July 26, 2023
Vice President, Federal Government Affairs, Duke Energy
Foundation Lead, North America, PepsiCo Foundation
Director, Corporate and Community Engagement, Office of Corporate Social Responsibility, Prudential
Mayor, City of Gretna, LA, Louisiana Chair, Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative
Public-Private Partnerships Team Lead, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
As the world grows more intricate, communities and companies face many threats, hazards, and risks that demand careful consideration and cross-sector collaboration. During the U.S. Chamber Foundation's 12th Annual Building Resilience Conference, panelists explored the power of collaboration, embracing a unified vision, and pooling resources across sectors to navigate the complexities ahead.
Companies and Nonprofits Find Win-Win Scenarios
Private-public partnerships can create mutually beneficial outcomes for communities facing any disaster or threat. Pepper Natonski, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs at Duke Energy, shared how her company is building resilience in workforce development and human capital management while also investing in infrastructure.
“We are taking a look at areas that are hit the hardest — coastal areas, places with marshes, where the critical infrastructure that we own sits,” said Natonski. “In those vulnerable areas, we make investments.”
René Deida, Director of Corporate Community Engagement at Prudential, noted how strategic investments can help support community resiliency.
“We invest about $50 million in corporate contributions and grants to low and moderate-income communities, making sure people have opportunities for work and wealth, creating opportunities to build resiliency,” said Deida.
Jonathan George, Foundation Lead at the North American PepsiCo Foundation, explained that PepsiCo drives resilience with three strategic drivers; safe water access, food security, and economic opportunities.
“We're not just trying to be check-writers,” George remarked. “We try to be change-makers in our communities.”
George added that PepsiCo’s efforts utilize the “three L’s”— creating initiatives that are Local, Leading, and Lasting.
Government and Company Investments Are Needed in Times of Disaster
Belinda Constant, Mayor of Gretna, Louisiana, shared that August is peak hurricane season in her state, and she looks toward a variety of sectors to keep her constituents safe in times of natural disasters.
“My responsibility as mayor is to collaborate with agencies and other government offices as well as private contractors,” said Constant. “Nonprofit organizations ensure that we are storm-ready and disaster-ready, never knowing what the disaster is going to be.”
Duke Energy is also investing in community reach as well as federal policy, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), according to Natonski.
“We are working with our community partners at the state [and] local level, and nonprofits … to really educate that these funds are available for their assistance,” she said.
Both George and Deida noted that both PepsiCo and Prudential jumped into action during hurricanes.
“When Hurricane Harvey hit, there was a huge need for shelf-stable meals,” said George. “We were able to produce over 1 million meals utilizing PepsiCo’s capabilities.”
When Hurricane Maria struck, Prudential saw the need for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) training. As a result, credit unions in Puerto Rico were able to provide energy assistance and small business development loans to citizens.
“As a proud Puerto Rican, I can tell you the main banking system there is credit unions,” explained Deida.
Infrastructure Must Be Strengthened Ahead of Disasters
The panelists described the urgent need to stay prepared and mitigate risks when disaster strikes.
“So often we focus on relief-related efforts, but I think there is a lot of opportunity for us to support preparedness,” said George. “When relief happens, we are really quick to provide, but thinking ahead of it: how can we be more strategic about it?”
Natonski explained that coordination is needed to find gaps in resiliency to protect infrastructure ahead of disaster.
“If we coordinate early on the front end, they can look at where our infrastructure is, how they can leverage the existing infrastructure, and then we can see if there are any resiliency gaps or opportunities,” she said.
Constant added that even 18 years after Hurricane Katrina, changes are still needed in disaster preparedness and response.
“If we could just come together to get money more rapidly to local communities, we … can get things done in a quicker timeline,” she emphasized. “I just appreciate the people that are up here with me in the corporate world and nonprofit world; without nonprofits, we would not have recovered from Katrina the way we did.”