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Global Philanthropist Ivy McGregor On What Corporate Social Responsibility Looks Like Today

"It's just really a great honor to fulfill my life's destiny in what people would call my 9-to-5 and my 6-to-12."

BOSS UP

When people think of philanthropy, they usually think of millionaires and billionaires who find ways to use their fortunes to give back after they've gotten rich. And, if we're being real, a lot of people think of white men like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

But Ivy McGregor has flipped that script. She's a Black woman building her entire career and business around helping people and businesses make a difference while they make a profit.

McGregor has led Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, run scholarship programs, and facilitated water initiatives in Flint, Michigan, and Burundi Africa. As head of her own consulting agency, IVY Inc., she supports organizations in implementing social impact strategies, and as the Director of Social responsibility at Parkwood Entertainment's philanthropic umbrella, BeyGOOD, she's worked to support women entrepreneurs and eradicate homelessness, poverty and economic inequality.

2019 Global Citizen Festival: Power The Movement � Onstage

Photo courtesy of Ivy McGregor

Her resume as a philanthropist is stacked, and she loves every minute of it.

"To be devoted in this space as a philanthropist for the leading artist in the country and on a consulting basis around the country for my own company…It's just really a great honor to fulfill my life's destiny in what people would call my 9-to-5 and my 6-to-12," McGregor said.

McGregor found her passion for philanthropy even before she knew she could make a career of it. While she held several well-paying jobs in her first few years of the workforce, she found the most satisfaction in the charitable work she did in her spare time. "I may have had a job that I was doing well at, but I didn't feel the passion like I did on evenings and weekends when I was volunteering or when I was at a senior nursing home or when I was sitting with young kids and challenging them to come up with creative ideas. That is when I felt my heart pitter patter," she explained.

She has used that passion for giving back to become a trailblazer for Black philanthropy. Receiving awards like the International Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership Award, she's been key to raising the profile of Black women in the space.

But McGregor doesn't do it alone. She's proud to say that she has a team of people behind her and on her staff who contribute to her philanthropic efforts. She encourages other founders and business owners who want to focus on social impact to consider the passions, interests, and pain points of the people on their teams too.

"That is what corporate social responsibility looks like. Engaging people, listening, and then taking that information and implementing it in the organization and sharing it with the company," McGregor advised.

She also invites founders to lead with love. It's advice she learned from her mother, and she believes that including love at the foundation of her business strategy is one of the things that has allowed her to be so successful as a philanthropist.

"We start with a zero-judgment zone," McGregor said. "We start with a pure heart so that we are not discriminating against the people we help."

Photo courtesy of Ivy McGregor

Because the mission with philanthropy is not to earn praise or accolades, but to make the people on the receiving end feel genuinely helped, McGregor noted that service isn't just a must-have for profits, but it makes a big difference in social impact as well.

"There are corporations that people are wondering, 'How are they still around?' Because they have understood that service is sustainability. They have understood it is not so much what you say, it's how you make people feel. If people feel empowered, if people feel inspired, if people feel helped, that is so critical," McGregor said.

McGregor has continued to lead by example in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. She jumped into action, raising hundreds of dollars and donating meals to healthcare workers at New York's Mount Sinai and Jacobi Hospitals. In April alone, she and her Global Learners Program, a collective of creatives and professionals eager to serve through social impact, donated grocery gift cards to 100 families and meals to 100 seniors at NYC senior centers.

While we may not all be able to give back at such a grand scale, McGregor reminded business owners and individuals that giving back takes many forms.

"Because we realize this is a pandemic of epic proportions, it requires every one of us to get innovative to help provide relief," McGregor said. "We are experiencing unprecedented times. But it is in these moments that I challenge you to take a positive thought and move it into action…Look at the multiplicity of ways to give back."

For more of Ivy, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of Ivy McGregor

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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