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Vice-President, Corporate Affairs, Cisco Canada

By: Carolyn Patricia Grisold

Willa Black is changing the world for good, one small act at a time.

As vice-president of Corporate Affairs with Cisco Canada, she is responsible for all corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy and programming, Cisco brand extension, strategic partnerships, and external communications including executive speaking platforms.

In short, it’s her job to promote the company’s Human Network. And her influence stretches so much further than her office walls.

It’s not enough today for an organization to simply make donations to charities and consider its responsibility to the community taken care of. Although generosity is always appreciated, that somewhat passive form of contribution is no longer the norm. Companies like Cisco are taking a holistic approach to corporate social responsibility, and engaging with causes in a way that weaves CSR into all areas of business, especially brand awareness.

A company, like an individual, can be defined as charitable, socially responsible, influential – all terms associated with a strong brand and also a great person. And Willa Black lives her Cisco messaging.

Black demonstrates the high-standards of an influential woman through simple acts – being aware of the small steps she can take in her daily life to make her world a better place, incorporating these changes into her professional assignments and taking them beyond their original intention to create an international sensation.

A 30-year veteran of the public relations and marketing industry, Black began her career at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising in Toronto. This was followed by 14 years at Royal Trust/Royal Bank where she was director, Public Affairs for the Wealth Management division of RBC. Since joining Cisco in 1999, she has developed and led groundbreaking, award-winning programming including the One Million Acts of Green (OMAoG) campaign in partnership with the CBC. Thousands of Canadians participated in this national challenge to drive personal commitment towards environmental sustainability, resulting in over 2 million “green acts.” With CBC’s The Hour and its host George Stroumboulopoulos, along with other supporters like David Suzuki, OMAoG went global.

In 2009, the Canadian Marketing Association recognized the campaign and Black, who was Director of Corporate Marketing at the time, with a silver award in the Business Products & Services category.

At around the same time in her career, Black helped launch The Globe and Mail’s Business Incubator. A website created to allow small and medium businesses to access leading-edge tools and information, the Business Incubator helps drive them forward through a dynamic 2.0 environment demonstrating the full potential of the human network.

One of the Canadian ICT industry’s best-known brand champions, Black’s non-linear path into ICT and her insights on how the power of a superbly executed great idea can contribute to career success, has made her a strong mentor and influential woman.

Black has sat on numerous boards, steering committees and councils, including the board of directors for Dignitas International, an organization founded by Dr. James Orbinski and James Fraser, both formerly of Médecins Sans Frontières. Dignitas International’s mandate is that everyone has the right to health and dignity. They provide frontline medical care and training, conduct high-impact research, develop innovative models of care, and advocate for changes in health policy to improve the lives of millions in the developing world.

She has won over 10 awards, been promoted in the last year and has led or closed 10 deals and strategic partnerships this year alone. We can only imagine what small step Willa Black will take next.