Student Feature: Marion Champoux-Pellegrin

Development Work and Corporate Social Responsibility in Bangladesh

Marion Champoux-Pellegrin graduated from McGill in December 2015 with a Joint Honours degree in International Development Studies and Political Science. She received the Albert Hirschman Prize awarded by ISID for the Best Paper in International Development Studies. After graduation, Marion worked for Olympic Industries, in Dhaka, Bangladesh for three years. She is now on her way to work in Myanmar, where she will be looking for opportunities to build on experience in corporate sustainability and labour rights.

After writing my thesis on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate responses to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, I was hired as a Research Assistant in McGill’s Southeast Asia Research Programme. This brought me to conduct further research on the ground in Dhaka. There I had the opportunity to meet international NGO workers, ambassadors, and leaders of industry, among others. The small international community and its closeness with the Bangladeshi elite allowed me to develop a network I could never have dreamed of in Canada.

After graduating in Joint Honours, International Development Studies and Political Science, I moved to Bangladesh to find a job. Dhaka is a challenging place, but it is full of opportunities for anyone with a good education and work ethic. After a month of networking, I met with the Executive Director of one of the largest food manufacturers, Olympic Industries, in Bangladesh. He had asked during my last visit if I would be able to write a CSR report for his company. I agreed and suggested I build a holistic CSR vision and implementation plan for his company.

I started as a project manager. I based my idea of CSR on the numerous reports I had read in the context of my thesis and online research. The most important classes I had taken in the context of my IDS degree were the practical, hands-on ones; most of my job was problem-solving. I spent half my time in the first few months on Google. I thought this would put off my employer, but instead it encouraged him to see how autonomous I could be. He had, after all, hired a 23 year-old with little professional experience.

The CSR report and implementation plan took less of my time than expected and I was keen to learn other skills. I offered to manage other projects in parallel, starting off small. As a result, my employer kept me on as Head of Sustainability. My role involved selecting and managing projects to better the lives of factory workers and to reduce the company’s impact on the environment. I worked in collaboration with local NGOs to implement projects focused on health and nutrition, education, and gender equity. I also managed business-facing projects such as the digitization of business processes. This allowed me to both have a substantial impact on an underserved population and to develop a broad range of useful and marketable skills.

In retrospect (and as a result of discussion with many NGO workers), this position allowed me to do and learn much more than if I had worked in the non-profit sector. I also encountered many moral dilemmas and impossible situations. To all current and prospective students, I would say this: The IDS degree is what you make of it. Do the best you can, stay open to a range of opportunities, and it will take you places.

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