Innovator in Residence: Laura Asiala

This post was written by Keil Corey, Sustainable Innovation MBA ’18

Recently Laura Asiala, Senior Fellow at PYXERA Global and a Sustainable Innovation MBA Advisory Board member, joined this year’s cohort for an in-class discussion on the role that business can play in addressing some of the world’s most intractable challenges.

Before joining the PYXERA team, Asiala had been the Director of Corporate Citizenship at Dow Corning Company. Over three decades in the corporate sector taught her that environmental and social sustainability are not hindrances to business; rather, they can ensure long-term success and profitability. She carries that vision forward in her current role at PYXERA, where she works to leverage the strengths of corporations, governments, social sector organizations, educational institutions, and individuals to solve complex problems in inclusive and sustainable ways.

Of particular interest to Asiala is how corporations can and must play a role in achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals. Adopted in 2015, the Global Goals identify specific targets and timelines that aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. At PYXERA, she is working on aligning multi-sector stakeholders toward those ends.

So what does that actually look like? Asiala cited an example from her days working at Dow Corning, where she was instrumental in developing a program that aimed to answer the question of how the company could better serve the four billion people at the base of the economic pyramid. Recognizing that they couldn’t answer that question sitting around a table at their corporate headquarters, she proposed a corporate service program that would send employees to serve with and learn from social enterprises in underserved communities around the world. Through the program, employees would learn about local challenges on-the-ground and exchange expertise and professional networks with host organizations and local communities while working on specific projects. During the four-week service program, employees would apply local insight to co-create innovative solutions with local partners. That first effort resulted in the development of a safe and fuel-efficient cook stove that would replace traditional cook stoves in southern Indian communities, reducing air pollution and associated health impacts that affect three billion people worldwide.

Starting with local context and collaboration allowed Dow Corning to identify a need and help a local organization create a product that would meet local need while improving health and economic opportunities. Asiala believes this kind of innovation and co-creation of business ventures can be a guiding framework for businesses to become more sustainable, address major world challenges, and be profitable going forward. Asiala uses this framework to guide her work at PYXERA engaging multi-sector stakeholders around a range of issues, including combating global hunger by reducing post-harvest food loss and improving access to health services in underserved communities, among others.

Further reading:

How Corporate America Can Change the World, Deirdre White, Fortune

What Gets Company’s to Want to Change the World, Deirdre White, Fortune