There are a number of perks associated with a typical job in the corporate world. You might get to work in a swanky office in a city high rise, you might get to travel the country or even the globe to visit clients, and if you’re really lucky your paychecks might actually make a dent in that pile of student loan debt you picked up while you were living the good life on campus.
All great things, but let’s face the facts: just about every point on the long list of corporate perks is a self-serving one. Regardless of how your boss tries to spin your company’s role as one that enables the betterment of society or how many “Give Back to the X” days that you attend, the bottom line is you are a cog in a machine dedicated to making profits for shareholders. Now before you stop reading, don’t worry I’m not a socialist (though the whole Bernie Sanders thing has me pretty confused…is socialism still bad or what?), and I don’t believe that a life of pure self-sacrifice is the only decent one. There’s nothing wrong with being self-serving when the objective of your selfishness is to build a career that enables you to pay your debts, save money to support your current or future family, and assure you are not a burden on society. I am, however, saying that such a career, regardless of how much you enjoy your work, may neglect that part of you that truly wants to make a difference and improve the lives of those who are in dire need. Robert Kennedy said that “The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.” Despite what many in our society now seem to think, angry posts on Facebook (while they may feel so good at the time) are not a contribution, but social entrepreneurship certainly is.
Social entrepreneurship offers two distinct opportunities that are likely lacking in your life as a corporate minion. First, it provides an opportunity for true altruism; you are helping those who are actually in need as opposed to adding another percentage point to an already healthy bottom line.
Secondly, it puts YOU in the driver seat. The layers of red tape that are routine in large, established, hierarchical companies are gone. Now it’s just you, a few other adventurous individuals, and an urgent problem that needs solving. You (and they) have the responsibility to independently make decisions that can tangibly improve lives. That alone can be a very intriguing and rewording proposition.
At this point you might be thinking, “I give back to society, just last month I spent a half day passing out water bottles at our company run to end homelessness!” A valiant cause to be sure, and I am not trying to diminish any contributions. Ask yourself though, how do you feel after a one-off volunteering session? Do you go home truly feeling as though your investment is making a change in your community, or are you just glad for any opportunity to do something besides staring into the depths of your laptop screen? The fundamental difference between volunteering and social entrepreneurship is your level of investment. Social entrepreneurs aren’t just showing up and supporting a cause for a day without being able to see the impact of your work or even knowing if there is one. We are planting altruistic seeds that we are actually there to nurture, grow, and see harvested by those who we’ve vowed to help. In my experience, this increased commitment pays substantial dividends both in the amount of impact you will be able to have and the satisfaction you will feel as a result.
So let me clarify, I am not trying to guilt trip you into quitting your six figure job as an investment banker and striking out to help form an organization that will leave you with at best a profit of zero. Social entrepreneurship, though I have been lucky enough to get some of my colleagues involved, is outside of my day job. For me it was a gradual process of involvement. I began as a volunteer with a local organization just starting to incorporate and get their feet under them, found the experience incredibly rewarding, and began to support them with some of my own skills from a financial and management perspective. From there I found a passion and as the organization grew my role grew as well. As with any young organization, new startups are in dire need of individuals with the business-related skills you use every day. So here’s what I am pushing you to do: go out and volunteer, but not with a one-off mindset. Go out and volunteer with an organization that has a goal you connect with and that you think could truly use your help. Find a way to apply your skills to a cause you believe in, and you just might find that before you know it you’ve joined me as a passionate social entrepreneur.
CFO of Knowledge of Careers