Laura Douglas remembers winters where her father would flood the tennis court near her London, Ontario home and transform it into a hockey rink for the local kids. (Her family also owned a Zamboni machine, but that’s another story altogether.) It was just one of the small ways her family was actively involved in their community—Laura’s parents always put giving back at the forefront of what they did.
“Growing up, into my teenage years,” she says, “I knew it was the right thing to do; give back to the community that had given so much to me. If we don’t do it for the next generation, who will?”
Laura took the lessons her parents taught her to college. While there, Laura and her sister volunteered with a homeless youth campaign and she became involved with Enactus, an international nonprofit that helps students organize through entrepreneurial action.
Enactus afforded her an opportunity to work abroad in Haiti, where she helped develop programs that empowered women to run small businesses. Usually the women were selling things like cooking and sewing services, and the group would then provide a small loan so that the women could hit the ground running. Laura was able to spend time with many of the women, seeing the direct results of her hard work.
“This was the first time some of these women were able to make money for themselves,” Laura says.
It was in Haiti that she reaffirmed she needed to commit her career journey to service. She started an internship at Unilever and applied for the company’s Future Leaders Program, a three-year graduate curriculum that’s run across 50 countries where enrollees are given challenging jobs that will prepare them for leadership roles across businesses. “I was attracted to the international program,” Laura admits.
The Future Leaders program wasn’t just limited to Unilever, but Laura found that the company aligned with her own values and goals—something she knew was important to her.
“I want to make an undeniable impact,” she says, “so that the world has a better future. Two billion people a day use our products and I want to be a part of a company that has that kind of impact.”
She was given the opportunity to develop distribution channels where Unilever products weren’t normally available, while also empowering women to improve the quality of their lives. Project Shakti is an example of the type of work she was leading, which gave women in rural areas of India baskets of Unilever products to sell and enabled them to experience a sense of financial independence. These same methods are used elsewhere in other developing countries.
Then, as Senior Assistant Brand Manager for Dove Hair at Unilever’s Canada branch, Laura was part of a commercial shoot in Toronto. The advertisement featured Canadian women and shared a message of what makes women feel beautiful, a campaign in line with the Dove Self-Esteem Project which seeks to alleviate women from the societal pressures over their appearance. Laura was able to help craft the message and work alongside the marketing and advertising teams to produce something that she deeply cared about.
“I’m not just selling shampoo,” she says.
Laura has spoken at universities and schools, sharing why it’s important to work for a company driven and passionate about sustainability, renewable energy, and gender equality.
“I don’t sleep a lot,” Laura jokes, mostly because her innate sense to help seems to consume every waking hour.
But to her, that’s just fine. “[It’s because] I can always hear my father saying, ‘How can we do it bigger? How can we make the biggest impact possible?”