Melissa Gray: Building up Avnet’s CSR

by RaeAnne Marsh

“Our new Corporate Social Responsibility strategy is reshaped by our actions in the market,” says Melissa Gray, vice president of corporate affairs for Avnet, who has been heavily involved in formulating and implementing many of Avnet’s corporate responsibility initiatives. “Avnet is reinventing itself from a traditional distributor selling electronic components to a company that specializes in helping engineers move from idea and product concept to production — a solutions specialist. Now that our services are changing, so is our focus. We believe that we are uniquely positioned to use our technology skills to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.” 

All that being said for the future, Avnet celebrated its silver anniversary with Hands-On Greater Phoenix’s Serve-A-Thon a few months ago — 25 consecutive years of Avnet being the lead sponsor in strengthening our communities through service. More than 50 volunteers from various organizations around the Valley came together to make a well-deserving school a more engaging place to learn and play. “We will continue to invest in building resilient communities as we add other parts of our strategy further down the line. In short, we take a long-term view to building great things,” Gray says. “Part of my job is to ensure that this 97-year-old company stays just as vibrant in our next 100 years.” 

Gray, who joined Avnet a year ago, has been heavily involved in the planning and execution of these initiatives. Of the Avnet Innovation Lab specifically, which had begun the year prior to her joining Avnet, she credits the team as very welcoming as they refined the process around lab membership, benefits and “graduation” from the program. 

It’s an attitude she promulgates overall. “First and foremost, we must use our special talents in unique ways that make real impact to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It’s our imperative. Our culture is naturally wired to ‘reach further’ to create real and lasting impact, so we’re focused on building alignment to the SDG’s within the company this year.

“Once you speak to people’s hearts, the business results naturally follow: increased engagement and retention, ability to attract the best talent, our customers’ Net Promoter score (a measure of how likely a customer is to recommend us to another). As I mentioned, this year is a really about driving internal alignment. As Avnet is transforming internally, we’re engaging our employees with new context to how we add value and create impact in larger society.” 

Gray believed the SDG framework is great for her team internally, and she felt she needed to invest in partners who would develop materials to teach others about the SDGs. “That is where Impact 2030 comes in. They are an extension of my team and create a network for me.” 

Avnet joined Impact 2030 last year as it shifted from traditional philanthropy and accelerated toward “impact investing.” The United National Sustainable Development Goals provides a framework to look at geography and realign around developing community impact plans. There are 17 SDGs, from “no poverty” and “zero hunger” to building “the right partnerships” to achieve the goals. Says Gray, “Avnet is committed to teaching others about the SDGs, but also simplifying for our stakeholders how the goals can be achieved. The investments we make must drive impact along these 17 goals.” 

Not Impossible Labs was another big project Gray was a part of in mid-2017 — pitching the first “Profit with Purpose” component of the corporate social responsibility strategy to Avnet’s C-suite. “It was a team effort to identify, vet and frame the relationship with the right partner. Given the rebranding and new services Avnet offers as part of the transformation set in motion toward the end of 2016, it was important to select a partner that demonstrated our new ecosystem approach. Avnet needed a way to express its purpose for existence with social impact as a core component. We publicly announced the relationship at the Not Impossible Awards in January at CES 2018. That gave us time to create meaningful alignment between the Not Impossible projects and our business leaders.” 

Along with this, Avnet sponsors the Not Impossible Awards to celebrate those entrepreneurs who are on the cutting edge of technology for the sake of humanity. Winners receive advisory services from Avnet’s technology leaders in how to bring their product to market better, faster and more affordably. 

Gray notes that Avnet, with more than 15,000 employees in 125 countries, impacts sometimes close to home and sometimes far away. “The most significant extended impact is economic development for the communities we’re located within. Given those longer-term investments we make in communities, we create a lasting impact on cities and towns through our employees’ participation in the local community and involvement in local civic organizations. We’re hoping that some of the innovative technology we’re working on with customers leaves a lasting legacy of what we stand for — that’s the ultimate expression of what we’re about.”   

Avnet Social Responsibility

Avnet has a long history of giving back over its 97 years in business, chiefly through volunteerism and philanthropy. Through Avnet Cares, employees donate thousands of hours of volunteer time in their communities, and Avnet has made nearly a $1 million USD in charitable gifts each year. 

Avnet also created the Avnet Innovation Lab, whose third cohort, this year, involves 14 companies who are building solutions to a variety of challenges: to minimize waste, improve energy production, provide clean water without the need for electricity in remote areas or companies who can manufacture zero VOC epoxy compounds. “These are very cutting-edge companies and technologies, and we provide them with no-cost grants to bootstrap aspects of their business, so they can get to market faster and help build their product and supply chain,” says Melissa Gray, VP of corporate affairs. “The Avnet Innovation Lab structure is flexible enough to allow us lots of room to innovate with ASU and our member companies.”

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