August 31st, 2021

Roseann Casey is a seasoned executive with over 30 years of experience creating sustainable and equitable solutions to global challenges. Her international experience began in the Peace Corps in Russia, eventually leading her to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Washington D.C., among other posts, where she supported post-conflict recovery, economic growth, infrastructure, and power sector reform. Roseann’s executive experience is equally impressive, leading sustainability initiatives for private-sector companies like Citi, and implementing cross-sector partnerships with USAID.

Below, read more about Roseann’s executive journey, the responsibility of companies and boards to support environmental and social causes, and the reasoning behind her purposeful sabbatical.

What are the highlights of your executive journey?

I didn’t really set out to pursue a “business” career, but I majored in business as an undergraduate because I realized I would need to know the business aspects of any career I pursued. I’ve always been drawn to international affairs and geo-political issues, and I had the good fortune of working across the globe, primarily in developing economies. Throughout my career, I found myself in a variety of leadership positions that allowed me to collaborate across sectors with external partners, be that donors, grantees, contractors, government leaders, corporate partners, etc.

After a decade of humanitarian-focused work I dove into the “corporate responsibility” sector as it was just emerging. I believe that most “development” issues (international or domestic) are significantly tied to private sector actions and interests. Companies and industry should be part of this dialogue by design, not retroactively fixing things after problems emerge. I had “in-house” roles, and led stakeholder engagements facilitating honest and productive dialogue between leaders in the advocacy, corporate, and investment sectors. My roles with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) continued this general thread, with a focus on infrastructure development as a means to sustainable economic growth.

Needless to say, my experience across many countries and the global vantage point was the biggest highlight. I gained perspective and humility in the process, and saw the realities of cross-sector collaboration and global interdependence.

What is the unique value you bring to the C-suite and boardroom?

The breath of my experience. I have worked around the world with governments and private sector leaders to make tangible progress on complex issues. Every time I return from working abroad, I realize how applicable everything I focused on abroad is at home. International development may seem altruistic, but it is really all about managing resources in a way that is congruent with needs, constraints, and best practices. I’m also a policy person… I have a master’s in Public Administration and my infrastructure work focused on policy. From this perspective, I see the carrots and the sticks, what motivates individuals and institutions, how we can incentivize the best outcomes.

You recently took a year-long sabbatical. What was the motive behind that and why was it meaningful for you?

I was approaching the end of my appointment in the federal government and — after spending about ten years posted abroad in high-threat countries, or in D.C. with constant travel — I wanted to catch up with life, family, friends. Professionally, I wanted to step back from government work to consider how and where I could make my best and most satisfying contribution in the “next chapter” of my career. There were also some practical elements, like having shoulder surgery and a knee replacement!

I’m a Colorado native and live in a beautiful mountain town where I hadn’t spent more than two consecutive weeks in over ten years. It was the perfect time to connect with home again. Then I started ticking off some bucket list items like doing an intensive French course in the south of France. I began to do a bit of freelance work to see if hanging my own shingle was the best way forward.

My sabbatical reaffirmed that I need to do purposeful work, that I enjoy connectivity with the world, and that I like to be working toward solutions to the key challenges (locally and globally). It has given me time to read (a ton) and write (a little) and reinforced my belief that climate solutions and gender equality are two of the most worthy and important issues for me and for our society.

How do you see companies being integral to solving the climate crisis?

I can’t think of any industry or company that does not have a role to play. If every company was aware of the basics (like power, waste, water use) and taking the easy steps, it would make a huge change. Often we focus only on environmental issues, but ensuring equitable human resources and policies (such as pay equity) are hugely impactful, as is the influence of companies across their supply chains and value chains. It’s back to carrots and sticks… what do companies do, what behaviors do they influence and incentivize.

What is the role of companies and boards in responding to social crises?

I believe that companies have influence in both visible and subtle ways. Social crises are often the eventual eruption of issues that have existed and simmered for too long, typically related to systemic inequality. Tipping points may look like a sudden crisis, but are often just the eventual recognition of long-standing issues coupled with a lack of good governance in government and institutions.

With regard to government and governance, our democratic ideals and institutions are being tested right now. Companies and industry are heavily involved in elections, policy, and legislation. Political campaigns are financed by companies and individuals in ever-increasing amounts, and often in ways that lack transparency or are misaligned with publicly stated values. With regard to acute crises like COVID, hurricanes, or floods, companies are often generous and responsive to their employees and communities, but philanthropy and emergency assistance shouldn’t be confused with corporate leadership and the hard task of looking at broader issues and impact.

Companies are vital to the day-to-day function or dysfunction of our communities, the effectiveness of government, the impact of trade, the achievement (or disregard for) environmental and social imperatives, the use/misuse of natural resources, and the evolution of local and global societies.

What brought you to Athena and how has it been helpful in your journey so far?

During my sabbatical, I wanted to connect with other professional women who were at a similar place in their professional lives. I wanted to broaden my professional interaction (especially during COVID) and Athena provided the opportunity for rich personal connections with others, as well as insight and connectivity as I consider and pursue board positions.

What advice do you have for rising women leaders?
Have the confidence to trust yourself, your skills, and your sense of professional curiosity to do the things you really want to do. Find your voice — it doesn’t need to be loud, but clear. Listen. Listen more. Listen to those you disagree with. Fine-tune your positions with grace and facts, and understand that people come from vastly different backgrounds and influences.

Anything related to sustainability is such a great focus right now. Whatever your technical focus is, just be aware of how those specific skills fit into the bigger picture… how that company or industry connects to society. There are leadership opportunities no matter where you are in the org chart — be true to yourself and your values.

Athena supports senior women leaders as they strategically expand their network, enhance their executive education, and become stronger leaders in the executive realm. Join Athena to access the learning, community, and opportunities you need to advance your executive career.



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