Purpose and Passion: A Q&A with Kathryn Zielony
WE Communications Blog: Corporate Citizenship
When your day-to-day work is harmonious with your passions, you know you’re on the right track. That’s certainly the case for Kathryn Zielony, account director on the Brand Purpose and Reputation Team at WE. Kathryn leads WE’s executive communications work with the Presidents of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health and Global Development divisions. She also leads our purpose-driven work with the Amgen Foundation, which focuses on bringing quality STEM education to students worldwide.
Kathryn is also leading the WE Seattle office Month of Giving, which centers on education. We sat down with her to talk about the Month of Giving and how her day-to-day role is in tune with her passions for helping improve the lives of others, educational equity and volunteerism.
Can you tell us how you got involved in purpose work?
KZ: Both of my parents were teachers, my aunt was a teacher and two of my sisters are teachers, so a passion for education and supporting others has always been ingrained in me. After college, I joined Teach For America, a non-profit organization that aims to ensure that one day all children in the U.S. will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. In an effort to close the achievement gap and to help all students reach their full potential, Teach For America places corps members at under-resourced public schools around the country.
I was placed in Hawaii at a Title I school in Waianae, a community on the west side of Oahu. I taught 1st and 2nd grade for three years, and it was one of the most — if not the most — rewarding experiences of my life. Nothing compares to instilling a love of learning and self-confidence in a child. I will forever care about and support my former students, and my wonderful former principal actually officiated my wedding last year.
Even though I’m no longer in the classroom, I strongly believe that education has the power to be the great equalizer and that every child deserves an advocate who will encourage them to believe in themselves and aim high. So, supporting educational equity will be a lifelong passion for me.
Purpose and PR
How did you get into PR?
KZ: In undergrad, I double-majored in Public Relations and International Studies, so after Teach For America, I wanted to try something in those areas. I worked at an agency and did in-house communications as well, and it became apparent to me very quickly that I’m not particularly motivated by selling consumer products. For me, cause communications is the sweet spot and a really great fit where my skill set meets my passions.
What brought you to WE?
KZ: I started here nearly two years ago. The main draw for me to join WE was that the agency was enthusiastically building its Brand Purpose and Reputation team, which is largely focused on the cross-company issues that can deeply affect brands — from corporate social responsibility to executive platforms to public affairs and beyond. Everyone I met with was great and there was a lot of excitement to continue to grow the BPR work.
What is it about the culture of WE that has enabled and empowered you to lead as both a cause communicator and a community volunteer?
KZ: There is a real emphasis on work/life balance at WE. A lot of companies talk about it, but WE walks the walk. I know my manager and team lead care about my well-being and want to make sure I have a life outside of work.
People make it a point to get to know their colleagues and to support their interests and growth with new opportunities. One of the senior leads on the BPR team is the person who suggested I help out with the Month of Giving because she knows my background in, and passion for, education.
What inspires you about being involved in giving back to the community?
KZ: There’s so much that needs to be done and I think we all have a responsibility to give back. When you see the difference you’ve made, you can’t help but feel a sense of fulfillment. Time spent making a positive impact on somebody else’s life is always time well spent.
How does giving back benefit you personally?
KZ: In our culture today, everyone is so busy and all of our electronic devices have made us disconnected. You blink and a year goes by. Community service and giving back are powerful ways to engage with your community, slow down and remember what’s really important.
What are your tips for anyone who wants to get involved in volunteering?
KZ: Narrow in on the issue that you are particularly passionate about. Find the relevant organizations in your community and volunteer or help out however you can. There is always a need. Everyone who works at a non-profit has three jobs in one, so offer to help. Whether you want to volunteer your time, talents, or treasures, we can all help in some way.