Social entrepreneurship is one of those terms that means different things, depending on who’s doing the defining. In general, though, it refers to the application of innovative entrepreneurial strategies to solve pressing problems.
Social entrepreneurs focus on a truly diverse set of social issues—education, health and human services, food and agriculture, water, energy, workforce and livelihood development, poverty alleviation, and others—and employ an ever-evolving set of business models. The innovation happening in this space makes it exciting and inspiring. Whether you are interested in creating new education programs for underserved minority communities in Chicago, or investing in a Fair Trade coffee farming cooperative in Nicaragua, social entrepreneurship can be a vehicle for almost any kind of social change you want to see in the world.
Sounds interesting, right? But how do you find a job in this space?
Identifying your career options
You might choose to work for a social entrepreneur directly—for instance, College Summit, Education Pioneers, or KickStart, to name a few. Or, you might find it appealing to work for one of the organizations that provide services to social entrepreneurs. These include consultants and capacity building organizations (e.g., Bridgespan, FSG, Endeavor) as well as impact investors and funders (e.g., Acumen Fund, REDF, New Profit). In these roles, you might have the chance to work with a variety of social entrepreneurs, providing guidance as a consultant or managing a portfolio of social venture investments as a funder. Or, you might choose to start your own social enterprise.
When pursuing social entrepreneurship careers, some job-seekers orient themselves based on mission (developing expertise in, say, poverty alleviation or education); others focus more on functional role (for instance, marketing or operations). It’s also important to think through what kind of organization you’re interested in working for. Social ventures come in many forms—nonprofits, for-profits, and hybrid structures (such as B corporations or social enterprises). “The blurring boundaries between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors and the introduction of new legal forms is opening up more and more opportunities for students interested in social entrepreneurship,” says Erin Worsham, Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at Duke University. “It has really changed the way that students are looking at careers in this space.”
5 tips for jumpstarting your search
· Research the field. Don’t miss David Bornstein’s excellent book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. Skoll World Forum and Ashoka Changemakers are also good starting points.
· Join the conversation on Twitter. Jump in at hashtag #socent, #socialenterprise, #socialimpact, #socinn, or #impinv.
· Identify organizations to target by visiting the lists of Ashoka Fellows and Schwab Foundation social entrepreneurs (searchable by country and by sector). You might also look for organizations that are backed by foundations with a funding focus aligned with your interests—for example, if you’re interested in global health, look at who the Gates Foundation has funded. The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation and Echoing Green also list fellows on their websites.
· Hone your networking skills. “I did a lot of informational interviewing,” says Meghan Gouldin, Director of Strategic Projects for Year Up, of her job search. “Sometimes I could see immediately why an interview might be helpful to my search; other times I spoke with people because I thought it could be helpful in some way even if I wasn’t sure exactly how.”
· Be prepared to show, not just tell, how you demonstrate your passion for an organization’s mission. If you don’t have previous social-sector work experience, think about examples you can gather from volunteer work, internships, or international travel experiences that demonstrate your interest in the organization’s mission area.
There are an ever-expanding set of options for job seekers interested in social entrepreneurship. The good news is that following your passion in this space can also be a viable and rewarding career move.
Excerpted from Profession and Purpose: A Resource Guide for MBA Careers in Sustainability, 2nd edition, released July 2014.
Katie Kross is Managing Director of the Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment (EDGE), Duke University. As a sustainability practitioner, career coach and educator, she has counseled and inspired hundreds of MBA students to go on to sustainability careers with Fortune 500 companies, social and environmental non-profits, mission-driven companies and start-ups. She is the author of Profession and Purpose, Second Edition (Greenleaf Publishing, July 2014)
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