“People often assume that the field of philanthropy is simply awarding grants to good organizations, but the field is much more sophisticated than that,” said L. Simone Washington, global social equity manager for Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. in South Burlington, Vermont.
After serving as director of programs for the Community Foundation of South Alabama and consulting with national grantmaking foundations, Washington applied for her role at Ben & Jerry’s in 2016.
“A couple of weeks before I applied, the company made a statement in support of racial justice. I recall telling a friend ‘This is the type of company that I see myself working for. They get it!’,” Washington said. “I loved the idea that a global company was willing to use its power as a beloved brand and global corporation to make bold statements in support of social justice. Its values and mission aligned with my own professional mission.”
In this nontraditional role for those with legal backgrounds, Washington leads the company’s global diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Her work is centered around creating progressive structural change using a racial equity lens with an emphasis on systems thinking and design.
Throughout her career, she has contributed extensively to helping promote racial and economic equity by consulting with some of the nation’s leading foundations including Casey Family Programs, Robert Wood Johnson, Open Society and Kellogg Foundations.
“I believe there is that moment in time where people begin to recognize that we have to have diversity in our world,” Washington said. “We are starting to realize that our businesses have to be inclusive.” According to Washington, lawyers have a tremendous power and influence to do good and affect social change in our communities. “Understanding our clients’ stories is so important when it comes to social change because we have to know where they are coming from,” she said.
“I don’t think that everyone is called to dedicate their entire lives to this work, but you can do something as simple as serving on a nonprofit board or providing pro bono services to advocacy groups that are on the frontlines of addressing major quality of life issues,” she said. “I would strongly encourage ‘baby lawyers’ to consider nontraditional career paths. Lawyers are trained to be imaginative, and the world needs more people willing to create a world where everyone is able to thrive.”
Her work to influence social change at Ben & Jerry’s has caught the attention of leaders at its parent company, Unilever. She now spends a lot of time working with sister companies, such as Seventh Generation and the Unilever North America and Brazil teams to figure out how to embed intersectional equity into the broader culture and operations.
“I feel like I am truly helping to change the world one curious learner at a time, and these people will go on to further change systems,” Washington closed.
• Helped the Community Foundation of South Alabama secure $7.5 million in outside funding to lead Alabama Gulf Coast’s recovery efforts in the wake of the BP Oil Spill
• Teaches two courses on social equity at the University of Vermont
• Came up with the name of one of Ben & Jerry’s best-selling limited batch flavors, “Gimme S’more,” a subtle nod to an old Busta Rhymes’ song and her love of hip-hop music