Katherine Keating: Driving Advocacy and Action
Katherine Keating in conversation with Aleksandra Nedeljkovic
Photo by David Joshua Ford
This is an edited excerpt from an interview originally featured in Issue 2.
As an Oscar-winning producer, global activist, member of the Mandela Advisory Committee and former publisher of VICE Impact, Katherine Keating is an advocacy powerhouse. Before Katherine joined Maverick Management as its Chief Sustainability and Strategy Officer in November 2018, we spoke to her about her work at VICE and the end of corporate social responsibility as we know it.
Aleksandra Nedeljkovic: For those readers who may not be aware of all your work to date, can you give us some background on your time in the advocacy space, and how you became involved with VICE?
Katherine Keating: I’ve been involved with policy and media for 15 years now. I started my career working for the New South Wales Government, and since then have sustained a career working with businesses, not-for-profits, policy think tanks and media organisations. My experience in government and the nonprofit sector has taught me that you can't steer meaningful change if there is no communication between policy-makers trying to push legislation, traditional media reporting on the issues, and foundations and grassroots organisations trying to advocate for their cause. Which is what led me to VICE. I recognised VICE as a media company that was prepared to challenge the status quo and they afforded me the opportunity to build an impact platform that could bring these worlds of influence together.
You’re known for wanting to influence policy outside of the political system, and in this instance you’ve chosen publishing as your medium. What is your vision for VICE Impact?
I gravitated towards VICE because of their audience base, their global reach and their extraordinary storytelling. I believe they’re a global leader in exploring and covering the most prominent social and political movements of my generation. With VICE Impact, we have built a platform grounded in VICE’s content which we have married with policy and advocacy expertise, to develop both content and campaigns that call on our audience to take action. With VICE’s global reach and influence, I believe we are uniquely positioned to become one of the leading strategic impact media platforms in the world.
Content platforms play a critical role in spreading the good word, but their impact often stops at education and awareness. When VICE Impact launched, I was excited by its powerful combination of words and actions. How does the model work, and how do you measure success?
It’s important to distinguish between the world of objective journalism versus subjective and opinion driven calls to action. What I think has changed in recent years is that media companies feel a responsibility to move beyond education and awareness, to democratise issues and promote actions and efforts that will drive change. And audiences are now asking how they can get involved. They don’t want to simply be moved by content they consume passively, they genuinely want to know what they can do about it. To that end, VICE Impact will spearhead and feature campaigns that give our audience the opportunity to take action on the content they read and watch on our platform. Wary of the complexity of the issues we are tackling, we are forging partnerships with respected NGOs, local organisations, foundations, activists, and companies to conceive and roll out these campaigns. Through this process, we hope to advance the role that companies and organisations should and can play in driving change via our platform. And we will quantify our success by running our efforts against measurable and transparent KPIs.
What issues are most important to you personally?
It may sound trite but I’m a staunch advocate for intersectionality, so I champion all development issues with the same intensity, similar to the the UN Global Goals. You can’t tackle farmer’s rights if you’re not looking at climate change. You can’t dive into income inequality without looking at women empowerment. You can’t look at global health without looking at racial discrimination. And you can’t look at poverty alleviation without examining education policy. But on a personal note, I will say that the two issues I have always thought were paramount were voter participation and climate change. As individuals we need to partake in the political process and we have to become more conscious consumers.
More civic-minded, millennials have ample avenues to share their views, unite with like-minded people and push the needle on issues they care about. Your work focuses on the younger generations. How do you think they’re changing the economic and political landscape?
Millennials, generally speaking, are changing the political landscape by being less affiliated with political parties and movements and more involved in grassroots activism. They are the first generation in the last decades that is fundamentally questioning our growth and consumption models, prompting politicians and policy-makers to introduce bold ideas and reforms such as universal income. They are changing the economic landscape because they don’t regard and hold for-profit companies to account in the same way as their parents did. Their parents wanted good branding for good, cool and safe products. Millennials are looking into supply chains, environmental footprint, labour rights, etc. And it’s no coincidence that major brands and corporations have adapted their sustainability commitments and practices to meet these demands. And that includes more transparency, tracking methods and so on.
Traditionally, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been used to offset a company’s negative impact. How can we get companies to build purpose into their DNA, and consider their impact from the outset? Do you think we’re seeing the death of tokenism?
Linked to your previous question, an increasingly significant portion of their consumer base want, or should I say expect, to see businesses that have placed environmental and social impact at the heart of their business strategies. It’s no longer about CSR, this is CEO-led growth and brand strategy. In my opinion, the days of CSR where spend is abstracted from the consumer are over.
What do you think is the single most important issue today and where do you think there is the opportunity for the greatest change?
The platform’s overarching focus is climate change and global sustainability. The exhaustion of our planet's resources combined with surging wealth inequality and declining productivity inspired VICE Impact's documentary feature 'The Third Industrial Revolution', which outlines social and economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin's vision for a more sustainable economic and environmental future. We recognise that sustainable solutions can't be built without collaboration across industries, but that we all must play our part in building a more sustainable future. Companies must play their part, but consumers are key to shifting the narrative and it starts with the desire for change.