EVENTS & INSIGHTS / INSIGHT

GPS your career path

by Shannon Houde

Careers in the impact economy can be hard to come by and the routes in are yet to be formally mapped. Transitioning out of your current role and into this new and exciting sector is a challenge! That said, you’ll see that there are a number of potential avenues for your career path that are worth exploring.

 

The direct route: impact investing

Impact investing is emerging as a vibrant new field that seeks measurable social and environmental impact alongside financial return. According to the Global Impact Investors Network, it provides capital to “support solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges,” including sustainable agriculture, affordable housing, affordable and accessible healthcare, clean technology and financial services. According to a report from JP Morgan and the GIIN, 96% of investors use metrics to measure social and/or environmental impact. Impact investors make preferential values-based investments based on such metrics, making them uniquely positioned to spot opportunities that ordinary investors don’t see.

DON'T MISS OUT
ON MORE FREE TIPS

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign up

There are many dedicated impact investment companies that you could investigate for jobs to support your transition towards an impact career. Check out Al Gore and David Blood’s Generation IM, Root Capital, the Omidyar Network (established by the founders of Ebay), the Acumen Fund, Bamboo Finance and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs.

Do your homework and look for global opportunities that make best use of your analysis skills, people skills and cultural understanding.

The scenic route: intrapreneurship

Have you considered staying where you are, and helping your company make a greater impact by valuing its own social and cultural capital? Intrapreneurs walk the impact talk by taking their own companies to task and using their talents to pursue internal sustainability outcomes closer to home.

In my experience from working with more than 4,000 sustainability practitioners over the past 15 years, there are a number of key skills you need to do this, including bravery and resilience, the ability to balance global and local perspectives, innovation and systems thinking, influencing and negotiating, and the ability to engage others on their own terms.

Ask:  What opportunities do you see for your company? How can it help address external social issues within its existing business model? Or is there an impact to be made internally?

Incubators choosing to mobilize the social and cultural capital within their workforce can do better than their peers: startups are typically full of left-brained, engineering types, but as Kevin Simler points out, “to fully appreciate what goes on inside a growing startup, it pays to remember that an engineer is also a primate.”

Your background could help you enable employees to engage and be part of the tribe, to trust the company and buy in to the vision. Reciprocating that trust by giving staff the space to figure out the big, complex problems is all part of leveraging social and cultural capital can help to ensure your staff “will never sit and watch something go in the wrong direction.”

career path

Image © averieclaire via Unsplash

The off-road route: social entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurs are unique in that they identify a problem and use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture in order to yield positive returns to both society and the balance sheet. If you have the passion and the dedication to strike out on your own, then a career as a social entrepreneur could be for you.

You’ll need a solid business model — profits are still very much a part of the triple bottom line — and a strong, communicable vision. If you are committed to realizing genuine impact to ameliorate the social and cultural problems you observe in the world, read my past article on the skills needed for social entrepreneurship. As you’ll see it’s not easy to do, but when it works it can be one of the most rewarding, hands-on ways to create change.

The b-road route: non-profit impact

It’s a more grassroots path and you may need to take a pay cut, but if you want to surround yourself with like-minded people who are similarly committed to a cause, then the non-profit or NGO route may be the right one for you.

The biggest difference with the NGO route is that the drivers are not profits, but rather, the cause. This can be frustrating if you are a commercially minded, efficient and fast-paced individual. You need to consider the cultural fit first as there is a huge range of NGOs, some that are run professionally and others less so. Most staff within NGOs say they are there, making less than they could elsewhere, because they believe in making a difference. If you are driven more by your value to make an impact than make a high-paid living, this could be a good route into the sustainability space.

My first job out of my MBA was to manage a team reporting to corporate and national donors at WWF International. I wanted to see how the other side worked and to get more grassroots environmental experience. This was a great stepping-stone into the wider sustainability agenda as it gave me the opportunity to learn about public/private/NGO partnerships. However, I was too much of an MBA-er and ended up moving back to corporate consulting after a few years of being frustrated with not having the “bottom line” as a driver for efficiencies.

So before you “switch sides”, first ask yourself:

How close do you want to be to the issue?

Will you be content sitting in head office, while others on the ground get their hands dirty?

Do you want to be working on local or global issues?

Will you be ok without efficiencies and structure that the commercial sector offers?

Once you’ve made those decisions, take control by keeping your eyes and ears open and exposing yourself to as many career paths as possible, while prioritizing what’s important to you, defining success for yourself and creating your own career path.

Best of luck negotiating the rocky terrain of impact careers and mapping your own path – Destination Dream Job isn’t as far away as you think! For some bespoke advice on career change navigation and personal positioning, contact my team for a 30-minute Trial session.

This article was originally published on GreenBiz

comments

You may also like...

sustainability catalyst
How to be a ‘sustainability catalyst’

Stephanie Cárdenas has had an incredibly diverse career. Self-identifying as a “sustainability catalyst,” she has shaped sustainability strategies for international clients at Deloitte, worked as a green finance consultant at the Inter-American Development Bank and developed farm to fork systems as sustainability manager at Baldor Speciality Foods in New York. Now, in her latest role as forest manager at nonprofit CDP, she’s part of the mission to get companies to disclose their progress on reducing corporate impact on people and

By Shannon Houde
The Marine Stewardship Council’s Angelina Skowronski on selling sustainability, the upside of being an extrovert

Like so many sustainability professionals, Angelina Skowronski’s career trajectory hasn’t been linear. After several years working in the seafood industry, building sustainability programs from the ground up and leading Fishpeople Seafood to maintain B Corp status, Skowronski took a sidestep into the adventure sports industry before returning to the sector in her current role as commercial manager at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). In this interview, she discusses how she came to that decision, the massive challenge we all face

By Shannon Houde
Carving out your sustainability career in the private sector

When Lindsay Vignoles joined skincare company Rodan + Fields in 2018, she didn’t wait for the right role in sustainability to appear — she set about creating it for herself. Now overseeing environmental, social and governance functions at the San Francisco company as director of ESG, Vignoles talks candidly about how she formally created that role within the business, how to create buy-in from leadership when a company is early in its sustainability journey and how she sees ESG evolving

By Shannon Houde
Insider sizes up fashion’s fair labor problems

Prior to accepting a position with Zalando in early February, Christian Smith was partnerships and stakeholder engagement lead at Fair Wear Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to improve conditions for workers in garment factories. Previously, he spent years working to make changes from within the apparel industry, with roles at Tesco, ASOS and TOMS. Here Smith explains how working with an NGO compares with working for a brand, how COVID triggered a new understanding of the systemic problems within global apparel and what Fair

By Shannon Houde

NEED SOME SUPPORT?

Book a 30-minute trial session with Shannon

BOOK A TRIAL