Meaningful Career Programs in DC

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It’s been an exciting year for Mission Driven. We worked with over 100 people interested in building more meaningful careers and began to demonstrate the power for self-exploration, experimentation, and group learning in helping professionals identify and pursue careers that truly mattered to them.

This year has also been a time of huge growth for me personally. In building Mission Driven, I’ve learned about my strengths and what really matters to me in my work. I’ve discovered that I’m more of a teacher than an entrepreneur. This deeper understanding of myself has led me to make the tough decision to wind down Mission Driven and pursue a career as an educator.

But, I still plan to stay involved in meaningful career development as a facilitator and coach for other organizations and programs committed to this work. Here is a list of programs in the DC area that can help you build a career that matters.

I’m also always happy to answer questions that you have about navigating a more meaningful career. I can still be reached at ryan@missiondrivendc.com and look forward to hearing how your job search goes!

Meaningful Careers Solve Problems

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I recently attended the Net Impact Conference – an annual convening that celebrates and promotes business as a form of positive social and environmental change. I had the opportunity to talk with dozens of professionals about building meaningful careers and I was struck, as I am every year, by how the career interests of most professionals revolve around solutions. Common career interests included, sustainability at a big company, social impact consulting, and impact investing.

Solutions are exciting and inspiring. But, I wonder if this focus on solutions is part of the reason why many professionals have trouble breaking into social enterprise and responsible business careers.

When launching a startup, one of the first things many entrepreneurs learn is to fall in love with the problem they're trying to solve, not the solution. The solution will change as their business evolves, but the problem will not. Entrepreneurs who fall in love with their solution inevitably fail when their solution needs to be changed to better address the problem.

I see the same phenomenon in the impact career space. Take impact investing for example. Imagine that your goal is to work in impact investing. You set up a couple informational interviews and learn that it’s quite difficult to find investment-ready entrepreneurs. You also learn that most impact investors only hire a couple times a year and receive 100’s of resumes for a single job posting. You think to yourself, impact investing is interesting, but maybe social impact consulting would be a better fit…

Now imagine instead that your goal is to help social entrepreneurs who lack the resources to scale. You start out by talking to Impact investors, but you learn that most impact investors work with social enterprises that are further developed than the entrepreneurs you’re interested in. You ask how else you might support social entrepreneurs and you get referred to an accelerator program. The accelerator is impressed by your commitment to supporting social entrepreneurs and brings you on as a program manager.  

What I hope to demonstrate in this comparison is how you can build forward toward your career goals when you’re focused on solving a problem. Jobs opportunities represent different solutions. If one doesn’t work out, you can still use it as a chance to explore other solutions while continuing to learn more about the problem your focused on. But, if you are committed to a specific solution and it doesn’t work out, you can find yourself feeling lost and disheartened. 

So, what problem are you focused on solving?

Keys to Building a Career in Social Enterprise

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Last week I introduced the idea that we all must forge our own career paths in the social enterprise space. The space is evolving quickly and staying relevant means evolving with it. The question then becomes, how do you do that?

In my experience, those with the most trouble building careers in this space are those who agonize over the smartest next step. They try to assess which industries are growing and where they might fit in. They come up with elaborate job search plans and networking strategies. This ends up taking a lot of time, yields very little progress, and becomes the cause of endless second guessing.

Instead of obsessing over choosing the smartest next step, here’s what I have seen work when it comes to building meaningful careers in social enterprise.

Follow your interests

The surest way to do meaningful work is to know what lights you up and find as many opportunities as possible to do it. It might not feel like you’re building a career. But remember, there are people out there who earn a living planning health-focused dance parties at 7am and traveling the world to support social entrepreneurs. They didn’t wait for the that job posting to come up. They just started doing it.

Seize opportunity

I often watch people turn down an opportunity because it’s not the opportunity that they were looking for. But, great opportunities are rarely what we are expecting. Take the opportunities that come your way seriously. Don’t reject them outright. If an opportunity engages you in your interests while allowing you to grow personally and professionally, I strongly encourage you to take that opportunity. 

Invest in relationships

I don’t believe in networking. I believe in relationship building. This is something that people who build careers in social enterprise do all the time. Spend a little extra time getting to know your boss. Support a friend who is launching a new project. Find ways to support people who are doing work that interests you. This leads to two things. First, it will keep new opportunities coming your way. Cool opportunities often come up when we engage in work that we enjoy. Second, you’ll have a core group of people who are ready to mobilize for you when you need them.

Ultimately, if you’re focused on “getting somewhere” with your career, the social enterprise space will be challenging for you. Embrace the projects, opportunities, and people around you and enjoy the meaningful work that you’re doing. And soon, you’ll find yourself building an exciting career in social enterprise.

Forging a Path in Social Enterprise

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What does a career in social enterprise look like? This question comes up a lot in the work I do with professionals interested in more meaningful careers. They’re interested in exploring which path to take to get into social enterprise. And so, if you’re one of these people, let me save you some time. There are no career paths in social enterprise.

For almost everyone in this space, their “career” amounts to a couple broad themes that they notice when they look back on their experiences and try to make sense of it all.

Take me for example. What I tell most people is that my entire career has been focused on helping people build careers in social enterprise. My first job out of college was at a University, supporting programs that helped students explore careers in social enterprise. Then I joined a startup that helped professionals all over the world build careers in social enterprise and turned that experience into my own firm doing the same thing.

But, what I leave out of that narrative is that I was a marketing major in school who, for a long time wanted to get into digital marketing. I also wanted to work in an emerging market like Kenya and almost moved there while working at the startup. But, opportunities came up. Life happened. And all the sudden, I’ve spent my entire career in career development.

There are a lot of reasons why career paths don’t exist in social enterprise. But, perhaps the biggest reason is that the space is evolving so quickly. Veterans of this space have often reinvented themselves more than once just to stay relevant. We are all forging our own paths in social enterprise. Understanding how to do this is a key to building a meaningful career in this space.

Making Social Enterprise Your Life’s Work

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Social enterprise can feel like a young person’s game. The space is filled with millennial entrepreneurs and recent graduates who are inspired to create a better world. But, all too often, I see young people burn out and drop out of social enterprise. The question that drives me and Mission Driven is how can we build long-term careers in this space?

I’ve gained some perspective on this by working with a few veterans of the social enterprise space. These seasoned professionals have been at this work for over 10 years, and oftentimes, much longer. In studying their career paths, I’ve noticed a couple patterns that begin to answer the question of what it takes to build a career in social enterprise.

Balancing passion with security

The social enterprise veterans that I’ve met built their careers by moving back and forth between work they were truly passionate about and work that was less exciting, but paid the bills and kept them engaged in social enterprise. For example, they might launch and grow a social enterprise for a few years and then hire their replacement before joining a foundation that supports social entrepreneurs. What this shows me is that there is an ebb and flow to our careers. There are times to go all-in on our passions and there are times to take a step back and build up our reserves.

An in-demand skillset

Social enterprise veterans tend to have a strong skillset that most organizations demand. This could be financial management, fundraising, or building teams. These skills enable their passion projects to thrive. They are also the skills that social enterprise veterans fall back on in tough times when they need to make ends meet. What I take away from this is that it’s important, especially early in your career, to build a core skillset that most organizations value. You might not want to use that skill forever, but it’s an important safety net as you navigate the evolving social enterprise landscape.

Comfort with Change

The players, growth areas, and terminology of the social enterprise space change quickly. Social enterprise veterans keep an eye on where the space is heading, seize opportunities to get involved in growing sectors, and are comfortable reinventing themselves when necessary. They don’t get too caught up on semantics. Social Enterprise veterans have a long-view of social innovation and are willing to adopt whatever is currently in vogue to advance those objectives.

Mission Driven is built on the idea that advancing social and environmental causes can and should be our life's work. We create opportunities for our participants to learn from veterans in this space because we believe it’s the best way to navigate a social enterprise career. If you’re interested in connecting with seasoned practitioners, check out our next Career Accelerator program.