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Donovan Casanave of Shell Oil Company: “Leaders should invite feedback”

Great leaders are great listeners, and they empower all stakeholders to feel equally important to the mission or objective. Leaders should invite feedback, create environments for constructive criticism and push others to achieve their potential. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing […]

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Great leaders are great listeners, and they empower all stakeholders to feel equally important to the mission or objective. Leaders should invite feedback, create environments for constructive criticism and push others to achieve their potential.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donovan Casanave.

Donovan is the Support Service Manager for Supplier Diversity and Diversity Outreach at Shell. In this capacity, Donovan serves as the liaison between the small, minority- and woman-owned business community and the internal procurement pipeline, with a focus on Shell’s inclusion efforts.

Donovan also manages the relationships between Shell, key Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and community-based non-profit organizations such as The National Urban League, Rainbow Push Coalition, Asian Chamber of Commerce, and several others.

Donovan has been a member of the Shell team since 2001 having worked in Strategic Sourcing and in a global role as Manager of Diversity, Inclusion & Talent for the Americas Region of Shell’s IT division prior to his current role. Before Shell, Donovan served as a team member in the Office of the Mayor of Houston, Texas.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Before corporate social responsibility became a common term and goal among business leaders, I would often hear about the work of a major telecom organization that was bridging the gap between corporate philanthropy and community empowerment. I was fascinated as the company’s spokesperson repeatedly positioned community involvement as one of its top priorities.

Understanding the critical nature of the energy sector to both the environment and community, I studied hard to become an influencer and position myself as a solutions-based resource. Seeing how a powerful liaison could benefit both the community and organization, I knew I wanted to make a significant positive impact if given the chance, and this career move proved to be one of the best choices I’ve ever made.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Through my participation in Shell’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, I’ve been able to fulfill my initial goal of making a positive impact — both in my community and in the workplace — as well as create many fond and interesting memories. One anecdote that stands out is two years ago when I recognized a local business owner I previously had a relationship with sitting with his family on the patio at a local Starbucks. Unsure if the individual would remember me, I hesitated until I felt a warm tug on my shoulder. The man said, “Donovan, I would like to introduce you to my family. Because of your consistent advocacy of Shell, your counseling and your leadership, my children’s children will reap the benefits of my company’s visibility in the pipeline of a global organization.” It’s inspiring to have made an impact that provided the tentacles of a legacy because I helped create an inclusive path. Moments like these continue to reinforce my beliefs that global corporations like Shell can truly make a difference in local communities.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At one of my first community events, I invited a supplier partner and the CEO of his joint venture to sit at our sponsored table during a premier keynote address. I quickly realized that I mixed up the dates and we did not have a sponsored table for this event. Thankfully, one of my colleagues and I gave up our seats and the supplier partner and CEO were able to sit down for dinner. My colleague and I had a great meal behind the stage curtain with the hotel staff, and I’m still friends with a few of them today. This was my first valuable lesson in the power of strong relationships.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

I’m proud to say that as a long-time advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion, Shell continues to be engaged in local communities and is “present and in the moment.” Social responsibility and inclusion efforts are in our organization’s DNA and intertwined in our core values. After all, being socially responsible is not only a nice thing to do, but a strategic lever that is carved into our mission. As a leader in all aspects of our operations, we understand that we need to always consider the needs of the entire community rather than a select few. Through our boots-on-the-ground strategy, Shell is physically present in community matters, while our external partners are connected to support systems that we’ve geared to enhance those communities.

A great example is our 50+ year partnership with the National Urban League (NUL). As a nonpartisan historic civil rights organization that advocates on behalf of economic and social justice for African Americans and other minority groups, our relationship is deep-rooted in the understanding that professional development of the NUL’s leadership and staff is paramount for the leadership to succeed in the communities for which they serve.

We make strategic investments with the goal of being compliant, creating strong brand experiences and establishing a reputation as a partner of choice.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

A leader that I hold a deep respect for once told me I needed to consciously decide how I wanted to show up in the community, and that decision would build a foundation for all of my community initiatives. Taking that to heart, I partnered with a community leader who shared my belief in the value of empowering individuals and we created a think tank of corporate and community peers to navigate real opportunities in the vicinity of our assets. Now, looking back and seeing a program that is creating jobs and changing lives within diverse communities — it continues to bring chills down my spine.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Be a part of the solution. Any individual can “point out the problem.” However, to truly impact change we need to transition to a collaborative mindset and be willing to take action.
  2. Start thinking holistically and put self-interests aside. Consider not only what benefits you as an individual, but how your actions will impact the environment and your community.
  3. Understand your strengths and leverage them to create change. Our society needs solutions to complicated problems, and ideas can come from anyone and anywhere.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Great leaders are great listeners, and they empower all stakeholders to feel equally important to the mission or objective. Leaders should invite feedback, create environments for constructive criticism and push others to achieve their potential.

I once had a leader who challenged me to generate my own solutions to any situation that surfaced. This was frustrating until I realized the tactic being employed. Soon enough, I became self-sufficient and confident enough to stop asking for a second opinion. Great leaders empower individuals to use superiors as a resource, not a lifeline. This anecdote changed my entire approach to leadership.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be yourself. People will notice and perceive you differently if you try to act like someone else.
  2. Pursue your passions. It won’t always be easy, but you have the ability to “make it happen.” The reward of achieving something you believe in spans beyond simple monetary value.
  3. Don’t let anyone affect your energy. Your energy will set the tone for how you accomplish your goals.
  4. Stay focused on being you and key in on the unique qualities that make you exceptional.
  5. Evaluate who you are and embrace your strengths and weaknesses.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m passionate about a simple phrase that people from all walks of life can connect to — Better Because of You! Embracing this way of life will allow us to realize the differences we’re all capable of making. Everyone can think of someone who inspires them, pushes them, supports them or even thinks about them. The Better Because of You movement consciously allows individuals to assess who they are making better simply by being themselves. It helps us recognize how we are influenced and who we are influencing, with the goal of positively impacting day-to-day lives.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My youth baseball coach used to stand on the third base sideline and say, “Come on Donovan, make it happen.” I didn’t think much of the line until I learned the deeper meaning; that I had the power to change the dynamics of the game. No matter what decision or choice I made, I had the power to make a difference. Beyond baseball, I’ve continued to live by his words and approach every day with the mentality that I am going to make it happen.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love the opportunity to engage with Earvin “Magic” Johnson and share how much I admire his drive to excel within his community. While every community is filled with great role models, often “mainstream America” overlooks these individuals and their contributions to their communities. However, Magic’s foresight and commitment to a selfless life concept will forever mark him as a true visionary in my worldview.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow me on LinkedIn (Donovan Casanave) or Instagram (@theabstractdon).

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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