Lead(H)er Profile - Evadne Cokeh, Vice President of Social and Environmental Responsibility at ButcherBox banner image

Lead(H)er Profile - Evadne Cokeh, Vice President of Social and Environmental Responsibility at ButcherBox

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Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the Tech Industry.  In this Q&A, we are featuring Evadne CokehVice President of Social and Environmental Responsibility at ButcherBox.


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?

I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles. As a child I was quiet, studious, curious, helpful and had a passion for singing. As I think about this question now, through a professional lens, there is a lot of consistency in traits that have stuck with me as I’ve navigated my career, particularly my curiosity which has lent a hand in my ability and knack for solving complex problems. 

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?

I did my undergrad at Wellesley College where I majored in economics and I earned my MBA from Babson College. My first job was at Forrester Research as a research associate within the consulting firm arm of the organization working with marketing leaders. The biggest takeaway from that job was how I learned to be a business professional. I stayed a year with Forrester before taking an AmeriCorp year.

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?

During my undergrad, learning about microfinance gave me my first exposure to the idea of an income-generating business model where the purpose was to make a meaningful impact and address issues of inequality. I think that exposure has shaped my career and my drive. 

I interned at a microfinance company in China which was my first experience in the non-profit world. Through that internship, I came to the realization that the non-profit world is not all rosy – it was a very eye-opening experience to the “real-world.” I learned a lot about the tensions non-profits face with funding and unfortunately saw first-hand the work that was being done versus the work that claimed to have been done. This experience made me doubt the effectiveness of non-profits.

My AmeriCorp year was great for my entrepreneurial spirit and my socially driven heart. I’ve always been drawn to wanting to address issues of injustice or inequality. In this role, I ran a college preparation program for high schoolers, a majority would be the first in their family to attend college. This experience was by far my deepest exposure to working with a very diverse community (racially, religiously, socioeconomically) and where I really developed my communication and facilitation skills. 

I did my MBA at Babson College, focusing on social entrepreneurship and social innovation. Business school was really where I had an opportunity to explore social entrepreneurship business ideas and really develop my business acumen.

I started at ButcherBox and soon took over the product development and operations as the general manager of our sister company, SmoothieBox. I always said I wanted to run a business and this experience reinforced my business acumen, enabled me to expand my ability to handle a lot of stress, managing a team. All of that work prepared me for my new role at ButcherBox. 

What is your current role and responsibilities?

As ButcherBox’s vice president of social and environmental responsibility, I focus on our strategy and initiatives related to driving forward change in animal welfare, the environment, worker welfare and farmers. I chair our internal diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee and look at how we are addressing DEI across our business. Part of my role also focuses on our corporate giving program and I also chair our internal diversity, equity, and inclusion committee.

We just became a certified B Corporation, which is an exciting milestone for our company and something that we will use to benchmark our success across all our social and environmental issues. 

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position?

The short answer is, yes. My career journey always has a continual search for the most effective way to push forward impact and address issues of injustice. Because ButcherBox is a privately held for-profit company, we have control over our money and can decide where that money is spent, rather than a donor, VC, or stock market dictating those decisions. I think this company structure fosters being able to do social and environmental work most effectively. It is definitely a dream to be able to drive new thinking, innovation, and business value while addressing social and environmental issues.  

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?

  • Take action to do the type of work you want to do as much as possible inside and outside of work. When I was working in positions that didn’t really allow me to make an impact on issues of injustice, I turned to volunteering. I would walk a certain neighborhood handing out cups of food that I made with a small group of other volunteers to the homeless community for years. I would give my time to tutor students in afterschool programs. All these experiences give you additional knowledge and experience that is valuable and helps you to stay in touch with what is important to you. 
  • Embrace opportunities that come your way even if it isn’t “exactly” what you want to do and learn as much as you possibly can from them. But also, don’t lose sight of what drives you, what excites you. Make sure to take time to understand what you love to do and what you are naturally good at. Part of this means trying different work, exposing yourself to different types of companies, asking and receiving feedback from people you work with/ who know you well. 
  • Do your job really well and then advocate for what you actually want to do even if it is outside of the scope of your job. If you are doing your job well, I find people are eager to give you more opportunities and responsibility. In all the jobs I’ve held I always did the job that was asked of me the best I could and in my “extra” time sought after projects and skills that I aligned with what I wanted to do. 
  • Join or start a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee at work. Getting exposure to influencing an organization is priceless. I was chairing ButcherBox’s DEI committee before stepping into my current role and I was also involved in the company’s women’s employee resource group. I got involved in influencing the company to be a more diverse and inclusive place with the structure that was available to me. 

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?

The ability to break down very complex problems and tackle one piece at a time while figuring out the best way to measure them, is very important in my day to day. 

Patience, communication, empathy, and the ability to persuade are also skills that have gotten me to where I am today. I’ve spent many years honing those skills, they certainly are not skills you develop overnight. The variety of my work experiences really helped me with these skills too – which says a lot in terms of not needing a “traditional” career path to get where you want to go. 

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s most challenging?

Solving problems that are extremely complex and nuanced is the most rewarding, but also challenging part of my day to day. 

For a long time, the space of corporate social responsibility was primarily focused on good governance, corporate giving, and employee volunteering. What I love about social and environmental responsibility is how it can drive innovative thinking because you are forced to solve complex problems with constraints. For example, I’m working on a project right now to measure the carbon footprint of our shipping. I love that as you start to dig in and simply learn and measure—you discover so much opportunity and when you put the right metrics around your investigation you can identify really neat ways to do ROI calculations and make a business case for work that is really meaningful. 

Often times you are working on really complex problems and are taking very small steps at a time. This can make you feel like you are making no progress and making no change at all and when the work feels so urgent, this can be frustrating. To keep myself motivated, I do what I can to focus on making sure that I am taking some kind of action each day and believing that over time, there will be change. 

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

Starting a company, SmoothieBox, and leading my small team. I was very proud of the team I built. We had a lot of trust, had a lot of fun, really supported each other, and helped each other grow. I am proud of the obstacles I had to overcome to get the business off the ground (had a manufacturer drop us in the middle of product development, had to work through a lot of staffing challenges, figured out the product from scratch and launched within 8 months—a ridiculous timeline). 

A close second, which is a combination of a personal and professional accomplishment, was the mentoring relationship I had with a student, who was the first in his family to go to college. We met because I was running a college preparation program. Early on in my relationship with this student, he was very closed off and not willing to share much of what was going on in school or at home, which made it difficult to do things such as assist him with writing his college essay. I did my best to be consistent and present and over time our trust grew. So much so that one year, he joined me and my friends for Thanksgiving dinner one year!

Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?

I volunteer with Tutoring Plus, which is one of the longest-running out-of-school time academic programs for Cambridge students. I tutor a 9th grader, which has really been testing my Spanish skills!


Q&A

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Spending time outside—hiking, biking, rock climbing, kayaking.

How do you manage stress?

I spend as much time as I can outdoors to manage stress and center myself around my core values.

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?

Just one!

What's one of your favorite places in the Boston/New York area?

Walden Pond. Based on my answers above, it should be no surprise that I love spending time outside. Walden Pond is an incredibly beautiful outdoor space, it is also one of my favorite places to swim locally. I feel at ease when I arrive there, it is just so peaceful.

Any book or podcast recommendations?

Patagonia’s The Responsible Company— It is an amazing book to learn about how to balance environmental responsibility while running a business.

I’m currently reading Braiding Sweetgrass and So You Want to Talk About Race and highly recommend both!

What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
While you're looking for jobs, don’t be afraid to talk with people at organizations you admire for informational interviews. Things internally don’t always match up with what you might see externally and it’s good to get a sense of those types of things before you accept a job offer!

About the
Company

Founded in 2015, ButcherBox™ began with a simple mission to make high-quality meat more accessible to all. The company soon discovered that meant more than delivering 100% grass-fed, grass-finished beef, free-range organic chicken, pork raised crate-free, and sustainably sourced seafood, it meant rethinking the country’s food system. ButcherBox is in pursuit of a better way, one that’s focused on animal welfare, supporting farmers, treating the planet with respect and upholding diversity, equity, and inclusion across its business.

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