“Intrinsically I’ve Always Had Giving At My Heart”: UNICEF Marketer Zunilka Whitnall On Making A Positive Social Impact

“Intrinsically I’ve Always Had Giving At My Heart”: UNICEF Marketer Zunilka Whitnall On Making A Positive Social Impact

Zunilka Whitnall is a force to be reckoned with. The daughter of immigrant parents who desires to leave a legacy for her own children, Whitnall is passionate about evoking positive social change, not just financial.

As the innovation, new products, and senior partnership specialist lead at UNICEF Australia, Zunilka cuts through the noise to achieve remarkable outcomes and drive extraordinary outcomes. Prior to her invaluable work in humanitarian development, she had an incredible career in advertising, collaborating with renowned global brands and leading Australian audience-centric networks to deliver impactful, award-winning campaigns.

Whitnall’s outstanding contributions have secured her internal recognition as the 2022 UNICEF Innovation Champion; she was also selected as one of thirty leaders for The Marketing Academy (TMA) Scholarship program.

Ahead of the B&T Women in Media Awards, presented by Are Media, we are celebrating women who have made a notable impact on the media industry. B&T sat down with Zunilka to discuss what inspired her move into the not-for-profit space and how individuals can collaborate to make a positive social impact within their workplaces.

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B&T: What inspired you to pursue a career in Media, particularly in the not-for-profit space?

Whitnall: It was a dream to join the Media industry, to work for and with big brands. I loved the tangible outcome of seeing your creative concept come to life and was intrigued by the influence marketing has on consumers. I was raised by immigrant parents who came to Australia with little more than a suitcase. They instilled into us the notion of helping those less fortunate, so intrinsically, I’ve always had giving at my heart. My desire to pursue a career in the not-for-profit space really didn’t take hold until I had my first child. It was during this time I started to contemplate questions like, what is the legacy I want to leave behind in this world? Things change when you have little people looking up to you as role models.

B&T: If I were to ask what pivotal moment in your career pushed you to where you are now, what would it be and why?

Whitnall: During my first parent leave break, I found myself the loneliest I’ve felt in my life. We moved away from friends, and I had no family around. I read about a trend that was growing in Europe: Intergenerational playgroups. It sparked a light inside of me, and I created a brand, recruited parents and ran a second-hand toy donation drive to start the Northern Beaches first Intergenerational group. It brought me so much joy to see the faces of the elderly, many with dementia, and the children interacting together. When I returned to work, I continued to run the playgroup for another year on my one day off and thought, how can I feel this good every day? In parallel, I started to observe my passion for including proactive media stretch ideas on how brands can drive and measure success through positive change, not just in financial but also in another measure of success. It was then I knew that I wanted to utilise my 15 years’ experience for good and decided I wanted to work for an organisation that had a huge global reach and impact, so I set my energy into getting a role at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

B&T: What specific industry trends or changes have you observed recently that have sparked your interest and why? 

Whitnall: What I find interesting and encouraging is the number of colleagues from both the agency and media owner side that have approached me to gain advice on how to make the shift into a social impact career or how they can support our work at UNICEF. I love that this shift is happening because we need diversity in skills to innovate and solve the world’s challenges. I always advise that even if the time isn’t right for a move, you can still play a role in tackling social issues within your organisations, whether it’s through workplace giving, volunteering, donating to an emergency, or throwing in a proactive social impact idea to your media responses. It should not just be the responsibility of the not-for-profit sector to drive the change we need in the world; it should be the sum of all parts. People are realising that we can all make a difference in our own way, collaborating as global citizens to address some of the challenges of our time.

B&T: Could you share a specific instance where your leadership style has made a significant impact? How does your approach differ from that of your male counterparts?

Whitnall: Working within the new product innovation space is not always easy; results aren’t always instant, the goalposts shift, and there nearly isn’t a use case to refer to. Someone once referred to determination, preservice and unwavering focus as ‘like a dog with a bone’, which I liked because it’s true: I never give up. The impact I am most proud of that reflects my leadership flex at UNICEF is the recent partenrship we have had with SXSW Sydney, SXSW Austin, our Australian team and the global UNICEF Office of Innovation. To see a surge of young voices involved in the festival, including a youth-only Future Lab where ideas and voices will help shape the Digital Compact at this year’s UN Summit of the Future, to seeing youth have a seat at the table representing 2.1 billion children and young people alongside global thought leaders is one of the reasons I get up and do what I do, every day.

B&T: What do you think the benefits are of having women in leadership positions?

Whitnall: Investing in women and girls today creates a future where everyone in society can thrive, reflecting the world we want to live in gender-equal, with opportunity and empowerment for all. I am proud to work for an organisation whose commitment towards gender parity at the most senior levels is unwavering and proves that we can shatter the glass ceiling if we work together for systematic change.

B&T: What action have you taken to challenge gender stereotypes in your projects?

Whitnall: My dedication to diversity is deeply rooted in my identity as a woman of intersectionality and as the co-chair of our DEI Committee. For me, it is about transitioning from being an ally to becoming an active, ally. I love mentoring and often host interns to help us with new perspectives NS jointly develop key innovation projects. This year I was also given the opportunity to supporting a young activist from UNICEF’s Game Changers program to leave her community near the Amazon for the first time and take centre stage at SXSW Austin. I often ask how I might be able to create an impact that can make a difference in a person’s life, big or small.

Enter B&T’s Women in Media Awards Now!

The Women in Media Awards, presented by Are Media, recognise exceptional women who have achieved success in their professional arenas and celebrate their invaluable contribution to their industry through their leadership, innovation, and courage.

Check out our recent interview with Aimee Buchanan of Group M, another pioneer in the media space, paving the way for the next generation of leaders.

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