisis as well. Then you are seeing the picture from all different perspectives because once trust is lost, it’s gone. It’s very hard to rebuild.

John: That’s so true. It’s so fascinating that you take a group approach, which makes total sense, as a diverse group, which goes to the issue of diversity being as such a better way to lead and make decisions. Everybody that I’ve had on the show, especially in recent years, when we talk about the issue of diversity and inclusivity, they just say better decisions come out of that process.

Kevval: Yes.

John: I love your idea of zero-sum game, both from a singular human being’s perspective, when you mentor folks and talk to them about running your race and not worrying about jealousy. Jealousy covertness is such a hard way to live life, both as a person and as an organization. Like you said, it’s a world of abundance because as some of us are going up the ladder, that doesn’t mean you’re going down.

Kevval: It doesn’t mean the ladder’s going down. But what I think people forget then is that there are inequalities and how growth or benefits are distributed, right? The game is actually already stacked. I’m a huge sports fan, so I really think about the game stack. I’m actually a former hurdler. For me, I have to look at the hurdle in front of me or I’m going to fall. I have to run my race. I have to take one hurdle at a time. And that’s how I’d like to guide my clients through their process. Take one hurdle at a time. Don’t try to do everything.

John: That makes sense.

Kevval: But if you do something, do it with actual intention and with equity embedded. What that means is if you’re going to- Let’s use a school program. We’re going to do STEM in St. Louis, in all the poor schools in St. Louis. Fine. Okay. Well, what else are we doing around the school? Are we supporting the parents? Are we supporting transportation? Are we thinking about the full human, the full community? That’s, again, pushing and guiding clients to think about how far they’re impact can go. Again, that outcome, the impact from those outcomes.

John: For those who’ve just joined us, we’ve got Kevval Hanna with us today. She’s the senior vice president of social impact and sustainability at Edelman. To find Kevval and her colleagues and all the important work they’re doing now in social impact and sustainability, please go to Sustainability is a term that goes back to… Well, let’s just say in most recent times, let’s say it goes back 20 years or so when Al Gore started popularizing it with An Inconvenient Truth and everything else. But now, it has also taken on this inclusive terminology of the shift from the linear to circular economy, ESG, and some of those other greater trends that governments in the United States and around the world focus on, and as you said, big businesses focus on and big institutional investors, such as Larry Fink and the group at Black Rock, et cetera, one of the greatest, largest, and most successful investment groups on the planet. Talk a little bit about those trends being wind at your back and what you’re trying to accomplish in social impact and sustainability at Edelman with vis-à-vis your clients.

Kevval: Absolutely. I think the three biggest trends we’re seeing is one, there’s a lot of what we call green hushing. Green hushing and greenwashing, right?

John: Right.

Kevval: That goes back to my first point, just ensuring that we have the right inputs, the right resources, and the right story in place so that we and our clients have our backs against the wall. The first thing is that there’s a lot of conversation around green hushing versus greenwashing. The next thing that is bubbling up to that is people are getting called out on, are you doing businesses just on vision? Where’s the evidence? Right? After the murder of George Floyd, everyone was doing something. Now, you can see there’s a lot more conversations of, well, what has happened to the 18 billion that was invested in black and brown communities? What has happened to all the black female leaders who are leading nonprofits? What has happened to X, Y, and Z? Again, there’s a big microscope on the evidence aspect of this. That’s the second thing.

I think the third thing is there’s a lot of focus on local, right? What are you doing on those communities where you live and operate? You can be a global brand but what’s happening in your New Jersey headquarters? Or what’s happening in your campus here? Again, really thinking about that ecosystem approach to impact. Sustainability has environment. It has social. It has governance. It reminds me of my World Bank days, where I was doing social development work but I was also looking at, how is this going to impact the environment? If we build this huge transmission station, what is that going to mean both for the environment, for the people that don’t want it here, and also from the governance perspective in terms of who gets the electricity? Again, these issues are continuously coming up. They may be called different things but at the end of the day, it’s really about how we center people and what we hope to have, which I call an equitable future.

John: Interesting. I’m a child of the 60s, obviously, so I still remember the romantic and wonderful feelings we had towards the government back then, the Kennedy era, the Camelot era, the race to moon, and the success that we had in the space race, and the things that brought our country together. As you said, we’ve eroded trust in good government and the polarization in government has become huge. It then shifted to entertainment and sports, but with the democratization of the media, now, everybody is a potential reporter with a cellphone and TMZ exists and other platforms like TMZ. We get to see all the warts of our previous heroes that we never got to see. And so, the distrust has seeped in further. We have the most recent times, like you said, of the widening of the polarization. I remember fondly the era of Reagan and Tip O’Neill getting together for a drink at the end of the day to figure out how to create bridges instead of [inaudible]. Now that we are in this period of great distrust, of government, of who used to be some more popular voices, real movie stars when we didn’t know all their warts, of real sports stars where we didn’t see all their peccadillos and other things that go on in real life because we’re all just human, how do we rebuild trust in organizations, in people, and in platforms that used to instill trust that made us want to move forward and do the good work that this country really wants us to do?

Kevval: I’m an optimist. I’m a cautious optimist, but I do think there’s people like you and I out there, John, and a lot of your guests that believe that the future can continue to look brighter and better. I think the big thing to focus on is one, we are very complex creatures, right? When you think about how we experience trust or distrust, again, it’s not uniform.

John: Right.

Kevval: There’s a couple of things that I would signal. One, when we know- Through our research, we found that trust is greatest with people closest to us. That gives business and opportunity as an employer to ensure that they are leveraging the truth, that they’re investing in fairness, that they are leveraging the comparative advantage to ensure that disinformation does not exist in their space. When you think about government, you’re thinking the government’s building strong relationships. They’re present. They’re visible. They are bringing other voices to the table. These are very practical actionable things I’m telling you, right? Engage deeply with their residents. What that means is maybe you’ve got to go to the baseball game. Maybe you have to go to a church. Not everyone’s going to be able to get off at 7 o’clock to go to a meeting. Again, it’s thinking about these very practical ways of doing it.

For philanthropy, that means creating spaces to showcase local innovation and partnerships, embedding equity, thinking about your investments emotionally, and really listening intently. When I think about trust, I want your listeners to leave with this. Trust is actionable. It is the ultimate currency in all the relationships regardless of the institutions, business, governments, media, and NGO. It is the foundation that allows any of these groups that I’ve just mentioned to take risk, to act, to make mistakes, to succeed, and to lead. When any of these institutions are thinking about these things, they should lead with that in mind. That means collaboration. That means opening. That means transparency. That means as a business, you are hopefully restoring hope in the economy through your actions. Again, these are some of the ways I feel like it’s important to build trust, and I’ve seen that in my own work, working with a hundred plus city leaders across the US. That’s what the fabric of redefining legitimacy means in our world today.

John: With what you’re saying, I want to go back to that word, collaboration, in a second. As you were talking, I was also thinking it’s almost unthinkable to me. To think that we’ve even eroded the trust. The Supreme Court of the United States of America used to be the law of the land and the most trustworthy individuals that we could all depend upon no matter what our private thoughts were and our own predispositions were. But even the Supreme Court has been badly battered.

Kevval: Yes, polarized. It’s 100% polarized. What’s fascinating here, John, is this is where business can lead, right?

John: I want to hear it. What do you mean by that? Talk about business leading. What do you mean by business leading and collaboration?

Kevval: Business is business. Government is kind of a monolith.

John: Right.

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Kevval: To find resources, there’s affiliations and there’s a lot that goes with being government. But in business, there’s a couple of levels. One, they’re expected to lead on issues of the social issues, right? When we looked at our research, on average, 64% of people said they would support companies and media outlets that build consensus to help civility and strengthen our social fabric. They wanted business to be overwhelmingly involved on a range of issues five times more. For instance, health access. Again, when we think about how the pandemic accelerated this transformation, we think about racial and social equity. Business is unfortunately also operating in a fragmented and confusing world, but what they have is they have flexibility. They have resources. They have talent. And they have this nudge from the world that doing nothing and saying nothing is not possible anymore.

It’s not viable. For me, when I’m working with our clients and our CEOs, I’m like, you can take a stand on something like the treatment of your employees. You can take a stand on the community. You can take a stand on wealth gap. You can take a stand on diversity. These aren’t hot button tension riddle issues. These are issues of humanity. These are issues of people. Again, I go back to those questions when I think about how you operate responsibility in today’s environment. It goes back to some of those questions of, what are you good at? What does the world need? What do your stakeholders expect and how do you stay accountable? Again, these are very practical things for a leader to do. To be an advocate, to be a leader, to be a visionary, and to support equity and inclusion.

John: Let’s talk about a real life example. I’m a CEO at a big corporation in USA. I have my inner circle and I come up with what we think is a great idea. We’re a client of Edelman and we’re at your office. We’re with your team and we’re so excited to pitch you our idea and we pitch it. At what point and how does the process really look like? Of course, I’m coming in with all the best of intentions.

Kevval: Of course.

John: But now you and your team confer with each other and you realize that really, we’re going down a path that won’t have the intended results that we really are looking for. How do you gently talk me out of that but give me other paths that could have better results and better consequences, and of course, better impact for everybody’s benefit?

Kevval: That’s a great question. One of the biggest things that I have to do from where I sit is to be accountable to my clients and to build trust. What that means is to ask the hard questions but also create that space where they know that I’m going to give them the best information and data. For example, we get clients that come to us and say, “We want to be on the big stage, Davos.”

John: Right.

Kevval: That’s not for everybody because as you can see, there’s backlash from Davos. Again, using the Davos example, when a client comes in and says, “We want to be in Davos or we want to have-” Well, what are you going to do there? What are you going to say? If you want to be in the stage, who do you want to be on the stage with? What does that mean for your risk perspective? What does that mean for your reputation? If the decision is this is not the right time, I’m going to then come and say, “Well, why don’t you park yourself at Social Innovation Summit or go to Aspen or Milken?” These are other great places to be. And you have now the proof points to back up what you’re doing, right? What I don’t want to happen is if you go to Davos or another conference, people are saying, “Well, they’re missing the point of what you’re even doing,” which is, for instance, if you’re working on a small business for black women, people will miss that point because you’re at Davos. Again, really making sure that I connect the dots and bring data, research, and the practicality. If that’s where you want to be, okay, we’re ready with our crisis team if that comes up. But we’d rather not put you in that position.

John: If I understand correctly, you’re trying to make sure the circles they’re trying to become fit into a circle and not a square and just the reverse. So, I come to you, love the idea, and I want to go to Davos. You help me put that all together and we have all the best intentions. Are you and your team, which, of course, is a diverse team of lots of different specialists, also thinking about, “John, you are not flying to Davos on your private plane. We’re not going to ruin the intent and the opportunity of that big stage and all the good impact that’s going to come out of that to be sidetracked with, all of a sudden, eggs being thrown your way because you weren’t really helping the carbon footprint of the world but going over.”

Kevval: Listen. 100%, John. When I think about a client, I think about all aspects. Where we speaking? How are we speaking? What are you wearing? Right?

John: Right.

Kevval: How are you engaging first? Who is on that panel? If it’s just three white men on the panel, that’s not a good look. Good for you but that’s actually not a good look, right? Clients are trusting us to give them those hard pieces of information. Trust me. There’s clients who’ve said, “We’re going to go do this thing that we’re going to do.” My job is then to shape it and craft it in the way that still feels like it’s competent, it has integrity, and it has transparency. It definitely is challenging because I work in a client-based world, but at the end the day, they’re trusting me. Also, I started off with I believe I am grounded in impact. I have said no to many things when I said that doesn’t mean anything. People laugh at me all the time and my team. They say, “Oh, God. Kevval is saying it again.” What does this mean? This doesn’t mean anything. This is not going to mean anything. Good that you did this but-

John: Right.

Kevval: Right? I come with that mindset because I know I can be better. I know it can be greater. Sometimes people can only see what’s in front of them. I have this little thing that I used to called the five whys, and you just keep going, “Why?” until you get to that answer that then tells you why the journey is this and why we’re going on that journey. Again, I try to- Yes, that’s kind of how-

John: Really, one of your greatest assets is your emotional intelligence to create a safe space where we, as a client of Edelman, I feel safe enough to propose anything to you in terms of what we think our best ideas are. But you also create a safe space where you’re able to give really constructive and [inaudible] feedback.

Kevval: Yes, 100%. I don’t say, “That’s a horrible idea.” I start with, “I’m curious. This event versus this, help me understand why you want to invest in early childhood education in X city versus looking at investing in parenting for the middle school or whatever it is.” It’s about me asking questions and understanding who the client is. At the end of the day, it’s about developing relationships with people. That’s one of the greatest things I learned at working in the World Bank and over 20 plus countries around the world. I had to have that cultural competency to be able to know when to speak, when to listen. But my ability to observe and listen with intention and not listen to respond, is a game changer. 100% a game changer. I think that is probably one of my superpowers.

John: One of many.

Kevval: You’re too kind.

John: Kevval, if I’m understanding you right now, I want to get this right. I want our listeners to hear this. As you said, there’s lots of pieces to the pie to gain trust and ways to move forward. But generally speaking, your methodology is business first on the lead and then bring in and collaborate with good government, media, and other platforms as well. Do I have that right or am I missing something in your algorithm and in the math that you do in terms of how you put together a collaboration?

Kevval: I won’t pretend and say collaboration is easy. I will start with collaboration is not easy just off the multimillion-dollar collaborations I’ve done all over the world.

John: Right.

Kevval: What collaboration does that others don’t do is we always talk about together, it’s better. Right now, business, what we found in our research, is the most trusted institution. That’s why I’m saying business is now expected to lead. And they can take that lead because the expectation is there, the flexibility is there, and the interest is in there. Government plays a role. Philanthropy absolutely plays a role. And they can come together. Again, I believe this umbrella or this tent kind of can come together to bring those different parts of the pie. For example, government can bring- Let’s say we want to do a re-skilling. Government brings the policy. Government can bring the different government agencies to the table. They can bring the data. They can bring the resources and the people. Business can only do two things. They can help the space. They can also help with new employment opportunities. They can also invest faster and quicker. Philanthropy can come in hopefully to risk some of that investment that business may make. Again, all these pieces are playing together to hopefully re-skill people for the future. That’s just kind of an example of how I see these pieces coming together. Someone has to take the lead, of course, but they all play a critical role in leveling the playing field, thinking about our future generation, and of course, finding really smart ways to bring human decency at the core of whatever we do. Is that helpful?

John: Yes, that’s great. Let’s go back to the five whys. Recently, a friend of mine and I were talking and giving each other feedback on some ideas that we had. He said, “John, let’s approach it from a different way,” and it goes back to your whys. But I want to hear your thoughts on this.

Kevval: Sure.

John: He said to me, “John, when you make decisions about things that you want to do, think about are you really polishing your resume or are you writing your eulogy?” It almost goes back to Bruce Springsteen’s line from his book about children and grandchildren. He goes, “Are you going to be remembered as a ghost to them or a real ancestor? Could you really leave a mark that was true about how you wanted to be remembered and how you lived your life?” Let’s go back to polishing your resume versus writing your eulogy. When you are coaching, mentoring, and advising these world leaders in business and in government, how do you approach appealing to their sense of intelligence and better reasoning? Because we know with a lot of those jobs, come huge egos. How does it work?

Kevval: Absolutely. Let’s be honest. I’m a black woman, right? That’s a whole another level to to navigate. A couple of things. One, I have had extremely amazing mentors and colleagues who have reinforced that this is the space that I should be in. That I have value and worth. I have an amazing experience. I don’t know many people who’ve worked in business, government, and philanthropy. That’s a triple threat. For me, I am grounded in my value and my worth in many ways. But what I find actually more powerful, again, that’s also an ego speaking, is I will know someone’s cat’s name, their dog’s name, how their kids are doing, how their last vacation was because we’re connecting as humans. That’s what I reinforce to our teams everyday. Find out if the person is on the other line. Pick up the phone and call someone. An email is an email. Hey, how are you doing? What’s going on? How was the kids’ baseball game this weekend? If anybody knows me, they will look at my contact list and laugh because I put notes every time. Even the dentist. I’ll say, “Here’s the dentist’s number. He’s going to a vacation on this.” Or, “Here’s my kid’s teachers name. Her kid’s graduating. I’ll make sure to send a card.” I do the basic things. I write handwritten notes. I teach my kids to do that. Thank you notes, hello notes, that kind of thing. I really believe that at the end of the day, you want to connect as humans, right? John, we connected a little bit on football already. We connected a little bit on sustainability already. We connected on a couple things already, right? And so, now, I’ll always remember.

I’m going to catch the Notre Dame game and send you a thumbs up or thumbs down. Things like that are what I think is really, really important, having that ability to connect as humans and it doesn’t feel transactional. I always tell people, especially younger folks that I mentor, when you send a message to someone on LinkedIn, don’t tell me you want to pick my brain. Read something I’ve written. Listen to something that I’ve spoken about and say, “That was really interesting to me. I would love to learn more because of this.” Show me that you’ve put the effort to know me as a human being. For this call today, I looked at a lot of your things. I kind of dug in your brain. Why this versus this? Why is he doing this? So that, again, I know how to connect with you as a human. It was really important. Again, I do my homework. I believe in being prepared. I don’t go into anything kind of hoping that the five whys will save me. I’m going to sit down and look at your profile. I’m going to look at your last five years of financials. I’m going to look at where you have been and what you want to be. I’m going to ask you the questions of- Dream with me. I say that to my clients all the time or ask the question, who’s putting pressure on your back? Where is this coming from? Those kinds of things.

John: Let’s go back to the lost art of communication. Edelman, at the end of the day, is a communications firm where you’re explaining the process, the hard work of building trust, which then goes back to really good communication skills.

Kevval: 100%.

John: Like you said, you’re coaching your children in the lost and simple art of writing a thank you note, which very few people engage in anymore. When I get to mentor our sales team here, I say, “Listen, get your face out of Facebook and go get in someone’s face. Go meet them. You’re going to close nose-to-nose.” You’re not going to close- I have never closed a deal over a text message, Snapchat, Instagram or any of the other platforms that have wonderful things that you can do with them, but also have become tremendous distractions to really-

Kevval: Everyone’s doing it. It’s not interesting. It’s not exciting if everybody is doing it. I think from the communications aspect, we try to understand what the different channels are, right? Is it earned? Is it social? Is it some other avenue? Is it being out there in public? What is it? Again, we try to ask those questions in terms of amplification, audience, altitude? Are we changing perspectives? Are we thinking about the need to change attitudes? What’s going to be our KPIs? If anything, for me, I come from the World Bank, where we always thought about what is going to be our theory of change and how do we know if we’re going to actually- Have we done what we’ve set out to do? That’s how my mind is always kind of- People may think purpose and impact is soft, but I’m thinking, how are we changing hearts and minds and changing people’s lives? I have my different ways of kind of shaping that, but that’s really what I’m thinking about at the end of the day.

John: Well, that’s important because at the end of the day, the CEO or the chairman or the vice chairman, whoever’s come to you with their inner circle of decision makers at XYZ company, is going to need those tangible results to show their board of directors, to show analysts. They’re going to have to really reveal their bonafides at the end of the day. Like you said, it’s not soft.

Kevval: 100%. The space has been professionalized, right? Previously, it might have been someone who’s there for a long time. They get an opportunity in CSR or philanthropy or it might be under legal or public affairs or whatever it is. But the space has been professionalized because it’s become a very important component of business. What I hope your listeners will leave with is that even with this expectation of doing more, you actually can create something that is unique, that cuts through the essence of your DNA, that speaks to all of your stakeholders and hopefully leaves you with some sense of purpose, of the connection you’ve left in this world, whatever that looks like for you. No way will you miss.

John: Let’s switch topics and go to the Built-for-all series. What does that mean? How did you get involved and what is its mission?

Kevval: To give you a little background, over the last, let’s say, 75 years, the economy has grown. We have had economic transformations, technology has advanced, etcetera. But what we found is, if you click down, the benefits of economic growth have actually been unequally distributed. What that meant was- This has kind of a background. I led a partnership with the Center for Public Impact, the BCG foundation, in partnership with the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, where we gather insights from Nobel laureates and heads of international organizations, some of the smartest thinkers in the world, to ask them two questions. What’s wrong with the economy? Of course, how do we fix it? Built-for-all is really a summarization of what we found. We wanted to create a North star, essentially, an actionable framework that says, here’s what a global inclusive economy looks like and here’s what business civic society and government can do to ensure that we are reimagining and rebuilding economies to ensure three things. There’s equitable access and opportunities, there’s a level playing field, and that people are collectively towards all future generations. The hope is that, again, with these three sectors working in cohort, that we can have a future where today’s economy is not being assessed on the mindset of yesterday, but we’re thinking about the future.

John: I got it. Speaking of the future, what are you most excited about with regards to the projects and initiatives that are [inaudible] at Edelman in the months and years ahead?

Kevval: I would say three things. One, my goal is to continue to help companies towards more sustainable business and business practices and helping them have greater impact with their customers. Secondly, I want and I plan to continue to amplify, engage, and share the trust work. We have cuts from business and racial justice, to trust, to AI, etc. Wanting to continue to share the work so that the world can say, “Hey, trust is your currency. Use it wisely. Use it well.” I think the last thing is I believe in impact, right? That can be in so many different levels, whether it be working with my clients, working with colleagues that I mentor and I work with. And also, just continuing to hopefully share the story of what impact could be. No zero-sum game.

John: I love it, Kevval. This has been wonderful. Like we shared earlier off the air, you’re always welcome back on this show. For our listeners and viewers, to find Kevval and her colleagues and all the important work they’re doing in social impact and sustainability at Edelman, please go to Kevval Hanna, thank you for not only joining us today, but thank you for making the world a better place and making all the impacts that you’ve made in your very young life and what you’re going to make in the future. I hope we get to connect in person in the future, and I want you to come back on the show and continue sharing your journey in impact and sustainability.

Kevval: Awesome. Thank you, John. I really appreciate the time today.

John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry. With thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, livestreams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit

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