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Analyzing the Latest Trends in Mission-Driven Business

Photos: Courtesy of Chris Kendig Photography

What advice would you give to students looking to pursue a career in nonprofits?

For students who want to go into nonprofits there are really three main topics to consider. First, you should be really clear on the kind of nonprofit you are looking for to understand where to focus your time and energy — for example, the size of the nonprofit. Do you want to work in a small grass-roots type of organization or would you rather work in a bigger nonprofit where there might be hundreds of people on staff?

Something else to consider is the mission. Do you want to work directly with people or do you want to work more on field building and thought leadership? You also need to consider the types of jobs you might be doing in a nonprofit, which can include anything from program management to fundraising to marketing.

What sort of impact roles exist at for-profits and corporations?

The influx of sustainability in corporations has excelled enormously and almost all corporations both domestic and international are moving towards purpose. Mark Zuckerberg recently delivered a commencement address at Harvard, the school he attended before dropping out to start Facebook. The focus of his address was purpose — and how we must create a world where everyone has purpose in the daily work and lives.

For-profit impact extends across a myriad of industries from car manufacturing to fashion. In 2016, Toyota Motor Company North America committed to 100 percent renewable energy solutions for Toyota’s new North American headquarters in Plano, Texas. Levi Strauss & Co. continues to work with suppliers to reduce their environmental impact, improve conditions for workers in the supply chain, and ultimately encourage people to stop thinking about clothes as disposable.

Corporations see the business case for sustainability and millennials are actively pursuing for-profit careers where they can drive impact from within. Research conducted by Net Impact in 2016 indicated that 41 percent of respondents identified a strong interest in pursuing a career in the for-profit sector if they can still make a social impact (up from 38 percent in 2014).

How can social media be utilized to make an impact?

We know that billions of people use social media every day and that the number will continue to increase. Social media has become the fastest way to reach large groups of people and organizations utilize social media for brand awareness and to influence consumer behavior. Not only is social media a vehicle of globalization, connecting the world through fast communications, it is also a tool to increase empathy for parts of the world that may otherwise get overlooked. Social media allows society to find common ground, build relationships and ultimately collaborate to find and accelerate solutions.

How have the priorities of the global workforce shifted over the past few decades?

Priorities of the global workforce are moving toward sustainability as business is moving away from traditional profit models. The B-Corp movement is an example of a growing global trend redefining what success means for businesses. While many young professionals are entering into traditional companies or B Corporations, the excitement and belief in the nonprofit sector and foundations has also increased.

More and more people are looking to incorporate purpose into their careers as businesses continue to be a driving force for social and environmental change. Both these phenomena were much less common 20 years ago, yet today we hear this as a high priority for job seekers, and we see examples of businesses regularly integrating social and environmental themes into business plans.

Can you discuss both personal and professional gains that individuals can find through impact careers?

Research from organizations such as Net Impact or Imperative have consistently found that integrating purpose into your career results in higher performance, greater well-being, stronger relationships and a more fulfilling life.

One of the reasons why I have been at Net Impact for over a decade is because I am so inspired by the potential of the next generation to lead change. Every Net Impact member and chapter leader that we encounter has the potential to touch so many more people in so many different types of fields and impact areas and I see each of them as a potential ripple to make even greater change that will impact the entire globe.

Uniting on a shared purpose, making friends who have a like-minded commitment to the world, and interacting with young colleagues who are leading change every day is extremely rewarding.

How can companies successfully recruit graduates and new talent who want to make an impact?

For traditional for-profit companies, their continued effort to make their operations more sustainable and have a positive impact on the world will attract the type of talent that can stand out as change makers. Today’s motivated millennials do understand that it is extremely feasible to make a difference in the corporate world.

Many people looking to use their careers for social and environmental change will turn to non-profit focused organizations. As purpose becomes a high driver for professionals, some of those individuals with advanced degrees or corporate experience will choose to enter these fields and thus bring a new set of transferable skills to the nonprofit market. Research conducted with graduate students by Net Impact in 2016, found that 67 percent of respondents were willing to earn a salary that was 15 percent lower than they might otherwise make in order to get a job that seeks to make a social or environmental difference.

Why is a focus on diversity and social inclusion particularly important within the mission-driven business sphere?

Diversity and social inclusion have become important everywhere. While it is true that is often a pillar for many mission-driven organizations, diversity is an emphasis for many for-profit organizations and more generally in career markets like Silicon Valley and in fields such as finance.

What is the role of social entrepreneurs in tackling social and environmental issues?

Social entrepreneurs are consistently marked with the traits of change agents. From their innovative spirit to find solutions to the toughest challenges, to their tenacity to rise above traditional for-profit business models, to their bravery to launch new ventures with no guarantee of success — these are the people who move the needle for change.

Peter Sacco is a Net Impact member who is raising the bar for social enterprises. His company, Adelante Shoe Co. is a socially responsible business that works with craftsmen in Central America to bring quality men’s and women’s shoes into America. They have a unique business model — they pay their artisans enough to live well with their families through a salary amount that their artisans define themselves. This new standard, known as the Living Well Line, is a social impact model that balances development best practices with community input to define the cost of living well in any community worldwide. Peter Sacco is working to provide a non-profit certification for companies that pay their workers enough to consume the goods and services that they have identified as necessary to live well. This is one example out of thousands that shows the incredible power of innovative entrepreneurs.

Many organizations see the huge impact potential of social entrepreneurs. Through conferences, programs and competitions, organizations such as Sustainable Brands, Net Impact and the Hult Prize Foundation support early stage entrepreneurs. One of the fastest growing career fields of this decade is impact investing. Professionals working in the field of impact investing invest in organizations and social entrepreneurs that will produce financial returns and measurable impact.

What are some of the most satisfying impact career paths?

As previously mentioned, impact investing has become a strong potential driver of change that continues to propel our society forward and is a field that is extremely attractive to students and young professionals. For impact investors, the best-case scenario is for impact investing, over the long term, to become a normal part of investment criteria.

Net Impact recently conducted an interview with Elisabeth Chasia, the portfolio manager for MCE Social Capital. She is an example of the satisfaction that comes with investing to improve the lives of communities and individuals. Her organization is a nonprofit impact investing fund that invests solely in emerging markets, microfinance institutions and small, growing business funds. She generates social impact by investing in Sub-Saharan Africa. She was able to experience her impact firsthand when she went to Africa to visit a client who was running a chicken farm. When she started working with him he had around 20 chickens, and through support from MCE Social Capital he now has over a hundred and has begun growing a number of different vegetables. He has been given the opportunity to continue to better his community.

What tools can an individual use to discover which career path is best or most rewarding for them?

It starts with finding your passion. If you aren’t sure where that passion is, talk to people, engage with your local community and see what causes really speak to you. Passion is what will continue to propel you forward as you pursue a career with purpose. Utilize tools such as LinkedIn to make valuable connections and attend conferences and webinars to find inspiration and show commitment to your passion. Then apply for internships and fellowships that can provide you with practical, transferable skills to take with you as you continue in your impact career.

Staff, [email protected]

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