3 Questions With: Molly Ernst-Alper, Social Accountability Manager, Unilever

Name: Molly Ernst-Alper

Role/Function: Social Accountability Manager, Unilever

What She’s Currently Working On: Our new CEO, Alan Jope, recently spoke publicly about challenging brands with purpose to walk the talk and that Unilever only has space for purpose driven brands in our portfolio. This supports the journey our company has been on for a while but is inspiring for us all to hear. There is an exciting energy throughout Unilever around making a positive social and environmental impact in all elements of our business! It also means we are even busier driving positive impact in our supply chain and amplifying the work of the Integrated Social Sustainability team to support our brands. Check out our Human Rights Report to see some of what we’re up to – we will be releasing an update in the next year.

A sampling of Unilever sustainable products, via unilever.com.

A sampling of Unilever sustainable products, via unilever.com.

1. What was the “aha” moment that sparked your interest in social impact?

I can't pinpoint a singular event but my parents are both educators and social justice activists who brought me to protests at a very young age. My maternal grandfather, Dr. Erwin J. Ernst, was a marine biologist. Visits with him were full of stories about his travels, Latin names of plants and animals, and being taught to deeply appreciate the planet. Around my house were books about the Holocaust, Civil Rights movement, poetry and photography books by the likes of Diane Arbus depicting real and often marginalized people.

Fortunately, I also had a couple teachers who nurtured students to take action and be activists and I was able to lean into those extracurriculars (didn’t hurt that I had bad soccer injuries two years in a row, clearly indicating my path was going to be less athletically oriented). So, with all of these factors mixing together, from a very early age I knew unconsciously and then consciously that social impact and human rights were going to be threaded throughout my life and career.

2. How did you break into the social impact space?

I had a very linear trajectory in knowing the space I wanted to be in early on. While looking for colleges I only looked at ones where I could have Human Rights as a major. That brought me to Barnard College in NYC. While there I made the conscious choice to intern at NGOs to explore the world of human rights. My final internship ended up being outside the NGO world at Eileen Fisher in their Social Consciousness department. I would say that was my ‘aha’ moment of discovering where in the vast world of social impact I wanted to sit and make an impact. I could see tangible changes I was having – the influence we had on colleagues and their actions as we collected and interpreted GHG data, social compliance audit information, and engaged them on human rights.

Right after college I worked in fundraising at the American Museum of Natural History. Just as important to understand where my passion was, it was equally as helpful to know what I didn’t want to do (but working at AMNH was VERY cool). While at that job I maintained my contacts at Eileen Fisher and found a role in human rights at a large apparel company and the rest is history!

I can’t say it enough: network, network, network. Ask people to coffee dates or phone calls. Informational sessions. It’s the best way to land your next gig whether you’re actively looking or not. It’s also fun to hear what other folks are working on!

3. What most excites you about social impact these days?

There is so much focus now on social impact and the role of corporations. I’m energized to see my peers at other companies, both within consumer goods and outside of it, working on exciting projects. There is an endless amount of work to be done and at times it can feel daunting. But to witness my friends and colleagues undertaking these challenges and having the support of large corporations behind them is inspiring. I love walking into a store, seeing products all around me and thinking, "Oh, I know the teams leading human rights!"

I’m also fortunate enough to work at a large organization with people tackling different aspects of sustainability. It is always exciting to connect with them periodically to brainstorm, learn, and discuss new areas of work.