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Updated: April 6, 2020 / 2020 Women in Business Awards

Ibsen matches community’s needs with Travelers’ resources

Photo | J. Fiereck Photogrphy
Marlene Malin Ibsen Q&A
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When a midsize Hartford nonprofit was looking for help with its data collection several years ago, Travelers Cos. employees were there to help.

Travelers’ actuaries worked with staff at Our Piece of the Pie (OPP), a youth-services agency based on Sargeant Street, to gather information on how access to transportation affected the success of OPP clients. Thanks to the collaboration, the nonprofit was able to tweak its offerings and the insurance workers were able to hone their data-collection skills.

“We’re always looking at how do we leverage the skills that our employees have to benefit the nonprofit community and vice-versa — how do we find ways in which involvement in the community is actually building an employee’s skills,” said Marlene Ibsen, vice president for community relations at Travelers and president and CEO of the Travelers Foundation.

Ibsen’s talent for matching community needs with her company’s resources has kept her in a prominent public-facing role at Travelers for 12 years, helping to guide the insurance giant toward a more strategic philanthropic philosophy. She joined the company in 1995 after several years working at nonprofits and in production roles at local TV stations. A brief stint in corporate marketing and communications would bolster her resume, Ibsen thought at the time she took the job.

“Three or four years in I realized I really liked it here and I should not keep thinking about leaving,” Ibsen said.

Key to her decision was the ability to try out new roles within the New York-based corporation as it transformed in the wake of industry shifts and a 2004 mega-merger with the St. Paul Cos.

“Previously in my career I had to go somewhere new to have new responsibilities … . I found that being at a large company with lots of changes going on, I didn’t have to leave to have new experiences,” Ibsen said.

She moved into media relations and communications positions in a range of divisions of the company. She added community relations to her portfolio around the year 2000, at a time when Travelers’ commitment to the city was being questioned.

“By combining philanthropy with media relations we would be more likely to get credit for what we were doing, to reclaim our visibility in the community,” Ibsen said. In her years at the Travelers Foundation, Ibsen said she has seen that commitment strengthen with more targeted and outcomes-based giving.

The foundation disbursed $25 million in 2018, the most recent year disclosed, with about $8 million going to Hartford-area nonprofits, Ibsen said. Our Piece of the Pie got $75,000 in 2018 as part of Travelers’ giving in the “academic and career success” category.

The foundation has also pivoted in recent years to respond to a surge in demand from employees eager to volunteer in the community — and spur their employer to get more involved.

“One of our challenges is meeting that rising demand and finding the right kind of quality experiences and involvements for our teams of employees,” Ibsen.

One thing that has remained constant for Ibsen throughout her career at Travelers is her passion for helping the city of Hartford.

“There is a particular spirit in Hartford — as much as we like to get a little frustrated and down — there is a growing collaborative spirit that makes me feel that we can really be on the cusp of changing the dynamic for some of these really hard challenges,” she said.

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