Women in CSR – Canada: Pamela Divinsky, Founder of The Divinsky Group


Welcome to the TSSS Series on Canadian Women in CSR. Learn about their journeys, discover what inspires them and explore how they’re making a difference through their careers in sustainability. Please follow the link to read about other exceptional Canadian Women in CSR.

TSSS: Briefly describe your current role and responsibility and how many years you’ve been in the business.

Pamela Divinsky

Pamela Divinsky. Founder of The Divinsky Group

Pamela Divinsky: I am the Founder of The Divinsky Group. We are a team that works with clients to define their compelling Stand in the world, and to bring that Stand to life in ways that drive profitability and enduring social change. I started this venture 3 years ago because I believed then, as I still do now, that the time is ripe for companies, and NGOs, to combine the best of competitive energies and collaborative spirit to create mutually beneficial change. The greater the degree to which business improves the social conditions of existence, the better their business. We have created a team with diverse backgrounds, expertise, experience and mindsets because we know that for ourselves, and for our clients, success is all about different perspectives thinking differently to get to better solutions.”

TSSS: Have you always been concerned about environmental and social issues – where/when did your passion begin?

PD: No, and yes. As are most humans, I was outrageously self-absorbed in my twenties, which was easy and indeed encouraged when one was a graduate student at The University of Chicago. But the issue that captured my imagination then was how self-interested individuals can live and work together in communities, and businesses, in ways that create social, or public good. This inherent tension between private and public, self-interest and collective interest informed the history of capitalist thought, from Adam Smith through to the most recent thoughts of Thomas Piketty, and we still don’t have a totally satisfactory solution, or resolution. We live the tension every day on a personal level; and we certainly experience the problem through the egregiously terrible behavior of people and businesses around the world. Figuring out how to find that balance is the unanswered challenge that gets me out of bed and drives me.

TSSS: Can you share a recent accomplishment that you’re especially proud of?

PD: I recently hosted, with the support of the Schulich Executive Education Centre, The Collaborative Capitalism Roundtable Conversations: six Conversations covering both the theory and the practice of how to “do capitalism” in a way that drives both profitability and social improvement. In the face of skepticism and disbelief, a core group of 15 participated in all six Conversations (with several folks joining for just a few) with unexpected candour. Honesty amongst corporate leaders, especially from a variety of sectors, is rare; it created camaraderie and led to insights that were really interesting and valuable. We are now in the process of turning these Conversations into a book.

TSSS: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey and how.

PD: There was not one person who affected me. It was my family. I grew up in a loud, argumentative, politically charged family. One half were confirmed communists and our Passover Seders were about the liberation of oppressed peoples. The other half were deep believers of Milton Friedman-like monetarism. So I grew up being able to argue at least two opposing sides of any issue or event, with equal amounts of reason and passion. For me, this was not a “sustainability journey” in any conventional sense, but it was a constant debate around how to align the interests of individuals with what will really drive economic and social improvements. How do you create an approach to business that is not exploitative, extortionist and ruthless? How do you create an approach to social issues that leverages the very best of competitiveness and individual responsibility?

TSSS: What is the best advice you have ever received?

PD: A very good friend of mine said to me many many years ago, when she was only 15 and piercingly wise, Stand in your own truth. It hit me then that this is all you really have at the end of your life – the knowledge that you sought the truth and were truthful to yourself. But this is not an end; it is a very challenging journey. It is not always easy to know your truth; and it is almost always a delicate exercise to know how to stand in that truth so that you don’t totally alienate your colleagues. So while this was extraordinarily valuable advice, it is extremely hard to live it.

TSSS: What one piece of wisdom would you like to share with the next generation of female sustainability leaders?

PD: When I asked a Rabbi to define the essence of Judaism, she said – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; the rest is commentary”. There are various iterations of this “Golden Rule” that put different emphasis on inclusion or exclusion, but the thrust is clear. I would offer this. No matter how ambitious, harsh, and driven, or soft-spoken, insecure, and self-doubting you may be, no matter how right you may feel you are, or how intimidated you may feel with a boss or client, always take a breath, and behave as you would like to be treated. Regardless of the outcome, you will know that you acted with dignity and humanity. And this holds even when you are having an argument with some horrid customer service agent on the phone.

TSSS: If you had the power to make one major change at your company, in your sector or in Canada as a whole, that if we woke up tomorrow that change would be the new status quo what would it b

PD: Dispense with the concept of sustainability and all the monikers of “doing business better”. Naming these practices at the outset was important because it defined ways of behaving that were socially and economically valuable. But the business landscape has changed and these behaviours have now become marginalized precisely because they have been named outside the core of business strategy. If we really believe that addressing social issues is key to business success – and I do believe this – then socially responsible behavior can’t be defined as separate from standard operating procedures.