Career 28 September 2018
Hailing from Mexico City, Ariadna Madrid is just the ambitious champion of sustainability that this planet needs to survive. She currently resides in Brooklyn and works at Publicis’ midtown office, with the bustling theatre district buzzing right outside her door. Publicis is one of the largest advertising and PR companies in the world, and Madrid is a producer/creator for the Hispanic Division. “For a long time I’d been working at film festivals, supporting the vision of film directors, and then I was working as a producer at production companies,” she says. “I landed an interview in this agency back in Mexico City, I didn’t know anything about it, and I said to them, ‘It just sounds so good,’ because they were a huge company. I said, ‘That’s not real,’” she admits with a laugh. “‘Just give me a contract, if it’s real, then I’ll sign it.’ It was real, and now here I am, almost seven years later.” Compared to Mexico City, NYC is minuscule, Madrid feeling that anything is possible here— especially with her passion and tenacity.
In the first few minutes of talking to Madrid, she mentioned a TED Talk by an American scientist, Jared Diamond, that opened her eyes to the severity of our planet’s declining condition. “[He] talks about evolution and the signs for a society to collapse,” she explains. “There are a couple of symptoms, one has to do with how fast we are blowing our resources...the other recent trigger for extinction is our friendly and unfriendly relations with our neighbors, so if you think about the homeless people, the immigration crisis... Those are signs that we’re really heading in a bad direction. There’s a conflict of interest between the decision makers and the rest of the community when they’re isolated from the consequences of their actions. That’s when the problem gets worse.” Madrid recognized this “conflict of interest” in numerous brands she’s worked with, igniting her desire to dispel this growing conflict.
“There is hope, and the hope is that there are around 120 million environmentally-conscious consumers, meaning that we’re entering the early mainstream that is going to switch into mainstream. That’s going to change everything. It’s going to move the nation and the planet.”
Years went by, and Madrid felt she had hit a career wall, yearning for more and to chase after her larger dreams regarding the environment. A dream that had expanded when she watched Diamond’s talk. “I was ready to make my next move,” she explains, “I felt like I’d learned what I needed to learn, so I decided to follow my heart and do something with sustainability and protecting the planet. I felt that that was not happening within the company, so I found the right time, and I told my boss that I wanted to leave... I was giving him my two weeks notice, and he asked me not to do it and to come back with a proposal for my dream job. I thought that was extraordinary that he asked me to do that.”
“Something is going to happen. I want to prevent that from happening. Or if it happens I want to be ready for it and I want the people around me to be ready for it"
Madrid submitted a preliminary proposal for an environmentally-conscious internal department of Publicis and ended up receiving the most votes, emphasizing its efficacy and its importance to not just Madrid, but to several of her peers.
The next step was to make a video expressing her project’s mission—only a handful of winners would be chosen out of a whopping 3,500. “I didn’t know what was going to happen; I was ready to make a move, you know,” she says. “I was like, ‘if I don’t win, I’m going to continue to try to learn more about sustainability and try to help in other ways.’ I was lucky and, I won; as a result, I was able to go to Paris and receive this trophy in front of the CEO there, and the daughter of the founder and my parents... It was about the opportunity because they would give us 15 minutes with the CEO and his board to pitch our idea, and then they would invest in it if they thought it was worthwhile.” With a sabbatical to research and the funds to travel, Madrid left her apartment and set off to connect with owners of sustainable companies worldwide.
“So whatever you put out there in the world has to be healthy and positive. Always understand that we are in the presence of being better. Once you know yourself, speak your truth"
“I found that one of the common denominators out there is waste. It’s very much a cultural issue because when we throw something away it disappears, but actually that ‘away’ is a landfill or is the ocean. I became really passionate about waste.”
Madrid’s passion was evident. After chatting, she gave a tour of her office building and happened to notice containers of food littering the countertops. She lamented the waste and hoped the food would be saved and used come the end of the workday.
Following her extensive research and collection of feedback from company leaders, Madrid was ready to meet with Publicis heads again, this time with a solid, fleshed-out proposal. “I was able to come up with a department that I designed myself,” she says. “I built a proposal and got a meeting with the new CEO last April, and in the room, there were other CEOs—all these big leaders. I had ten minutes, and what I presented to them was something very simple. It had to be simple, fun, sexy, it had to be something that everyone understands, but so they don’t feel guilty, and want to be a part of it.”
Sitting with a sweeping view of the city, bright red carpet underfoot, Madrid smiles and dives into her green proposal that she pitched to the aforementioned CEOs, consisting of three pillars: operations, talent, and business.
This pillar is about action, Madrid and those working with her needed to “walk the walk” and alter the way things run in-house before expanding their mission. It upholds a few subgoals, including reducing their carbon footprint and becoming zero-waste. “NYC has a couple of aggressive goals,” Madrid notes. “The city wants to be a zero-waste city by 2030, meaning they want to do waste-diversion. The other one is to reduce the carbon footprint by 80%. This requires reducing traffic, by switching to electric cars—these are big challenges, and I think that it would be a great assignment for the rest of the country and the rest of the world. This is the city of the world, so I want to align this first pillar of operation to those goals.”
When talking about the talent portion of her proposal, Madrid describes it as putting “skin in the game.” It involves informing Publicis’ talent about the internal changes and the company’s push for sustainability. Barriers exist, such as the glaring lack of competence when it comes to proper waste disposal. “What happens often is that people don’t know how to separate trash, so they toss everything in one plastic bag, and at the end of the day they send it to a landfill,” Madrid says. “If we inform our talent about what’s going on and we make them be part of it, they can feel that they have a fingerprint on the process, and they can get really inspired. That’s the goal of the second pillar.”
The third and final pillar is business. This pillar seeks to connect already environmentally-conscious events, such as zero-waste concerts, with environmentally-conscious clients of Publicis. Madrid wishes to influence other agencies this way, and facilitate good-for-the-earth events around the city. “It’s not about being competitive,” she says. “It’s about cooperation.” Teamwork is needed to spark the fire of change to have a positive impact.
“My dream is that one day we see Times Square lit up not only by clean energy but by clean ideas.”
Madrid’s loyalty to Mother Nature is inspiring and stems from more than just the TED Talk of which she speaks so highly of; it’s an innate instinct to protect her home. Madrid is cognizant of the urgency as our world is at risk. “I do feel that every year when something happens—like the fires and hurricanes and earthquakes—all of that is a warning sign, and is not a joke,” she says. “Something is going to happen. I want to prevent that from happening. Or if it happens, I want to be ready for it, and I want the people around me to be ready for it.” The next several years will be busy ones for Madrid, but her hours of dedication towards a cleaner future will benefit us all.
“This is my home, and my client is nature...I do whatever she asks me to do, and then once I feel like I’ve done something, then I can start doing other things, I want to shoot a film, I want to create sustainable communities in Mexico, but first I must take care of this, because I can and have been able to open the doors for myself by speaking my truth. It all started because I wanted to quit.”
As a businesswoman with no bounds to her perseverance and to the tireless effort she expends to inspire great change, Madrid is full of advice for go-getters like herself. “Sustainability, abundance, happiness... Everything starts in your head,” she says. “So whatever you put out there in the world has to be healthy and positive. Always understand that we are in the presence of being better. Once you know yourself, speak your truth. I’ve had this track record of following my dreams and making them come true, that’s why I’ve lived in so many countries, but I’d never tested the limits as I did now, where I’m like; ‘I know that I’m quitting a big job, it’s NYC, I don’t know what’s going to happen after that, but I don’t feel happy, and I know myself, and I’m not going to go through it. That was a big lesson. I’m still an immigrant, I’m a woman, Mexican, so it’s kind of against the odds, but I work for nature, and nature tells me I can do it. She gives me beautiful sunsets and beautiful lakes, birds, flowers, and I’ll do anything to protect her.”
Eboni K. Williams and Cheslie Kryst have a lot in common, as Iman Oubou Founder & CEO of SWAAY as well as host of the Women Who Swaay podcast puts it, "They're both badass attorneys, they're both from North Carolina and they've both competed in the Miss North Carolina USA pageants." And they also both took over our podcast on the most recent episode, straight from the headquarters of the Miss Universe Organization!
Cheslie is a successful licensed attorney who also happens to be the reigning Miss USA 2019, with plans to represent our country in the upcoming Miss Universe competition. Not only is she at the height of her pageant power, but she is using the notoriety to create positive change for all of the women in her life, much like her role model Eboni K. Williams. Williams is a journalist, author, attorney and speaker; from her long history as a pageant queen she has risen through the ranks of male dominated industries from law-firms to Fox News. All throughout her journey she has persevered with intelligence, tenacity and poise. Lucky enough for us, she has kindly put her reporting skills to use and got candid with Ms. Kryst about supporting their fellow women, the current state of race in America and their history together as pageant compatriots. All of these topics are incredibly close to their hearts as powerful black women using their influence to create a better future for all women in America.
Oh and, as previously stated, both are complete and utter badasses.
During their podcast takeover they talked about it all, from pageants to politics. It's clear that both of these women are motivated by an altruistic spirit and are strong supporters of #womensupportingwomen. Eboni even read a passage from her book, Pretty Powerful: Appearance, Substance, and Success, in which she outlines how her own career trajectory was so positively affected by the incredible women who mentored her in different stages of her life. She completely shuts down the idea of the "woman on woman teardown," calling it a "pitiful dynamic" tied to the "long and very hurtful history of women." This idea that in order to compete for a spot in the old boy's club, women must first fight off their own gender is not only reductive but it also supports an outdated social structure that was built to greatly favor male success. Throughout history women have been encouraged to look at one another as competition, one more obstacle to pass by. However, all that has managed to do is to pit us against each other, fighting for the few meager seats at the table allowed for women while we ignore the real problem. The problem isn't about the lack of seats allotted for women; the problem is that men are still the ones making the seating arrangements, and it's time for that to change, something that both Cheslie and Eboni understand well.
Race is another topic that is incredibly important to both of these women, and they have quite the in-depth discussion on it during this podcast. Cheslie, who is biracial and self-identifies as black, laid out her point of view on race. She voiced her frustrations for never feeling like she had her own box to tick, being stuck to decide between "black, white, or other" in standardized situations like the SATs. Existing as someone stuck between two cultures has been incredibly challenging, and though she found some solace in the black community, she felt less welcomed by her white peers. Self-identifying as black is something that has allowed her more agency in regards to her own identity, and though she still faces difficulties she realizes how important it is to be a confident black woman in the esteemed position she is currently in. Both Cheslie and Eboni seem to bond over the idea that no matter the successes, they both revel in the victories of their fellow women of color. Each of them is motivated to see more women of color in powerful, visible positions to inspire future generations. It's not about their own success; it's about respect and renown for any and all women of color.
I may have just provided the highlight reel, but the full conversation shared between Cheslie and Eboni on the Women Who Swaay podcast is a must listen. These two women managed to make me laugh while restoring hope for a better America all within a half hour of listening time! Seriously, go get those headphones, right now. You will not regret it.