MANAGERS ABROAD : Nicki Black, London-based sustainability consultant

You are just about to move jobs. Tell us how that came about?
Since finishing my PhD in strategic management at Waikato University last September I have worked with business, civil society and policy organisations as an independent research consultant, based in London. In both my research and as consultant, I work to promote more responsible enterprise, particularly in areas affected by conflict.
Recent projects have included writing guidance document for companies and investors on responsible business in conflict areas for the United Nations Global Compact, an assessment of the possibilities of doing business responsibly in North Korea for large consumer goods company, and benchmarking of social performance on luxury global jewellery brands. As result, I have been recruited by De Beers, the world’s largest diamond company, as their corporate citizenship manager. I will be working on supporting the integration of sustainability and corporate responsibility issues across the entire diamond value chain – from mine to storefront – in the De Beers family of companies.

How does that move fit into your career path?
As New Zealander born and raised in Hong Kong, Singapore and the UK, I have an international outlook and have always been passionate about global issues. I also have human sciences degree from Oxford and Masters in political sociology from McGill, Canada. In my graduate work I have focused on the changing responsibilities of business, civil society and government under globalisation, first in the area of humanitarian advocacy and then in relation to the roles and impacts of global business in areas of very weak governance and conflict. For my PhD I analysed corporate citizenship in the oil and gas industry in Myanmar (Burma), interviewing more than 100 people in seven countries from 2006-2009.

That sounds like challenging job.
Responsible enterprise is rapidly emerging field, spanning corporate, policy and civil society action at both local and international levels. Keeping track of what is going on and identifying how best to engage as scholar and advocate is challenge. As normative exercise, the most desirable outcome can be as much in debate, as how to reach it. Working across organisations with very different aims, objectives, cultures and ways of interacting is both challenge and joy.

What is one insight you have found in your work?
It is always, everywhere, about people. Even when it seems to be about systems and institutions, these are created and peopled by individuals with personalities, hopes, passions, fears and dreams. Our common humanity is more accessible than you think. Systemic change can come from the most unlikely quarters, where people show courage, imagination, and act strategically with conviction. In the grey areas of negotiating ‘responsibility’ it is ultimately about human dignity.

You have recently been in New Zealand. How do you see us?
My work focuses on countries that are considered ‘fragile’ by the international community. They suffer from ongoing conflict, high levels of corruption, weak and/or corrupt governments. New Zealand is consistently rated as one of the most peaceful, least corrupt places on the planet. When I go home it is like drinking water when you are parched, reminder that for all the social challenges we face at home, our land is green and beautiful, and we have more than we often realise to be proud of and thankful for. The sustainability and responsible enterprise movement is quietly bubbling beneath the surface in New Zealand, with academics, businesses and some policy makers putting in good work around how to live up to our ‘100% pure’ strap-line, and support particularly our small-to-medium enterprises in reducing their environmental footprint and operating more sustainably.

Although you work abroad, I believe you are still working for New Zealand…
Being the most peaceful country in the world means there isn’t lot of work for me at home! But I am involved in some policy work on business and human rights in New Zealand at the Human Rights Foundation, and have links to the new National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in Dunedin.

London-based Kiwi Nicki Black’s work in promoting responsible enterprise around the world, most recently with Myanmar’s oil and gas industry, has seen her move into new role, helping the diamond industry to develop sustainability and corporate responsibility policies.

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