Prisca Bae has spent her career serving as a bridge between the women’s movement and the private sector, working for companies like Goldman Sachs, Women in the World, and advisory group Seneca Point Global. In 2015, working at PepsiCo in the Global Diversity & Engagement group, she led the development of a $100 million commitment to women and girls.
We caught up with Prisca to learn more about her unique career path, her experiences working for change in corporate America, and how she built her enviable professional network.
You can catch Prisca in person at our next Powerbitches Salon on March 23 (tickets here).
Powerbitches: You work at this really interesting intersection of advocacy and the private sector. How did you land there?
Prisca: Being an immigrant and a woman of color has defined my life’s passion and goals. I was always a feminist and majored in women’s and gender studies at Columbia. I never thought I could make a career out feminism so I went to law school and ended up at a big law firm. It made sense at the time – I had huge law school loans and wanted to start supporting my parents, who were nearing retirement.
10 years ago, I made a career pivot. Thanks to some great mentors, two female partners at my firm who I’m still good friends with today, I met an attorney named Kim Azzarelli who would hire me to work with her at Goldman Sachs in the philanthropy group. We would go on to work together at Women in the World and Seneca Point Global, which she founded with Ambassador Melanne Verveer, the first-ever US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, a role created during the Obama Administration by Secretary Clinton.
There was no strategy behind my career pivot other than surrounding myself with supportive mentors who cared about me as well as advancing women in work and leadership.
“Being an immigrant and a woman of color has defined my life’s passion and goals.” - Prisca Bae
Powerbitches: How did your work build from there?
Prisca: At Goldman Sachs, I helped manage Goldman Sachs Gives, a $500 million donor-advised fund for the partners of the firm. It was an incredible opportunity to learn from leaders in the development and social impact space.
At Women in the World, I ran the Women in the World Foundation and became immersed in the women’s and media space and saw the genius of Tina Brown first hand. I also got to know how the production and media side of things work, which was exciting for a former attorney. Both Goldman Sachs and Women in the World gave insights and access into worlds I never thought I would be a part of. At Seneca Point Global, a global advisory firm Kim founded with Ambassador Verveer, I helped Fortune 500 companies on their corporate social responsibility and women’s empowerment initiatives. I’m really proud that I was able to build a career that was both mission driven but also enabled me to continue to pay off my student loans.
Powerbitches: Let’s talk about your work at PepsiCo. As their Senior Director of Global Diversity & Engagement, you led the launch of a new $100 million commitment to women and girls. How does something like that happen?
Prisco: When I was first approached by PepsiCo, I thought it was to join the Diversity & Engagement team – and my focus would be global women’s issues. At that time, PepsiCo wanted to develop an external women’s strategy, something that aligned with their internal business priorities and could help women and girls around the world. Indra Nooyi was the CEO and I could not imagine a more interesting and exciting opportunity.
The internal alignment and approval process was my first challenge. It started with making the business case, which was obvious - women make the majority of purchasing decisions (~70-80%). I then mapped the existing landscape and presented to stakeholders throughout the company, showing what other companies were doing and how much they had invested. From that, we were able to get a commitment of $100 million over 10 years from the business and PepsiCo Foundation.
At PepsiCo, you can’t have a top-down strategy - it’s such a big, diverse company. It’s a matrix. There are all these silos and groups that work independently, so if you want to get something big done, you have to influence people who might have other priorities to work with you. Fortunately, there were supportive leaders throughout the company who cared passionately about women and girls. Right now, the fund is very focused on putting money into women farmers and closing the crop gap.
I left my role in Diversity & Engagement and joined the Public Policy and Government Affairs group over a year ago, but the work to advance women is still ongoing. And by 2025, PepsiCo and the PepsiCo Foundation will have invested $100 million on women and girls, which I’m really proud of.
Powerbitches: A lot of people who are looking to do mission-driven work wouldn’t necessarily look at the private sector as a place to do that. Why should they?
Prisca: Everyone and every sector has a role in contributing to positive change in society. While I can understand the criticisms directed towards corporations, in my experience, corporations can also serve as a force for good. The sustainability and corporate social responsibility movements within the private sector have been going strong for over a decade and is only getting stronger.
“If you want to get something big done, you have to influence people who might have other priorities to work with you.” - Prisca Bae
While it’s important to have people advocating on the outside at nonprofits and advocacy groups, you also need to have people on the inside serving as allies. The thing that I feel very passionately about is that everyone has a role. You need allies wherever you go. And I’m an ally in the private sector.
Powerbitches: What advice do you have for someone currently working in the private sector who would like to use their role to make a difference?
Prisca: I think of that Mr. Rogers quote, “Look for the helpers.” Seek out like-minded people within your company (they exist!) and figure out how to do make positive impact with them. It could be small, like starting a volunteer project or raising money for a nonprofit.
If you want to get involved in a more systemic way, find out where that work is happening in your company and just be helpful all the time. Because when a role opens up, they’re going to think of you.
Powerbitches: Finally, it seems like a lot of your work has been based on relationships and connecting people. Do you see yourself as a connector?
Absolutely. I love to connect people.
People always tell me that I know a lot of people. I think I also just have a tendency to like people. And I really like helping people. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to amass this incredible network of people - because the relationships are authentic.
I have certainly had times when I’ve met someone whose work I’m interested in and it hasn’t gelled, whether because of chemistry or energy or shared experience. But there are enough people out there that you’ll like. Find those people and focus your energy on them. And help each other – especially women – because nothing’s going to change otherwise.
Prisca Bae will be in conversation with Powerbitches founder Rachel Hills at our March Salon event. Click here for more information and to secure your tickets.