A career in sustainability

Ingvild Sørensen first arrived in New York as a 24-year-old intern in a small UN project. Today, UN Global Compact has become the world´s largest initiative for sustainable business, with Ingrid in a strategic leadership role.

Text: Ruth Astrid L. Sæter
Foto: Nora Savosnick

The morning sun lights up the streets of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Ingvild is on her way to work, in the city she moved to 12 years ago. Here in New York, Ingvild planned to spend five months as an intern in UN Global Compact, where she wrote her master thesis about anti-corruption.

- UN Global Compact was one of the smallest organizations in the UN when I started. It was established in 2000 as a special project under the Secretary General´s office. When I started back in 2009, there were 20 employees, says Ingvild.

UN Global Compact is the UN´s organization for sustainable business, growing rapidly over the past few years: Today they have members in 12500 businesses located in over 160 nations, making it the world´s largest initiative for sustainable business.

The headquarter is located in the place which eventually became Ingvild´s home. She arrived in New York with a bachelor’s degree in International Management from BI, and a master’s degree in Advanced Management Practice from Bath, UK. Having just finished an internship at Procter & Gamble-owned Wella, she was seemingly destined for a corporate career.

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A new approach – for UN

However, Ingvild and UN Global Compact turned out to be a perfect match. In her role as Senior Manager for Strategic Development, she has spent the last five years helping businesses all over the world turn sustainability challenges into concrete business opportunities.

- To acknowledge the role of businesses in the great social web was a new approach for the UN when this project started, says Ingvild on her way to the office she has been renting for the last year, after their headquarters was shut down due to the pandemic.

- Initially, that approach was not widely accepted. Today we have about 100 employees at the office in New York, and close to 70 business networks spread across the world. It has become a completely different organization.

While most of us think of the environment whenever someone says “sustainability”, Ingvild emphasizes that the term encompasses much more than that.

- The 17 sustainable development goals illustrate what challenges we are facing, from eradicating poverty to fighting inequality and to combat climate change by 2030. To me, it is crucial that companies can relate to sustainability as an integrated part of management, and not just as an isolated project.

- How did you experience coming to New York as a 24-year-old and working at the UN?

- It was definitely exciting. I came in with a background in business, which was not common. But this also meant that I could get involved in many of the projects from the start. It was anything but glamorous, we worked all day long on short contracts. In many ways, it felt like a startup. I did not get a permanent position until 2021.  

Ingvild A. Sørensen 

  • Position: Senior Manager
  • Residency: New York
  • Education: Bachelor’s degree in International Management from BI with three semesters in Germany, and a master’s degree in Advanced Management Practice from Bath, UK

A worldwide potential

Currently, around 200 Norwegian companies have joined the initiative. In fact, Norway has one of the local networks with the largest membership growth. This might sound like a big deal, but still:

- 12 000 companies are not that much when you look at it from a global perspective. But this is exactly where the UN Global Compact stands out because we have one foot in the UN system and another in the private sector. We can push companies to greater lengths compared to other initiatives out there. We can make this a global movement, Ingvild points out.  

A company that joins UN Global Compact commits to follow the UN´s ten principles for responsible business. They provide guidelines for how companies can ensure responsible operations within human rights, working life, anti-corruption and the environment. Members must report on this work every year.

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A lot of work remains

- This reporting is perhaps one of the most important things companies do to show the global community that they actually work with sustainability and responsibility. All members must publish the report online, open and accessible to all, says Ingvild and adds:

- An important part of our job in the UN Global Compact is to make companies understand that they must take this work seriously. If the leaders don’t include sustainability in the companies’ core, they are not able to create the conditions for sustainable operations and growth. There are very few companies who managed to do this, and a lot of work remains.

Although the road to sustainable business life is long, Ingvild Sørensen sees many bright spots:

- It is amazing to see when investors and some of the world´s largest companies together use their impact to create a healthy and good chain of value, because they truly want to contribute towards a better society. This is when we see our work has a meaning and our agenda grows in importance. It is a real rush.

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Important tools

- You have a bachelor’s degree in international marketing and leadership from BI with three semesters in Germany. Then you travelled to the UK to study for a master’s degree. Was it always your plan to work internationally?

- I grew up in the city of oil, Stavanger, where it was a huge international community. I wanted education with possibilities. Business was exciting, and I wished to combine my career with world exploring. Sustainability gradually became important to me.

- Do you use any of the skills you learned about management in your job today?

Yes. One of the most important skills I learned, is the holistic and strategic approach that lies in sustainable management. Being able to understand how companies think and operate, and how they are managed. That knowledge has given me skills I use daily when I have to facilitate companies to work sustainably. To see how everything is connected and that we actually need collective actions to change something. This is what motivates me.