Social-Impact Careers

Social Impact Resources (Net Impact)

Net Impact–an international nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire, educate, and equip individuals to use the power of business to create a more socially and environmentally sustainable world–has created a range of great overview of various social-impact careers. Below is a sampling of descriptions, quick facts, and links. NOTE: all links open directly to PDFs.

Nonprofit Management: The nonprofit sector – also referred to at times as the independent sector, third sector, or voluntary sector – consists of 1.3 million organizations in the United States, and many more internationally. Increasingly, nonprofits are realizing that MBAs and graduates of similar programs can play important roles in their organizations. Many nonprofits have seen that the analytical, marketing, management, financial, and operational skills MBAs can bring to their job will help the organization to run more effectively.

Quick Facts

  • There are over one million nonprofits in the United States
  • The nonprofit sector’s assets are estimated at $2.9 trillion
  • Some 70% of nonprofit organizations operate on annual budgets under $500,000
  • About 4% of nonprofits have budgets over $10 million
  • Thirty-one percent of the sector’s funding comes from government grants and contracts.
  • Over 50% of funding for health and human services comes from the government.
  • More than 100 new nonprofit organizations file with the IRS each day.
  • In the United States, 12 million individuals (about 9 percent of the U.S. workforce) work with nonprofit organizations

Corporate Social Responsibility: A widely quoted current definition by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development states that “Corporate Social Responsibility is the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.”

Quick Facts

  • In 2007 corporate donations totaled $15.69 billion
  • Seven in ten consumers say they are prepared to pay more for a brand that supports a cause they believe in; 73% are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products.
  • More than 1,000 companies now publish sustainability reports

Environmental Sustainability: For those interested in a career that makes a positive impact on the environment, opportunities in Environmental Sustainability exist in the private, nonprofit, and public sectors. Like many other areas of socially responsible business, the definition of an environmental career is rapidly changing. At one time, environmental sustainability jobs were primarily identified as people whose work was directly related to an environmental field, such as land-use planners, geologists, wildlife biologists, etc. Business people interested in a career in environmental sustainability were generally limited to applying their skills in the public sector, or a wildlife or environmental nonprofit. But as companies in all industries aim to be more sustainable, people who do not have an “environmental” job by strict definitions can make a significant environmental impact in a more mainstream organization.

Quick Facts

  • The average office employee goes through 10,000 sheets of paper annually
  • It takes 70% less energy to produce a ton of paper from recycled paper than from trees
  • More than half of the 250 biggest companies in the world now produce environmental, social or sustainability reports in addition to financial ones
  • Hybrid vehicles can reduce smog emissions by 90%. Hybrid car batteries charge by reclaiming the energy you generate when you hit the brakes
  • Just 10% of the fossil fuel energy used in generating the food we eat actually goes into growing it; 90% is used for ads, packaging, and transport
  • Americans use 4 million plastic bottles every hour – yet only one bottle out of four is recycled

International Development: International development is a broad industry with the goal of alleviating poverty in developing countries. Development activities include food and shelter aid, training and capacity building, microfinance loans, and the establishment of financial, government, and public infrastructure. Given the wide range of roles that international development can play, it is not surprising that careers in the field vary depending on location, experience, and funding.

Quick Facts

  • One in five people in the world—more than 1 billion people—still survive on less than $1 a day. Another 1.5 billion people live on $1–$2 a day.
  • Almost 2 million children die each year for want of clean water and a toilet. More than 1 billion people do not have access to safe water and some 2.6 billion lack adequate sanitation.
  • In an increasingly knowledge-based global economy, 115 million children are denied even the most basic primary education.
  • The 22 countries in the OECD gave an average of 0.45% of their GDP in 2007 to developing nations. Norway was the most generous, giving nearly 1% of its national income in foreign aid.

Philanthropy: Foundations are part of the nonprofit sector, though they operate very differently from most nonprofits. Foundations are unique in that funding usually comes from a single source (an individual, family, or corporation). Some community foundations do receive donations from individuals, which usually take the form of donor-advised funds where individual donors, as opposed to foundation staff, determine which organizations to fund. Often a foundation’s primary activity is making grants to other nonprofits that then provide a direct service to constituencies. Many foundations serve as thought leaders on specific social issues and can provide sector highlights based on years of experience working with their grantees.

Quick Facts

  • Overall foundation giving rose 10% in 2007 to an estimated $42.9 billion.
  • Giving by the United States’s more than 72,000 grantmaking foundations increased 7.1% in 2006 to $39 billion.
  • Assets of all active U.S. foundations were up 11.6% in 2006 to a record $614.7 billion.
  • In 2006 giving in the field of international affairs/development/peace grew 72.5%. For the first time ever, health surpassed education based on the share of grant dollars received.

Social Entrepreneurship: The definition of Social Entrepreneurship has been the subject of some debate as the field continues to develop. The definition has ranged from a nonprofit organization with an earned income or for-profit arm, to a business owner who incorporates social responsibility into his or her mission, to a person who pioneers a creative solution to a social problem. While a fair amount has been written on the emergence of social entrepreneurship as a field, there is not as much data available as in more established sectors.

Quick Facts

  • A recent Ashoka survey identified more than 80 major schools teaching social entrepreneurship around the world.
  • At Columbia Business School the incoming class of 2006 identified social entrepreneurship as the #2 area of interest, second only to finance.
  • Harvard University was recently awarded $10 million to establish a social entrepreneurship fellowship by the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation.
  • Leading business innovators such as Pierre Omidyar, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Jeff Skoll, and Klaus Schwab have focused their social investments on Social Entrepreneurship.

Social Finance: Social Finance is a great way to use your business skills to transform the world. Broadly defined, Social Finance is an approach to finance that emphasizes social and environmental return, as well as financial return, leveraging capital for the greater good. There are many forms and many career paths within the rubric of Social Finance, including finance, marketing, management, and communications positions at Socially Responsible Investing Funds, Social Venture Funds, Community Development Financial Institutions, and Venture Philanthropists.

Quick Facts

  • Socially Responsible Investing encompasses an estimated $2.71 trillion out of $25.1 trillion in the U.S. investment marketplace today.
  • Over the past decade, community investing has grown from $4 billion to $25.8 billion in assets.
  • As of 2007, there were 260 socially screened mutual funds in the U.S., with assets of $201.8 billion.
  • Between 2000 and 2004 Community Development Venture Capital funds under management grew from $400 Million to $870 Million.
  • There are over 800 Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) certified by the CDFI Fund. CDFIs operate in every state and the District of Columbia.

Microfinance: By providing a range of financial services to people living in poverty, microfinance helps them invest in small businesses, build assets, finance education for their children, and save for the future. Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) combat poverty by enabling diversification of economic activities, and thereby playing a key role in supporting broad-based livelihoods and potentially fostering greater individual and community self-reliance. In many circumstances, microfinance initiatives have successfully reduced vulnerability to economic shocks among low income households by facilitating their access to credit.

Quick Facts

  • Existing microfinance Institutions reach only 4% of the potential market.
  • Unmet demand numbers around 270 million people.
  • In Africa, women account for more than 60% of the rural labor force and contribute up to 80% of food production, yet receive less than 10% of credit provided to farmers.
  • The World Bank estimates that there are now over 7000 MFIs, serving some 16 million people in developing countries.
  • The total cash turnover of MFIs world-wide is estimated at $2.5 billion

Going Mainstream: At Net Impact, one emerging trend we see is that companies are looking for “Net Impact” individuals for a wide range of positions. Since specific Corporate Social Responsibility positions at companies can be scarce, recruiters look for candidates who can combine their passion for social and environmental impact with the drive to improve business units, product design and operations. Many companies are also providing more opportunities for employees to get involved in their communities by giving employees paid time for volunteerism and matching charitable donations.

Self-Assessment Tools

The Four Lens Framework and The Career Tracks Exercise: These two amazingly wonderful self-assessment tools were created by reated by David Schachter at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service. The goal of the Four Lenses activity is to give you a framework to think and talk about what exactly it is that peaks your professional interest. Once you figure out what lens (or lenses) through which you view the nonprofit sector, the Career Tracks exercise (also developed by the amazing David Schachter) is a great next step to take. Both of these activities are available for free in the 3rd chapter of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers.

Personal Mission Statement:  Self-knowledge and the ability to express yourself through a personal mission statement isn’t about “selling yourself,” rather it is about “knowing yourself.” This activity was designed by Transitions Coach and Career Counselor Cathy Wasserman who says, “While selling yourself can come across as pushy and insincere, knowing yourself inside and out—your core strengths, experience, passions, and goals—greatly increases the likelihood that you will stand out and land a fulfilling job where you can contribute, be supported, and continue to develop and grow professionally. Furthermore, lack of self-knowledge makes it more likely that you will end up treading professional water or embarking upon a career path that does not maximize your abilities.” This activity is available for free in the 3rd chapter of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers.


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