4 Big Questions for Social Enterprise Leaders

Over the last decade a new type of professional has been born – the young social enterprise professional. We’re not career switchers, or activists, or nonprofit professionals. We’ve grown up in social enterprise. Some of us are founders, but most of us are employees, helping to define our organizations as they define our career.

As a founder or leader in social enterprise, how do you manage and develop this new group? Recently, I’ve been thinking about the biggest questions that face young social enterprise professionals. There are four questions that we’re going to need answered in the next couple years, and as a leader in social enterprise, these are the questions you should be thinking about.

Do I need an MBA?

Social enterprise professionals need hard skills and business acumen. Regardless of tax status, most social enterprises are run like a businesses that creates economic, social and environmental value. In order to find talent, many social enterprises, especially impact investors, use MBAs and other Master’s Degrees as a benchmark for hiring.

But young social enterprise professionals don’t have MBAs. We have experience in the space and, in many cases, valuable hard skills. But, is that enough to advance in social enterprise? Or maybe a better question is, are MBA degrees the best indicator of the right talent? As young social enterprise professionals look to advance their careers, the criteria for a mid-level social enterprise position may need to change. Especially, because most of us are also worried about…

Can I afford to stay here?

In general, young social enterprise professionals value the experience of social enterprise over the pay. We’re learning a lot and living closer to our values. It’s pretty awesome. But, we also benefit from a young professional lifestyle. Good health, No kids, single friends to live with, working parents, and plenty to learn at the entry level.

As we get older, our lives will become more complicated and that’s going to cost money. Is there space for promotion and higher salaries as an employee in social enterprise? Traditionally, the answer has been “get an MBA” to make more money, but the cost of higher education is really not sending us in the right financial direction. So as entrepreneurial-minded professionals, the question becomes…

Should I start my own social enterprise?

The space is young and the culture is very entrepreneurial. For young social enterprise professionals this leads to some conflicted feelings about starting our own venture. On the plus side, most of us are working in small, innovative social enterprises and loving it. We have the experience and are surrounded by the resources to be successful so why not start our own social enterprise? We may not make a bunch of money, but we can be our own boss and probably make more money than we do now.

At the same time, this proliferation of start-ups makes us uncomfortable. So many good ideas, not very much scale. If we’re truly committed to impact over advancing ourselves, then spreading the amazing ideas that already exist seems like the best alternative. Besides, starting a social enterprise is signing up for a life of social enterprise. And the one thing I respect and appreciate most about young social enterprise professionals is their pursuit of the question…

How can I lead a fulfilling life?

Young social enterprise professionals and mission driven millennials in general have a new theory on life. Our corporate predecessors chased money. Our nonprofit predecessors chased work. For us, it’s about experiences. We want mastery, beauty and depth both in and out of the office. For some of us that experience is the all-consuming adventure of starting our own social enterprise. For most of us, it’s filling our day with meaningful and stimulating activities, such as good work, deep connections, creative expression and thrilling discovery.

I’ve watched many of my friends and peers become disillusioned by social enterprise and ultimately leave it because of these questions. To be an effective and empowering leader in social enterprise, you have to help your employees answer them. Failing to do so is going to hurt your organization and the viability of social enterprise overall. It’s time to get real, go deep and build the path for success in social enterprise.