Why organizational sustainability depends on its social intelligence, with Kelly Cooper

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Kelly Cooper has been involved in sustainable development her entire career, even representing Canada at the United Nations on issues involving sustainability and environment. 12 years ago, she started to think about the social impact of sustainability. But what does that mean, and how does social intelligence affect organizational sustainability?

Kelly Cooper is the founder and CEO of the Centre for Social Intelligence and author of Lead the Change: The Competitive Advantage of Gender Diversity and Inclusion (GDI).


Jackie: Welcome to our show and thanks for listening. My guest today is Kelly Cooper. Kelly is the founder and CEO for the Canadian based Center for Social Intelligence, which helps leaders create a diverse and inclusive transformation through targeted audits, assessments, and action plans. Kelly has worked in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe, creating sustainable development projects. Kelly, thank you for joining us. It’s so good to talk to you again. 

Kelly Cooper: Thank you for having me, Jackie. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Jackie: Of course. So I love to start with a little bit about your background, your family, your identity, whatever you’d like to share.

Kelly Cooper: I guess I’m a, I can say that I am the youngest of five kids. I had three older brothers. Two of them were quite significantly older, they were 10 and 12 years older. And so that influence was quite significant, obviously. they were kind of rough with me and they weren’t like protected little girl in my house.

It was more rough and tumble and calling of names and, you know, I had to go up a thick skin. Let’s just say that and hard to get air time, hard to get air time. So I kind of grew up with a competitive environment. You could say one of my brothers used to say, my mother had five children, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, and Kelly.

He could imagine, I was like, hey, I was just born. I didn’t ask for this. But, it was that kind of an environment. And then my mother and father divorced when I was quite young. I was about nine. And so those were the days when you really weren’t getting divorced, you know, this was like 1980 or 79.

So, you know, it was, my mum was a bit of a, you know, liberal woman and kind of set that course, I guess in my mind too, in terms of feminism in a way. Right. So, yeah, I guess that’s a snapshot. I don’t want to get into my whole, a whole story for you. 

Jackie: I appreciate that. So let’s talk about your background because I, I often find that successful people start down one path, right, but then pivot into what they’re really meant to do. So can you talk a little about your professional journey? 

Kelly Cooper: So I think I’ve been pretty square in the sustainable development world, my whole career. I graduated from the university of Toronto in 1993. So that shows my age, but that was at a time when the word sustainable development was just born.

It was 1987 when that word was coined through the United Nations. And, I had an environmental science degree and sustainable development to me was awesome. I was like, this is the future. And I could see that right away because it’s all about building an economy that’s not compromising the environment or social issues and making it sustainable for the future generations. So to me, that was like, that makes a lot of sense. And within the sustainable development realm, they go through what’s called agenda 21 and it was really for setting the tone for the 21st century on what the world issues are that we have to face.

And so within the agenda 21, there, they created, the United Nations created 40 chapters. A bunch of them are focusing on environmental issues and a bunch of them are focused on social issues. So things like climate change, biodiversity, deforestation, those kinds of big topics where the environmental issues.

And then on the social side, it was all about things like women and addressing poverty and those kinds of things. So to answer your question, it’s a long way around it, but sustainable development really set the context for my world, and I worked primarily for the first 20 years on the environmental issues of sustainable development.

So really got in deep on climate change. worked on that through the federal government here in Canada. I worked as a policy advisor to ministers on that issue represented Canada at the United Nations meetings

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