Annette Jennings from Mars, Incorporated gives an inside look into how she manages their global community engagement programs

I've been at the company for 14 years, and I've been running this program almost since it began. Annette Jennings
As Mars’ Senior Manager of Global Community Engagement and Corporate Giving, Annette Jennings oversees their community engagement efforts at a global level — working in tandem with the community engagement leads from their various business segments.

That work centers around four major global community engagement programs.

The first is the Mars Ambassador Program (MAP), which is an opportunity for Associates across the globe to apply for an international assignment where they go and work with a variety of NGO partners.

“We offer individual assignments where an Associate would go by themselves and work with a partner for two to six weeks on a specific project,” said Annette. “Then we also offer group assignments where between four and 10 Associates work collaboratively on a project”.

The second is the Mars Volunteer Program (MVP), which seeks to give every Associate at their 400+ sites across the globe the opportunity to give back. At the global level, Annette provides the toolkit and website where Associates (called “site champions”) at their individual sites create activities, recruit volunteers, and report their results.

Finally, Annette manages global disaster relief (to ensure they’re communicating efforts in a consistent brand voice) and corporate giving.

As a team of one, Annette relies on collaboration with community engagement leads across their business segments: Mars Wrigley, Mars PetCare, Mars Food and Mars Edge.

In each segment, I have one person that I partner with to bring these programs to life at the segment level. Annette Jennings
“In each segment, I have one person that I partner with to bring these programs to life at the segment level,” said Annette. “I also engage two agencies on logistical support for the volunteer programs, especially MAP, which is global in nature and requires tremendous coordination.”

According to Annette, one of their primary goals focused around MVP is to have 100-percent participation across their sites.

“We’ve been as high as 75 percent,” she said. “But, as business priorities change or as we have segments shifting, it gets deprioritized or reprioritized.” The goal itself, however, remains consistent across the years as an aspirational objective.

For the Mars Ambassador Program, she states that goal setting isn’t so easy.

“It would be easy to have a goal that, year-over-year, we have more people going through the program,” she said. “However, it is more important to make sure we’re getting the most out of every participant versus trying to get more through each year.”

The ambition of the goal is to share that experience as broadly as we possibly can internally and externally. Annette Jennings
Therefore, she explained, the goal became taking the experience of a few (85 Associates a year) and making sure they’re reaching as many of their 120,000+ Associates as possible.

“The ambition of the goal is to share that experience as broadly as we possibly can internally and externally,” said Annette. “We know that the experience is valuable to our partners as 100 percent of our partner organizations are currently state that they realized true, sustainable benefits from our Ambassadors.”

Although their goals around MAP aren’t heavily focused on numbers, Annette said they’ve seen the program grow exponentially over the years.

“I’ve been at the company for 14 years, and I’ve been running this program almost since it began,” she said. “I was one of the four people who participated in the program’s pilot back in 2008.”

Since that four-person pilot, the program has now grown to accommodate 85 Associates a year. But, according to Annette, the most important change is how the program now operates across all four of Mars’ business segments.

“The year we began, we had four assignments all in the chocolate segment,” she said. “Year-by-year, we grew the number of people, but we also expanded to make sure that we had opportunities for every part of the business.”

Annette said that evolution is particularly important because the program needs to serve the business segments.

Through the Mars Volunteer Program (MVP), any Associate has the opportunity to give back to their community. Annette Jennings
“I work with my segment leads because I have to make sure everything I’m doing is in service to their segment-level purpose,” said Annette. “We have a Mars Inc. purpose, which is, ‘The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today.’ But our segments all have their own purpose work, too. And every assignment I offer has to either fit with the Mars Inc. purpose or our segment-level purposes.”

Annette said the purposes vary by segment. For example, the purpose for Mars Petcare is “creating a better world for pets.”

“An element of that is ending pet homelessness,” she said. “Every assignment we put together that’s within the Petcare segment should deliver on that ambition. We had an assignment with MAP in Goa, India last year, which was about rabies eradication — which clearly is an important element of creating a better world for pets.”

When looking for external partners, she said they focus on organizations they’ve worked with in other aspects of the business.

“To ensure that I am in lock step with business priorities, I work with the partners that the business is already engaged with,” said Annette. “In the Mars Wrigley segment, we leverage our Foundation partners, with most Mars Wrigley assignments working with foundation beneficiaries.” She said they similarly partner with their sustainability team and appropriate partners.

“This structure also helps to say ‘no’ to things as well, because I have Associates who come to me every day and ask if we can partner with certain organizations, and we can’t say ‘yes’ to everyone,” she said.

Throughout the years, Annette said community engagement has cemented its place as a business priority.

When you bring together a group of Associates from different backgrounds, geographies, cultures, and functional areas within the business, something magical happens. Annette Jennings
“When I started in this role almost 10 years ago, it was a nice-to-have,” she said. “It’s turned into an integral part of how we do business. Through the Mars Volunteer Program (MVP), any Associate has the opportunity to give back to their community. Managers are now recognizing it as a real development tool to help their Associates deliver on their leadership competencies, which wasn’t always viewed that way.”

Annette said the key to having a successful community engagement program is making sure everyone in the organization can get involved.

“A lot of organizations have programs like this, but they’re reserved for only the most senior leaders at the company,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the right thing to do because every single one of your Associates, no matter where they are in the organization or what level they are, can benefit from the opportunity to see our extended supply chain and give back to the community.”

She said a lot of organizations also don’t pay their people 100 percent of their salary while engaged in these kinds of programs.

“It makes it seem like it’s a side project vs. part of their role. But actually, this is part of your job at Mars. If you apply and are chosen to participate in a program like MAP, or if you volunteer in your local community for a day, it’s part of your daily job and your compensation should not change.”

Annette emphasized that she’s proud to run a program that has true, lasting effects on their Associates.

“When you bring together a group of Associates from different backgrounds, geographies, cultures, and functional areas within the business, something magical happens,” she said. “Because people start thinking differently, they approach problems differently, and they open their eyes to a point of view they weren’t previously open to. That’s the real magic that the Mars Ambassador Program can deliver.”

Annette Jennings has been a member of the CSR Board since 2019. You can follow her on LinkedIn.