May 24th, 2011

New Trailblazer Interview Series - Kick Off: Deborah Leipziger - CR Pioneer - Part One


Have you ever:

  • Wondered what makes someone want to trail blaze, how this drive emerges? 
  • Wanted to discover how someone came to be considered a trailblazer? 
  • Speculated if trailblazers had support and mentors? 
  • Pondered if they have advice for aspiring trailblazers?

With this post, I am introducing a new series of trailblazer interviews to satisfy your curiosity about these questions and others you may have.  As you read the posts, I believe you’ll develop a better understanding of what makes trailblazers tick, determine if you are one of these game changers, and gain useful tips to trail blaze in your own industry or area of expertise.

My first interview, which I’ll share in three parts, is with Deborah Leipziger, an amazing trailblazer in the area of corporate responsibility.  She literally wrote the code, or rather the code book on corporate responsibility, aptly titled, The Corporate Responsibility Code Book.

 I chose to start this series with Deborah because her work has created positive change in business and in the lives of people around the globe. 

Deborah is a trusted advisor of global companies, governments, and UN agencies on corporate responsibility (CR) issues.  She has advised leading multinational companies on strategic and supply chain issues, as well as a wide range of CR initiatives, including the UN’s Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative, the UN Environment Programme, the Human Rights Impact Assessment, and Social Accountability International.

Today’s post focuses on Deborah as an emerging trailblazer.  My questions are in bold and Deborah’s answers follow in italics. 


Betsey:  How did your need to explore new horizons first manifest itself? Did it occur when you were a child? What horizons were you driven to explore?  

Deborah: My need to trail blaze has been part of my identity for a long time. I recall being in high school in Brazil and convincing the principal of my high school that we should go to a slum (a favela) to bring books and work on a social project. The principal was dumbfounded. No one from the school had ever had anything to do with the slum. Clearly, I was not going to take no for an answer and he relented.


Betsey:  When did you begin to invite others to come on these “journeys?”

Deborah:  Probably the excursion to the favela was the first time I entered uncharted water and brought along classmates and friends. It was a wonderful experience. I have never seen such joy and gratitude. I can still see the beaming faces of these kids as we spread out a party for them, along with books, toys and clothes. 


Betsey:  When in your career did you first experience consciously stepping into the role of trailblazer?

Deborah:  I recall in the late 90s, looking for books on corporate responsibility (CR) at the UPenn library and finding nothing. At that moment, I realized the opportunity that I had to write about CR. 


Betsey:  And write you have!  Over the past decade you not only wrote The Corporate Responsibility Code Book, which I understand is now in its second edition, but you also wrote several other influential books on corporate responsibility and sustainability that have received impressive amounts of praise within business, NGO and government circles — and, I hear that they have been translated into several languages.

Deborah:  Yes, I followed up with a second book, Social Accountability 8000: The Definitive Guide to the New Social Standard.  I’ve also co-authored Living Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Citizenship: Successful Strategies of Responsible Companies. 


Betsey:  What does it feel like to break new ground? Have you learned to recognize this as it’s happening?

Deborah:  It feels… right; like being in the right place at the right time. It’s a kind of knowing, a kind of internal certainty. One of the characteristics is that I feel a sense of certainty but other people do not necessarily see it at first. Many people see the simple, piercing logic of the idea, but sometimes people don’t – like the principal. Meeting with resistance is often an indicator that I am breaking new ground.

Each of the different times I have innovated felt completely right and necessary. It feels like something I must do. I also like the term “game changer.” Sometimes it takes a long time to recognize how much the game has changed as a result of projects one has been involved with.


Betsey:  Absolutely.  The trailblazer in you reveals itself over time.  And two signs for aspiring trailblazers to watch for is an internal “knowing” that may be confronted by external resistance.  Thank you, Deborah!  Okay, to be continued…


Tomorrow, Deborah will share what it’s like to be a trailblazer, what’s she’s learned along the way, and the legacy she hopes to leave behind. 

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Welcome to Fresh Tracks, Inc.™ Guide Posts – Our Founder/CEO, Betsey Dalbeck, created this blog to IGNITE trailblazing leadership in CEOs and their leadership teams. Purpose: 1) Keep clients and colleagues focused on innovation, 2) Offer actionable advice, 3) Build knowledge and confidence, and 4) Create a forum of idea exchange for Trailblazers. Bookmark and Share Check out my profile!