Nancy Mancilla’s path to becoming Founder, President, and CEO of ISOS Group started with a reading assignment at the Clinton School of Public Service.
A member of the Clinton School’s inaugural class, Mancilla (’07) and her classmates were assigned an article about Triodos Bank, a socially-responsibly financial institution that was formed in the Netherlands in the early 1970s. Triodos began with the idea of using money as a vehicle for social change, and has since evolved into one of the world’s leading sustainable banks.
The reading caught her attention, and its impact initiated the first small step toward her career in corporate sustainability.
“I read it and I thought, ‘This is the future. This is the direction things are headed,’” Mancilla said. “I knew I wanted to go work with that bank.’”
Mancilla did exactly that, securing a position with Triodos the following summer as part of her International Public Service Project. She moved to the Netherlands to work with the bank as a Sustainability Analyst. Based in the research unit, she was tasked with assessing the sustainability of global companies included in Triodos’s investment portfolio. One of her duties was to call American companies and request information on their available sustainability data – human rights policies, carbon emissions, greenhouse data, etc.
“These days, a lot of these things are regularly reported on,” Mancilla said, referring to the sustainability measures she was requesting from American companies. “But back then, they weren’t. I could hear a drop in their voice when I’d call. I saw that as an opportunity.”
Mancilla transitioned that opportunity into her Capstone project. Equipped with a unique understanding of sustainability data and reporting, she partnered with a U.S. Department of State-funded Winrock International project in the Republic of Georgia the following year, assessing the sustainability of micro hydropower units that the American government was implementing along Georgia’s conflict zone with Russia.
“I thought, ‘OK, this is fun,’” Mancilla said, recalling her sustainability research in Georgia. “It was really taking into account everything I was interested in – environmental impact, social impacts, governance, and that was still a really long time before it had ever been discussed in the United States.”
After graduation, following a stint in the U.S. Programs Office at Winrock International, Mancilla decided that she wanted to pursue the business of sustainability on her own.
“I was still pretty young and willing to couch surf,” Mancilla recalled. “I went to every major city I could and worked with different media groups to contact all the local companies, agencies, universities, anyone that would be open to hosting, but also bringing their people into the (sustainability) trainings.”
ISOS Group was officially formed in 2008. Step by step, Mancilla built the company from the ground up. Now, more than a decade later, ISOS Group has trained more people than any other sustainability standards provider in the country. Mancilla and her team help executive leadership drive sustainability performance through programming, policies, and procedures, using metrics to measure progress and create ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) or sustainability reports for public disclosure to various stakeholder groups, including the investor community.
“Our work is not as sexy as putting solar panels on rooftops, but it’s more on the management side,” Mancilla explained. “We work with executive teams and boards to understand the role that they play in governing sustainability. The market is now really driving and incentivizing disclosure in this area, so we do everything to help the companies do that. We’re really their back office for allowing this to happen.”
As a Hispanic woman leading a major sustainability consulting firm, Mancilla said it’s important to her to set an example and create opportunities for others. Mancilla, whose father is Mexican, was born in Texas and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. She said people are often surprised to learn she is Mexican. “Most people, when they look at me, they’re shocked that I’m Mexican,” Mancilla said. “I’m like, ‘What’s a Mexican supposed to look like?’”
But everything from Mancilla’s values and personality to her style and how she expresses herself are influenced by her Hispanic heritage.
“I’m a dual citizen,” Mancilla said. “That’s part of why I live in San Diego. It’s 12 miles to the border. For me, it’s necessary to be straddled on the border. I would say that culturally, or my values, are very much rooted in the Hispanic culture. I didn’t face challenges like a lot of women do, but I am a proponent of helping address those challenges through our work at ISOS Group where we are committed to preparing the next generation of sustainability professionals or through the board position I’m on at the Kim Center.”
She sits on the board for the Kim Center for Social Balance, an organization accelerating the achievement of equal status for all genders in the workplace. The Kim Center’s LEAPS initiative is one of the most aggressive efforts to create rapid and demonstrable change throughout the country.
“I think for me the biggest goal on that side has been in being a model for other Hispanics, especially Hispanic women,” Mancilla said. “Again, with my background, being the first to go to college, and knowing that there is an opportunity for them to see me as a model. I guess you’d say I use my cultural heritage as a means for change. Even now, in my field, I rarely come across other Hispanic women and I hope to be a part of that change.”
Moreover, Mancilla is proud of how ISOS Group and the sustainability industry as a whole have created new, unique positions for women. In 2008, when ISOS Group was in its early stages, she said she can still remember the aftermath of the recent financial crisis and thinking that the American economy needed a new profession for women.
“With sustainability, it’s not to say men aren’t compassionate, but I think it takes a motherly type of role or character to manage this,” Mancilla said. “You really are the Buddha of the organization. Working between all the different functions. Trying to read between the lines. Working with the community. It takes a lot of patience. We wanted to create a profession where a woman could thrive. It happened.”
Now with a family of her own, Mancilla can reflect on the business she has built and is proud of. She didn’t study business, and insists she never considered starting one until it happened. More than anything, she credits her determination – and impatience for change – with her success.
“I wasn’t very good with data but I learned at the Clinton School how to be a good leader and I learned,” Mancilla said. “Through the opportunities we had to meet all the leaders that we did, I was humbled by knowing that all it takes is a drive and determination and knowing that, when you make mistakes, knowing how to correct them. No one is perfect, and I think that was the big lesson there that gave me this power and willingness to make this happen. I think it was just this belief in myself, after seeing all these other leaders, that I could do it.”