Using Open Data, Natalie Grillon Makes Supply Chains Collaborative and Transparent

The Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise celebrates 20 for 20 honoree Natalie Grillon, MBA ’12, CEO of Open Supply Hub.

By: Staff
photo of Natalie Grillon sitting on a park bench with a 20 for 20 graphic identifier overlaid on the photo.

Natalie Grillon, MBA ’12, CEO of Open Supply Hub (photo by Amanda Gentile)

Championing access to open data and transparent practices, launching innovative solutions to complex problems in global supply chains, and now leading the world’s largest collaborative map to build safe and sustainable global supply chains, Natalie Grillon, MBA ’12, is one of the 20 for 20 Notable Alumni honored this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise (CSGE) at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Grillon is CEO of Open Supply Hub, an accessible, collaborative, supply chain mapping platform used and populated by stakeholders across sectors and supply chains. Previously, she cofounded Project JUST, an online platform to help bring transparency to fashion supply chains and empower consumers to shift their purchasing behavior. She has also launched sustainability programs for changemaker brands, including Another Tomorrow and CHNGE.

As a student at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Grillon pursued the Sustainable Global Enterprise Immersion, and her passion for sustainability and fashion led her to focus on supply chain transparency in her career. “While I didn’t focus on supply chain or operations while at Johnson, I always enjoyed Dean [Vishal] Gaur’s operations class,” says Grillon. “Since then, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to continue to exchange ideas with him and speak in his classes. It’s one of the things I’ve valued about CSGE and Cornell—the ongoing connection with the school even after graduation has helped me continue to learn and draw valuable links between our work and the school.”

Learn more about Grillon in this Q&A. 

Global Impact

What drives your commitment and focus in environmental and/or social impact?

Grillon: In all industries, from retail to manufacturing, supply chains are a shared global resource, yet data about them is not transparently available. Historically, that data has been considered intellectual property, top secret. But without knowing where things are made, identifying and collaborating on solutions for global challenges like forced labor or deforestation is impossible.

The marketplace is awash with for-profit supply chain tech solutions, but they’re behind closed doors, shutting out civil society, unions, and governments—three critical stakeholders for creating a just and equitable future.

The organization I founded, Open Supply Hub, is the world’s first open database of supply chain production sites. We approach this data as a public good and believe this crucial information should be neither monopolized nor owned. Our approach is working. One thousand contributors are uploading data, including Amazon, Disney, and Fairtrade.

Supply chain data must be open for accountability, collective action, and investment.

Describe the biggest challenge you encountered as you built your career in sustainability and how you overcame it.

 Grillon: Unlike everyone else in my internship class, I did not get an offer from a certain consumer product goods (CPG) company at the end of my MBA internship summer. It felt existential at the time, but my classmates and many others helped me rebuild my confidence, including Monica Touesnard, executive director of CSGE; Mark Milstein, faculty director of CSGE;  Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham, who is now associate dean of student services at the  SC Johnson College; Risa Mish, professor of the practice of management at the Johnson School; and Clint Sidle, former director of the Johnson School’s Park Leadership Fellows program. I was selected for the Acumen fellowship that following spring, which provided me intensive leadership training, experience in impact investing, and the opportunity to work for a social enterprise in Uganda. Sometimes an answer of “no” points you in the direction you should have been on all along.

A picture of 4 Ugandan men standing next to Natalie Grillon in front of a warehouse of cotton.
Natalie Grillon in Uganda in 2013, during her Acumen Fellowship working at Gulu Agricultural Development Company, and pictured here with employees and cotton trucked in from around the region, purchased from approximately 60k farmers.

Envision the future of sustainability in your industry. What trend excites you and gives you hope for the future?

Grillon: The rapidly evolving global regulatory landscape for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD) in supply chains is shifting the paradigm underneath any corporate sustainability programs that have a global footprint. Data, technology, and real stakeholder engagement are going to be required to realize the power of this new legislative environment. I hope it results not only in powerful collaborations, but also in real accountability to end some of the enduring injustices that supply chain workers and communities face.

Can you share any insights or lessons learned from your experiences that may inspire current students who want to be sustainability leaders? What advice would you give them?

 Grillon: Travel, get outside the U.S., and understand the Global South and the impact of the climate crisis and its urgency. And develop an appreciation for the grassroots, community-driven solutions we can pursue towards realizing a just transition.

What is your favorite sustainability quote or book (+ author)?

Grillon: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is a biography of Dr. Paul Farmer, who worked for a health and social justice organization. It has shaped my worldview since I read it as a Peace Corps volunteer. How can those of us from the Global North best live a life of service and provide dignity to marginalized, deserving communities?

photo of Natalie Grillon hugging her dog.
Natalie Grillon with her dog, Johnny Cash

Learn more about 20 for 20 nominations or nominate an alum.