Recognized and acknowledged for achieving extraordinary results at the nexus of commercial objectives and social impact, Donnica Hawes-Saunders is a mission-driven, collaborative connection builder. She creates and manages public relations outreach and external communication engagements for Philip Morris International (PMI) with civil society as the company transitions out of the cigarette business and toward a smoke-free future. Donnica links public policy and corporate interests by means of politically astute, coalition-based communications and strategic alliances. She has over ten years of experience in the private sector and on Capitol Hill.
Early Life and Work Experience
Donnica was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, and she remains committed to her Midwestern values, which privilege faith, family, and friendship. Following her graduation from college preparatory school, she attended Spelman College, a stellar member of the constellation of institutions of higher education known as HBCUs (historically black colleges and institutions}.
At Spelman, Donnica earned her Bachelor of Arts degree (B.A.), magna cum laude, in Sociology and Anthropology before moving on to earn her doctor of laws degree (J.D.) from the University Of Dayton School of Law. About her sojourn at Spelman, Donnica recalls, “Spelman really helped me show up more authentically and have a different perspective on challenges, which prepared me for some of the experiences I have had in my career on Capitol Hill and in the corporate sector.”
Donnica worked for Heineken USA prior to joining PMI, where she executed the company’s legislative agenda on the national and state levels and developed connections to enhance brand reputation through corporate philanthropy, industry responsibility, and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Her work was featured in a number of media sites, including Food & Drug Magazine, The Examiner News, Convenience Store News,, Abasto, Beverage Media, Beverage Industry, Westfair Online, Just-Drinks, Hungry Forever, Engage for Good, SelfishGiving, and Cause Radio.
Before joining Heineken USA, Donnica spent several years serving as a senior staffer on Capitol Hill. As a part of her broad background in policy and legislative strategy, she’s drafted and advanced legislation including bills to improve responses to victims of child sex trafficking (P.L. 114-22) and established amendment language in the 2014 Farm Bill Conference Report designating a historically black college (HBCU) as an 1890 Land Grant University, increasing access to federal funds.
A Communication and Collaboration Expert
Donnica utilizes a collaborative leadership style because she recognizes the value of being consultative as well as authoritative. As a leader, she assumes the obligation to know the way, show the way, and go the way. As a team member, she values empathy because compassionate concern, together with empowering support, promotes mutuality, reciprocity, and compatibility. She believes that leadership should be inspirational and aspirational as well as strategic and pragmatic.
Her approach enhances the effectiveness of the application of her expertise when dealing with issues where public policy, social effect, and international communication intersect. She realizes that there must be external and internal cooperation and alignment to achieve optimal business outcomes. She works with conventional lobbying groups as well as governmental agencies and organizations, media teams, as well as teams focused on sustainability, diversity, and inclusion.
A Perspective on Digital Communication
Donnica believes it is necessary to use all available communication channels and methods to spread accurate information and debunk false claims and misinformation as a demonstration of individual integrity and corporate responsibility. Being civic-minded, Donnica views her role as a truth advocate and change activist, who recognizes the importance of comprehending the physical and cultural environment, understanding the community’s needs and interests, and cultivating human relationships alongside business relationships. She says, “I try to understand the community’s needs, understand societal needs, and understand how organizations are going to be perceived. Making sure there’s alignment with the trends is also critically important. It’s really an intersection of work that leads to success and positive multi-stakeholder impact.”
Donnica believes a variety of industrial revolutions have been significant in terms of their social impacts and broader societal and commercial trends. According to her, these changes continue to be strongly influenced by the needs of the community, the people, and the customers, as they take place. The key is to ensure that narratives derived from business policies and practices are transparent and factual because they contribute to the image and reputation of a company.
Gender Equality in the Workplace
Donnica believes that women’s experiences in the workplace are influenced by a number of factors, including the percentage of women in leadership positions, the number of women on boards, and the wage gap that still remains between men and women in the workplace. Given the progress that has been made in redressing some of the more egregious inequities, Donnica feels personally empowered, but she realizes that equality, like the road to success, is still under construction.
Meanwhile, Donnica respects and admires the pioneering women, who are still motivating and facilitating the advancement of women in the workplace. She also bestows credit on the male allies, who are trying to achieve genuine gender equality in the workplace because such cooperation between the genders is necessary for the accomplishment of the task. She wholeheartedly believes that it is possible to attain both equity and equality.
A Perspective on Success
For Donnica, success is a state of mind as well as a state of being. It is living each day with serenity and joy. She realizes that life happens, but she believes that living one’s life authentically and purposefully requires not only courage but also equanimity. She endeavors “to be level enough and secure enough and competent enough so that anything that comes my way I know that I can handle and confidently lean into the idea of peace and joy.”
In 2019, 2020, and 2022 Donnica was named one of the Top Lobbyists and Influencers in Washington, D.C. by Lawyers of Color magazine and was nominated and awarded membership in the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL), a network of global elected officials and policy experts. Donnica currently serves on the board of the Atlas Performing Arts Center, the Advisory Council of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI), and is an Ambassador for the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture (NAAMHC).
Donnica was named one of Yahoo Finance’s Empower 100 Global Future Leaders and one of the Top 20 Highest Achieving Changemakers in 2022 for her global corporate diversity and inclusion strategy, execution, and advocacy. In 2021, she was awarded the PRISM International Corporate Diversity Impact Award for creating and institutionalizing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) programming at Philip Morris international.
View as a Professional
Donnica sees herself as a mission-driven, collaborative connection builder, who continues to produce innovative outcomes for international organizations at the nexus of business and social impact. She intends to keep facilitating change via optimism rather than pessimism even in organizations whose behavior has not always been ideally compatible with the needs and expectations of the community or a changing society. She believes that operating from a position of positive resolve, rather than one of protective defensiveness, will enable change.
Work-Life Balance and Alignment
People interpret work-life balance differently, individually, even uniquely, according to Donnica. Consequently, she realizes that what works for her may not work for everyone. However, she believes it’s important to create a balance by defining and aligning one’s priorities. She encourages friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to figure out what they want their life to look like, establish boundaries, and enforce them. According to Donnica, one must set limits on discipline, sacrifice, and compromise if one would lead one’s life rather than be led by it. And, one should value, even privilege, relationships. She says, “For me, the most meaningful, motivating relationships are those that last and have lasted through a variety of career changes.”
Written by Steve Sanchez.