Jan Keeney: Social engineering

Photo of a woman with dark hair, wearing red lipstick. She is smiling at the camera.
As Jan Keeney has discovered, sometimes the toughest challenges are the most rewarding. Her most recent role with a global construction company, combined with study towards a Master of Social Impact with the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne, has provided a number of these challenges but it’s also given her the opportunity to help drive change from within.

No easy feat in an industry which has been slow to integrate social innovation into their business.

“Traditionally, the construction industry has been price driven but now in order to be competitive, social outcomes are a much bigger part of the solution,” says Jan.

“We have to keep our social license up. This means providing things like local jobs, green space, urban access or a new sports centre to the community.”

It hasn’t always been this way.

As Jan explains, construction and engineering is far behind some other industries in developing impact initiatives, such as social procurement and community investment – but for Jan, this has lead to opportunity.

“I realised that there is an impact we can have in construction and the way we do things. It clicked for me and I realised I can create change from within.”

Voice of change and inclusion

One of Jan’s proudest achievements was helping to set up a framework around a charitable trust for her most recent employer. In addition, she chaired the company’s RAP committee and formed their state-based diversity and inclusion committee.

Social procurement was another big focus of her role, drafting the company’s overall policy and looking at how the company can embed local and social-benefit organisations within projects, to help create further value.

“I also looked at community initiatives. I looked at our skillset, which is around mentoring and training for at-risk youth and women. Female participation is quite low in construction and engineering so it’s a keen focus for me.”

“For anything we did I asked the question, can we use a social benefit organisation to provide this? Eventually it just became part of our ethos and part of how we did things. It was immensely satisfying."

New lessons in social impact

Jan is thoughtful when asked what sparked her interest in social impact:

“It’s hard to say. To be honest, I was never interested and then as our projects became more political it was something that we were forced to look at. I then saw the value it created, such as the impact that it had on a local community when we did something like our volunteer days. It just made me feel good and proud, and then I wanted other people to do that as well.”

Her particular interest in social procurement led Jan to study the CSI Swinburne social impact course which she continues to pursue alongside starting a new role, within the engineering industry.

“I’ve learned so much and created a really good network of people through the course. There’s a huge amount of relevance for me which I’ve been able to apply to my roles, and I know that will continue well into the future.”

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