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.