In my 10 years of working in talent recruiting and development in the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors, I often find myself in conversations with private sector professionals looking for a change. The scenario is fairly predictable at this point: a successful business person comes home every night feeling that he or she is missing out on the opportunity to make a difference. These professionals usually are quite successful, but unhappy because they feel completely disconnected from some of the most pressing challenges of our time.
Interestingly, I recently realized that it might take much less than a dramatic change to an entirely new sector to bridge this disconnect.
I realized I rarely hear from professionals who feel they are given the opportunity to make an impact as a part of their corporate day job. This could be a role in a CSR department, significant pro bono engagement opportunities, or a company that has a business model that integrates profitability and impact.
Once I might have believed that these roles were a gateway to seeking a career in the social enterprise or nonprofit sectors. Once professionals get a taste of work with impact beyond the bottom line, they would search for opportunities in sectors that are more traditionally focused on social change, right? That has not been our experience at Impact Business Leaders.
And that aligns with the research: A 2012 Net Impact study found that workers from across generations “who have opportunities to make a social or environmental contribution through their jobs” are more satisfied with their work than those who do not have such an opportunity.
What this means for you—
If you are a company…
Anecdotally, our experience working with more than 100 private sector “refugees” is that they are not coming from roles in CSR or corporate teams focused on integrating sustainability into their product lines.
We recommend that companies should attempt to engage employees with opportunities in their day jobs to leverage their skills toward having an impact. Perhaps this is in roles focused on increasing the impact and sustainability of your company’s products and services, or through meaningful and sustained engagement with community organizations.
Increasing the number of these opportunities has been found to improve performance: the Giving in Numbers 2015 Study, found that “companies most deeply invested in society were also the ones that saw the most robust financial performance.” There could also be a longer-term talent engagement investment at play. The 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that “for six in 10 millennials, a ‘sense of purpose’ is part of the reason they chose to work for their current employers.
If you are a professional seeking greater impact and job satisfaction
It is possible to find a role where you can apply your business skills to have an impact – and you are not alone in seeking this.
If you cannot find such a job within your current company, maybe it’s time to create one. A growing body of research shows the link between social impact and the bottom line. According to The Conference Board’s report “Driving Revenue Growth Through Sustainable Products and Services” (as quoted in the Giving in Numbers 2015 Study), the sale of sustainable products is increasing among a sample of S&P Global 100 companies.
The best part about this trend is, even if your current company isn’t willing to pay attention, other companies are. There are increasing opportunities for jobs with a social impact or sustainability focus on and beyond a CSR team. The most radical change you could make, and the one I see professionals making who cannot find these opportunities in their current company, is to join a social enterprise with a business model designed around a double or triple bottom line of financial sustainability, social and/or environmental impact.
Need some help with the transition? In addition to IBL’s program, which helps experienced professionals transition to social enterprise or impact investing, there are also organizations like Technoserve, MBAs without Borders, and Echoing Green’s Direct Impact, an experiential board leadership program where you can get a taste of working with the social enterprise sector. Or get involved in your local social enterprise scene as a volunteer or mentor (check out the Impact Hub network).
For IBL, the data is clear and the anecdotal evidence is mounting. 21st century professionals are in search of more meaningful work. If they can’t find it within their own company, there are more and more options to find meaningful work elsewhere.