Switching Careers

Stand Out in Impact Investing by Starting in Social Enterprise


At least half of the professionals we talk to about transitioning into careers in the social impact space start the conversation by asking about how they can land a job in impact investing. There are many appealing reasons to work with impact investors, from interacting with a diversity of social enterprises, to wanting to work where the money is, to having the opportunity to work at a more strategic level.  And there is no denying it: many people really enjoy working in impact investing.

If you have already built a career in finance and investing or launched a successful social enterprise, you have a relatively better chance of getting into impact investing because both are highly valued by impact investors. If you do not have either of these experiences, however, impact investing can be a difficult entry point into a social impact career. This is because there are fewer jobs in impact investing than with social enterprises. In our experience, the few impact investing jobs are pursued by many professionals with prior finance and social enterprise experience, not leaving much room for professionals with experience that is less directly applicable.

Our Advice: First Build Experience in a Venture

At IBL, we advise professionals without finance and investing or entrepreneurship experience to first focus on landing a job in a social enterprise and then, if you are still interested in impact investing, to transition after you’ve proven yourself in the sector and developed relevant skills and experience in finance. We advise this approach for a few reasons:

Become A Better and More Competitive Impact Investment Applicant

From what we have seen, impact investors want to hire professionals with experience working in startup social enterprises, especially if that experience includes financial management. They believe that you have a better understanding of what it takes to successfully grow a company if you have been a part of a startup before. They assume that you will bring this knowledge to bear when you evaluate companies for potential investment. They also assume you will have more credibility in advising their investments if you have been a startup employee yourself.

By first working in an operational role in a social enterprise, not only will you gain entrepreneurial experience that makes you more competitive, you also have the possibility to gain regional or issue area expertise sought by some impact investors. In the case of one IBL alumnus, Sudhanshu, prior experience with the social enterprise, Teach For India, combined with an MBA, made him an attractive hire to an impact investor seeking to build a portfolio of education-related start-ups.

Another approach is to build regional expertise that will be valued by investors. Another IBL alumnus, Calvin, leveraged his professional experience as an entrepreneur in Botswana and a real estate investment analyst in Uganda to successfully land a job with GrowthAfrica advising their entrepreneurs in East Africa.

Take Advantage of the Greater Quantity and Diversity of Jobs In Social Enterprises

In addition to having more jobs overall, social enterprises have a much greater diversity of types of jobs. This means it is much more likely you will be able to apply your previous experience in a similar function (e.g. financial management, human resources, marketing, sales/business development, external relations, IT, etc.) in a social enterprise.  And landing a job which leverages your proven strengths and experience should set you up for faster career advancement than if you were to begin at the bottom of a completely new field, like impact investing, where you will need to develop and prove an entirely new skill set.

Several of IBL’s participants have followed this route, using past experience to secure new jobs in social enterprises. For example, IBL alumnus Alex leveraged his past experience working with government stakeholders to land a role in Policy and Government Relations with Sanergy. IBL alumnus Ethan also followed this route, using his skills in financial management to become Director of Finance at RevolutionCredit. IBL alumna Amy joined the BitPesa team thanks to her foreign exchange experience at JP Morgan was quickly promoted from role as a Trading and Risk Manager to CFO in a few short years.

Prepare for the Transition And Make the Leap When You Are Ready

If you remain interested in a career in impact investing after landing a role in social enterprise, seek opportunities to build specific skills that position you well for a role in impact investing.  Ask to be involved in or at least exposed to the financial management of your company. If you have a strong aversion to finance, investor relations and fundraising experience can also look good to impact investors.

Although there are no guarantees, once you have gained experience in an operational role in social enterprise, you should be better positioned to leverage your new knowledge, experience, and networks to identify and apply for jobs in impact investing.

Do you have other advice on getting hired in impact investing? Let us know below.

Podcast: How to Get into a Career in Social Enterprise and Impact Investing


IBL founder, David Kyle, was interviewed on the Career Farm podcast about his personal social enterprise journey, and how he now helps experienced professionals build careers in social enterprise. If you’ve ever wondered about how David ended up founding IBL, this podcast is worth a listen. You can find the podcast below and check out the Career Farm blog post for more details on David’s interview. A special thank you to Jane Barrett, host of the Career Farm podcast!

Making 2016 Your Year of Social Enterprise


Maybe you started the New Year with an itch to find a new career. If you did, you’re not alone. At least for Americans, getting a new job is one of the top 4 most common new years resolutions.

If exploring a new career path is on your list for 2016, I encourage you to consider the social enterprise sector. There are a host of career-building roles in fast growing companies that are making a positive impact on the most pressing challenges of our time. It is an exciting time to join this movement. To get you started, here is an overview of the sector and some steps to take.

First Things First, What Exactly Is Social Enterprise?

Impact Business Leaders defines social enterprises as entities that directly address social needs through revenue-generating commercial activity. However, in this seemingly simple definition you’ll find a lot of variety.

Social Enterprise Business Models

Social enterprises can be established as for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations or a hybrid. The options for how a given social enterprise is structured depends on the laws in the country where it is founded. For example, UnLtd UK and DLA Piper review nine different legal structures available to social entrepreneurs in the UK and Morrison & Foerster outlines eight options for social enterprises in the US.

But beyond legal structure, it is important to understand exactly how a given social enterprise intends to make an impact while generating revenue. In IBL’s experience, social enterprises generally take one of the following approaches:

  • Targeting poor or underemployed populations as producers to create jobs and improve livelihoods
  • Targeting poor populations as consumers to provide affordable, quality goods and services for underserved groups
  • Creating products or services that result in improved environmental outcomes

As is the case for the for-profit sector, social enterprises adapt a variety of business models. Some common examples include:

  • Pay-per-use: Rather than owning an asset, consumers are able to pay to use what they need, making an offering more affordable
  • “No Frills”: removing extra services to create access to affordable services
  • “Deep Procurement”: connecting low income producers directly to markets
  • Leapfrog solutions: Developing new technology that is more affordable or environmentally beneficial (i.e. clean energy, mobile banking, etc.)
  • Employing traditionally underemployed populations to produce a good or service
  • Cross subsidies: Leveraging revenues from developed markets to subsidize lower purchasing power in emerging markets

For more information and other models, see, Monitor Group’s Emerging Markets, Emerging Models: Market-based solutions to the challenges of global poverty.

Sectors Where You Will Find Social Enterprises

While it varies region by region, IBL has found social enterprises tend to cluster in certain sectors around the world.

  • Access to energy/clean energy
  • Agriculture
  • Financial inclusion and financial technology
  • Mobile technology
  • Health, water, sanitation
  • Livelihood development
  • Education

Some companies straddle several of these sectors. For example, d.light, which started as a solar lantern company, has found itself in the business of financial inclusion as it develops new models to help its customers finance the purchase of their products. Or Specialisterne, which employs a team of specialized IT business consultants all of whom have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum – providing education and jobs.

Three Steps To Kick Off Your Social Enterprise Job Search

So we’ve caught your attention, but you’re not sure where to start? Try these three steps:

1) Reflect: What kind of organization and job are you seeking?

You might be most compelled by working in an organization that makes its impact through employing underemployed groups, or you might seek a consumer goods company with a positive environmental impact. Depending on your past experience and career goals, you may want to find jobs where you can leverage your functional expertise, knowledge of a specific issue or sector, and/or experience in a given region. Whatever your preferences, start to narrow in on the business models, jobs, sectors, and locations that interest you.

2) Research specific companies and roles that interest you

Working from your interests, identify jobs and companies using online research and published reports. Sign up for job boards and backwards map companies from conference materials and impact investors’ portfolios.

This research can be difficult due to the fact that most social enterprises are quite small (As of 2012, “Taking the Pulse” reports that 58% of all social enterprises in its survey had less than $500k in annual revenue) and can take so many different forms. If you get stuck, seek career guidance from organizations like Impact Business Leaders. Or access resources from networks like Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs or the Global Impact Investing Network, to name just a few.

3) Confirm your findings

While it is important to do initial online research about the companies and roles you might be interested in, it is crucial to get first hand perspective on what you’ve learned. Use your networks to meet with people who can tell you about the most credible players, possible career paths, day-to-day realities, and how you will be perceived as an applicant. Ask your contacts what they read and what events they attend to keep up with developments in the field.

Good luck jumping into this exciting space. Have you come across any other tips on learning more about the social enterprise sector? Share them with us below.

The Leap from Social Sector to Social Enterprise


Originally posted on NextBillion.net

I’ve always known I wanted to make a difference in the world through my career, so the NGO sector seemed to be the natural place for me. However, after 10 years in a variety of nonprofit organizations, I tired of the pressures of fundraising and decided to try social enterprise.

While I initially thought that a role in impact investing was my next destination, that proved unrealistic for me, especially considering my past experience didn’t include any financial analysis or investment experience. Instead, I focused on using the skills I had cultivated in marketing, leadership, recruiting and fundraising from the nonprofit sector. Today I have the privilege of helping other professionals make the transition into social enterprise through Impact Business Leaders.

My story is not unique. Almost every day, I engage with professionals who are hoping to land a new type of job in a completely new discipline, region or sector. However, in IBL’s experience, you’re likely to be most successful at landing a job if you aim for roles that leverage your strengths and then seek ways to pivot into new areas of responsibility.

As IBL’s Executive Director and Founder David Kyle, advises, “when you are switching industries … generally companies want you because of your best, current skills, not the future ones you hope to acquire as your work life goes on.”

If your experience to date is in the development, government or NGO sectors, there are three common paths to careers in social enterprise or impact investing:



1) Seeking a new job within the same function

Regardless of sector, most companies hire for similar functions: financial management, human resources, marketing, sales/business development, external relations, IT, etc. If you have specialized in one of these functions in the NGO sector, seek similar roles in social enterprises. Several of IBL’s participants (and myself) have followed this route, using past experience in financial management or recruiting in nonprofits to land similar roles in social enterprises, for example.

In cover letters and interviews, articulate how your skills and past experience can be applied in this new context with a focus on how you will serve the business’s bottom line.


2) Leveraging expertise on an issue area

A second approach is to leverage issue expertise from your social sector work. In the case of one IBL participant, prior experience in education and teaching made him an attractive hire to an impact investor seeking to build a portfolio of education-related start-ups.

To pursue this strategy, get to know the segment of social enterprises, investors and ecosystem organizations where your knowledge will be most valued and focus your job hunt and networking on these companies.


3) Bringing regional expertise

If you have experience working in specific regions and languages, seek companies and investors who will value your knowledge and networks. For example, there may be investors or companies expanding to a region where you have worked, where your family comes from, or where you have lived in the past. Position yourself as an expert on that region and market your experience (and any relevant language skills) accordingly.

Some of you might have experience that places you on more than one of these paths. If that’s the case, just be sure to adjust your approach depending on the job or company you are targeting.


For those coming from the NGO, development or government sectors, you likely will encounter the stereotype that you are not “business minded.” To overcome this, you must communicate through your words and experience that you understand and can support a company to increase revenue and profitability, in addition to helping it make an impact.

Depending on your specific situation, there are a few ways to do this:

  • Present your past experience with a focus on how you generated revenue, or minimized costs while maximizing impact. Consider the words you use on your CV and in interviews and use business terms (e.g. customers, markets, products, return on investment, revenue, margins, etc.) rather than social sector terms (e.g. clients, services, programs, partnerships, funding allocation, etc.).
  • Build additional business and financial management experience through short-term projects/internships with a company or via additional, skill-building responsibilities in your current role.

Have you made the transition from the social sector to social enterprise? Share your tips below.

Top 5 Posts this Year on Social Enterprise Careers


The end of the year is a great time to look back and reflect on the moments that resonated with us. These moments, good or bad, are the ones worth remembering. They hold reminders of what is important and guidance for the path ahead.

In this spirit, the IBL team is reflecting on what resonated with you, our readers, in 2015. Our most popular content contains a glimpse into what you want and what’s holding you back in your social enterprise career.

After considering just the top five most read posts of 2015, a couple of interesting themes stick out:

The corporate to social enterprise dream: You want to know that a transition from the corporate world into social enterprise is possible. Luckily, IBL is in the business of making these dreams a reality and we have plenty of stories to share.

The tradeoffs of a social enterprise career: you’re well aware that everything has a cost, and are eager to understand the realities of a social enterprise career. IBL dug deep into this topic in 2015, and we hope to synthesize what we found in 2016.

A little bit of beauty and optimism: Most of us are drawn to careers in social enterprise by the hope that we can be a part of sustainable approaches addressing the challenges of the world. This work can also be difficult and demoralizing. That’s why you appreciate the small moments of triumph and beauty for those in the middle of these challenges.

Look out for more on these themes in 2016. For now, here are IBL’s top five posts of 2015:

The Million Dollar Question – Salaries in Social Enterprise: Let us save everyone some time and tell you the answer: we don’t know.

Participant Profile: From Volunteering to a Full Time Impact Career: How a management consultant turned her love of volunteering into a full-time job in impact investing.

A Better Path to Impact Careers for MBAs: Many career services departments are not equipped to help students pursue social impact careers.

4 Tips for Managing Your Expectations for Social Enterprise Careers: A few key lessons about managing expectations in the exciting sector of social enterprise.

Photos from the Field – Daniela Gheorghe in India:  beautiful photo gallery from an IBL participant working for a start-up social enterprise in India.

‘Tis the Season to Maintain Your Network!

Your Network

I’ve found every job I’ve ever had thanks my network. Over the years I’ve leveraged advice on jobs, found recommendations to future employers from loose contacts, and have even been hired by one of my contacts. This has made me a firm believer in the power of networks to help you build and advance your career. And in my anecdotal research, I am not alone: most people (including the entire IBL team) I know have landed at least some of their jobs thanks to a tip, recommendation, or direct opportunity provided by someone in their personal or professional network.

But it’s called netWORKING for a reason. In a previous post, I shared tips for how to build and leverage your network to help you find a new career in social enterprise. I talked about how networking is often a long-game, meaning you never know exactly how and when your network will serve you. However, the one thing you can be certain of is that if you don’t maintain your network, you won’t get much out of it.

In other words, if you are going to go to the trouble of building a network of professional contacts, you should invest in keeping in touch. But keeping up with contacts can feel both overwhelming (how do I track all of these people?) and intimidating (what will I say to them?). Luckily, there are a few simple strategies you can follow.

Defining Your network

The easiest way to feel overwhelmed by networking is to assume that you have to stay connected with everyone you know. This isn’t how networking works, and frankly, there is widely accepted research (Dunbar’s Number) that shows it’s difficult to maintain more than 150 relationships at a time. So it’s important prioritize your networking efforts. How do you decide who to prioritize? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Professionals in a field that you’re considering for your next career move.
  • Senior professionals who can provide advice and mentoring.
  • Professionals who have perspectives and ideas you find insightful or thought provoking.
  • Professionals you enjoy connecting with.
  • Professionals who are good themselves at networking.

Keeping track of your network

There is no one right technique – the idea is to find what works for you. Here are some suggestions:

  • Put a reminder on your calendar or to do list (with an alert) for no more than 6 months from your last contact with someone and sooner if you discussed something that you will be able to update them on by a certain date.
  • Use programs like Asana or Evernote to track information on your communications and to set reminders.
  • Use email folders to track conversations and set a reminder on your calendar to go through that folder every month to update people you haven’t been in touch with for awhile.
  • Create a list in word or excel and work through it gradually – every time you connect with someone on the list, move their name to the bottom of the list. If you don’t find a reason to reach out in the meantime, you can send a general update when they are back to the top.
  • Connect on LinkedIn after a conversation and review your contacts every so often to see who you should update. You can also invest in LinkedIn premium to keep notes on contacts and track communication.

Connecting with your network

“But what do I say to these people when I do get in touch?” you ask. The trick is to authentically express interest in how they are doing as well as update them on you.

  • Send an update (whenever appropriate) about whatever you spoke about or what’s come out of the conversation for you. I love to know what happened to people I’ve advised, but you would be shocked how rarely I get an update. It makes a great impression when I do.
  • Let them know about the latest with you (depending on the contact, could be personal or professional or a mix). You don’t have to have something new to announce – it is great to hear that the status quo is going well.
  • If you see something that has happened to them (e.g. an article that mentions them, a prize, a new job on LinkedIn, etc.) use it as an excuse to send a quick email of congratulations and a quick update on you.
  • If you come across something that might be of interested to them – a job posting, an article, a conference, book etc., send it their way.
  • Take advantage of holidays as an annual “excuse” to send well wishes and an update to people you haven’t been in touch with. I use Google canned responses to create a template I can personalize.
  • Use life and career transitions (e.g. moves, new jobs, kids etc.) as a time you reach out to your entire network so that you know you’re in touch every few years with everyone.

While maintaining a network can be a lot of work, in my opinion, frequency is much less important than authenticity. Being in touch less frequently, but more authentically helps to build a relationship. In my experience, it takes time and repeated contact to have a relationship that will come through for you.

What suggestions do you have for maintaining your network?

Networking Your Way into a Career in Social Enterprise

Networking your way into a job

We all know that you’re not supposed to ask new people you meet for a job. But, then you might ask, what is the point of networking after all?

The truth is that networking — while a longer term, seemingly less direct method for finding a job– when done correctly, is often more effective at helping you narrow in on a new job than sending in applications. Jobs that are never formally posted account for up to 80% of openings by some estimations. This is especially true if you are trying to make the switch into a new sector, like social enterprise.

But first, what is networking exactly?

Networking is the process of building a mutually beneficial relationship that helps you to learn something new about a field, yourself, and specific opportunities.

Networking can take a lot of different forms. For example, you might have a 5-minute conversation in the buffet line at a wedding that gives you insight into key companies in a given industry. You might sit down with a friend of a friend who works in a social enterprise to review your CV to understand how it will be received by social enterprises or impact investors. You might email someone you met in a past role or at a conference with a few specific questions that you have about their career or organization.

Though it is ok to initiate a relationship to get something from the person you meet with, over time, the best relationships are mutually beneficial. We’ll talk more about big and small ways to give back to your network in the next blog post.

Why does networking work?

  • Learning the on the ground perspective
    While it is important to do online research about social enterprise and impact investing, it is crucial to get on the ground perspective of the opportunities, challenges, trends, and pitfalls in the sector. And, nothing beats talking to someone who is in the field to learn about the most credible players, the possible career paths, the day-to-day realities, and how your specific background will be seen. You can also learn about what your contacts are reading and what events they are attending to keep up on the latest news in the field.
  • Understanding yourself better
    If you talk to enough people, you’ll likely hear conflicting information. In my experience, it helps to reflect and note how you react to the various information and opinions you hear. Pay attention to what you find exciting and dispiriting – learning what you are not interested in is as valuable as getting more excited about a given job or sector. Also, listen carefully to how your contacts do (or do not) understand your experience and goals and adapt your pitch.
  • Accessing opportunities
    Networking is a long game and a numbers game. And the more people you meet, impress and keep in touch with, the more likely it is you will be top of mind if and when an opportunity comes up. This doesn’t mean you need to be in touch with everyone every month, but networking has the word “work” in it for a reason – you will need to work at it.

How to get started

Begin by mapping your existing network. This can include personal and professional contacts, your current colleagues, even your own family. It can also include people you interviewed with in the past (even if you didn’t get the job), former colleagues, vendors, partners, professors, contacts from volunteer activities etc. Beyond your network and the people they can introduce you to, you can meet people by attending conferences, joining associations, volunteering with relevant groups, and joining informal and formal networks like meet-ups and LinkedIn groups.

Use your knowledge of your contacts’ preferences and your own judgment of the strength of your relationship before you decide to ask for a quick phone call, a coffee date, an email with specific questions to answer, or an introduction on LinkedIn. Prepare your questions, do your research on someone they might introduce you to, and follow up afterwards with thanks and updates.

Be sensitive to how someone responds. If someone says they don’t have time to meet, but you can email them, start there. If they say to be in touch after a busy period has passed or before a specific date, do it. If someone says they are not sure how they can be helpful, be even more specific about how you are hoping they can help and see what they say.


It will be awkward at times – there are going to be awkward pauses and people that you don’t click with. Remember that even an awkward conversation can be educational and lead to enough of a relationship to leverage in the future. The key is to be professional, gracious, and to thank the person regardless of how useful the conversation feels in the moment. You never know if this person might be in touch with someone you’ll want to talk to some day.

As I mentioned before, networking is a long game. While networking can be beneficial in the short term –especially if you are trying to learn about a new sector, field or location – ultimately, the biggest returns will be most likely be in the long-term provided you maintain your network. How to best do that will be the topic of our next post.

Want to Work at a Social Enterprise? Stand out with these skills


Originally posted on NextBillion.

Social enterprise is a booming field. And as more professionals around the world realize that it is possible to bring their business skills to bear in for-profit companies determined to make a positive impact, the job market is getting increasingly competitive and employers can afford to be more selective.

So what do you need to stand out as a job applicant to social enterprises? In our experience here at Impact Business Leaders, where we’ve helped more than 70 professionals find new roles in social enterprises, there are a few key skill sets that have set our most successful participants apart. Most of these individuals have secured middle and senior management roles in predominately young social enterprises – i.e. those showing growth just beyond the start-up phase.


Start-up and early-stage companies, which pretty much dominate the social enterprise sector – especially in emerging markets – have pressing liquidity concerns until financial sustainability is achieved. This means that everyone in a start-up needs to be focused on cash flow and managing precious financial resources. This is especially important for companies serving bottom of the pyramid customers, as these firms typically need to keep costs very low in order to maintain product affordability.

What this means for you: The greater your skills in financial management, the better your chances of a successful career transition into a start-up social enterprise. Regardless of your functional role (e.g. human resources, technology, marketing, business development, etc.), you will need to demonstrate that you can effectively budget and track finances.


In addition to managing finances, whether working for a social enterprise or an impact investor, you need to be able to analyze the effectiveness of current activities and create future projections – for both financial sustainability and social and/or environmental impact. And often, at a start-up company deploying a new business model, it is crucial that you can experiment and learn from the results.

What this means for you: Gaining and sharpening financial analysis skills is key for most roles in the sector. For example, when you are entering a new market, you need to be able to analyze the success of marketing efforts and adjust your strategy. Or you may realize that financing a purchase is a challenge for your customers and need to develop profitable strategies to help them afford your product. Last but certainly not least, financial analysis skills, specifically due diligence and deal sourcing, are especially important to impact investors. Seventy-five percent of IBL’s placements in impact investing already had strong finance skills.


As is the case in many sectors, strong management and leadership skills are highly valued by employers. This is also true in our experience in the social enterprise space, especially as companies grow beyond their founding team and need to bring on leaders to help expand the company while managing change and growth.

What this means for you: Demonstrated success managing teams will go far in your job hunt. Depending on the kinds of roles you are seeking, it may be that you should focus on showing how you have led across cultures, through change and/or in times of quick growth.


While financial management, financial analysis and team management and leadership are certainly not the only skills prized by social entrepreneurs and impact investors, based on what we’ve seen at IBL, they are especially helpful for candidates to applying for a variety of roles in the start-up dominated social enterprise sector and to eventually secure a role that meets their goals.

To build these skills, seek opportunities in your current role, in project-based volunteering or consulting gigs, and through coursework where you are encouraged to practice what you are learning. When applying for roles and in interviews, highlight examples where you have demonstrated success in these areas. You may also consider initially taking a more junior role in a social enterprise or impact investor that will give you exposure to a new skill set that will help you build your career in the long run.

While most start-ups are hiring people who can “wear many hats” and contribute generalist skills to evolving business models, there are often some highly technical skills that are needed. If this isn’t a fit for you, then you also may want to seek roles in more mature companies that tend to hire for more specialized roles as they grow and differentiate their teams.

What has been your experience in transferring your past experience into social enterprises? Leave a comment to share your story.

A better Path to Impact Careers for MBAs

Better path to impact career

As I stood in front of my booth at the Net Impact Conference Expo, I watched eager MBA students stride between tables. These aren’t your typical MBA students. They’re not interested in climbing the corporate ladder or the highest-paying careers. These MBAs want to use their degrees to create a better world.

The exhibit floor was buzzing with excitement. For once, almost every booth was pitching products, services and careers that appealed to MBAs interested in corporate sustainability, social enterprise, impact investing and nonprofit management.

When they approached my booth, I asked them why they decided to attend Net Impact. Many lit up with excitement. They believed business could be done better. They wanted a career that contributed to the world in meaningful ways. They were committed to having a positive impact with their careers.

When I asked the same students if they had a staff member in their career services department dedicated to social impact careers, the answer was always, “no.” This is a failing among most higher education institutions, especially those with social impact programming.

The Net Impact Conference is proof that social impact offerings are proliferating among MBA programs. Thousands of students from all over the world came to Seattle because of their common commitment to leverage business as a force for good in the world.

A few still feel marginalized, but many MBAs are now exposed to (and encouraged to take) courses that explore corporate sustainability, social enterprise or impact investing. Unfortunately this exposure doesn’t extend to career services that can help students build careers in these spaces. From my anecdotal assessment at The Net Impact Conference and past experience with higher education, I believe that most career services departments are not equipped to help students pursue social impact careers.

I see two primary reasons why even MBA programs with dedicated social impact programming fail to build similar capacity within career services departments. They suffer from a misalignment of incentives and an inability to specialize.

Misalignment of Incentives

Like most departments in a university, the Career Services department is focused on rankings, but few departments feel the pressure of rankings as much as they do. Percentage of students hired after (and even during) a program, average starting salary, and pedigree of employer are all factored into school rankings. These rankings are the benchmark numbers that prospective students use to decide which programs they will pursue.

Careers in social impact hurt these rankings because these careers often take longer to find and are typically with smaller, younger organizations that pay less. Alternative rankings such as Net Impact’s Business as Unusual report are designed to help prospective students interested in social impact, but career services departments are generally not held accountable to these alternative rankings.

Inability to Specialize

The other challenge of career services departments is how best to specialize to meet the demands of their students. Many departments specialize functionally (e.g. marketing, accounting, finance, etc.) Other specialize by sector (e.g. consumer goods, manufacturing, technology, etc.). These specializations are designed to help career services departments cover the greatest percentage of students’ interests.

And, as most MBAs at Net Impact would tell you, they do not represent the majority in their program. These students are the few in each MBA program committed to pursuing career in social impact. This small group of students does not merit a dedicated, full-time career services staff member.

There are notable exceptions among MBA programs that specialize exclusively in social enterprise or sustainability. But for most programs trying to attract and serve a variety of student interests, it doesn’t make financial sense to have a staff member focused to social impact careers.

It’s important to note that this widespread lack of career services support for social impact careers is not the fault of individual MBA programs. Rather, MBA programs are constrained by their environment.

So what can an MBA student do to find guidance and support for their goal to work in the social sector? One solution is to explore third-party social impact career services organizations that are emerging all over the country.

Organizations such as Impact Business Leaders, Inspiring Capital and Education Pioneers help business professionals advance their careers in social enterprise, nonprofit management and impact investing. These organizations are not tied to the same rankings-based incentive structure of universities and are able to achieve the scale necessary to make their programs sustainable by working with students from different programs.

I’m excited to see these kinds of organizations present at the Net Impact conference and believe there is huge potential for collaboration with MBA programs. A few opportunities that were discussed during the conference include:

  • Impact career programming hosted by third-party organizations and supported by universities. These programs become sustainable (not to mention more interesting) when several universities participate in each program.
  • Coordinated efforts among third-party programs to provide end-to-end pipeline solutions for students interested in impact careers. These solutions could be pitched as packages to universities.
  • Continuing education opportunities for alumni. Many universities are considering how to keep their alumni engaged. Partnerships with third-party programs that offer professional development opportunities for experienced professionals could be a great fit.

These opportunities won’t make sense for every third-party organization (including Impact Business Leaders), but they were all interesting to discuss with our peers in the space.

It’s exciting to see these opportunities beginning to develop at events such as the Net Impact Conference. This is what happens when you bring so many amazing actors in this space together, and push them to think bigger. I can’t wait to see how the discussions materialize and help some of the brightest, most talented professionals to pursue careers that create a better world for all of us.

What You Need to Switch into Social Enterprise

IBL Pic 2

Some professionals are ready to make the switch into a social enterprise career.

At Impact Business Leaders (IBL), I get to work with these professionals every day. Beyond the universal prerequisite of being passionate about creating a better world, these professionals have the mindset, skills and experience to succeed in the space.

So what makes a professional ready for the switch into social enterprise? Looking back over IBL’s 136 participants to date provides a glimpse into what is needed to make a successful transition.

It’s important to note that over the last two years IBL has shifted from working with entry level professionals in the developed world and toward mid-level professionals in the developing world. This skews any hard conclusions since the career equation for a graduate student in Amsterdam is very different from a manager in Accra.

But even with stark differences in experience level and region, common themes begin to emerge on what is needed to switch into social enterprise.


The journey to a successful career in social enterprise begins with the right mindset. Professionals who succeed in the IBL program pursue career opportunities they hadn’t initially considered, look for roles that will challenge them with greater responsibility and embrace being a beginner in some aspects of their new role.

We believe that our track record of supporting 90% of our participants to find new jobs with exciting, full-time roles in social enterprises is influenced by our decision to admit professionals with this mindset.

In a space as nascent as social enterprise, each hiring situation will be different. As a social enterprise job seeker, we encourage you to consider how you will respond to unexpected opportunities and roles that will challenge you to learn and take greater responsibility. This exercise helps our participants prepare for the social enterprise job search, and we think it will help you as well.


Among IBL participants, those who are able to demonstrate financial, technical and team management skills are most competitive in the social enterprise job market.

Strong competencies in finance are applicable to a wide variety of roles and convey a level of business competence. Technical skills such as engineering are highly sought after because they are less common skill sets that require a great deal of training. Team management skills are valuable in any organization and are also less common because there’s no substitute for real experience when it comes to leading people. While IBL has successfully placed professionals with a wide variety of skills, the skills described above seem to be in the greatest demand.

As a career switcher, consider how your current skills translate into these areas. You can also seek opportunities to develop these skills before you make the switch. Being able to demonstrate competence in one these in-demand areas will set you apart from other impressive applicants.


Career switchers don’t have to come from a specific sector to successfully switch into social enterprise. Among IBL participants, even those with prior social enterprise experience are not statistically more likely to land a new role in social enterprise.

While the sector in which experience was gained does not appear to matter, the amount of experience does. IBL participants with five to ten years of experience are the most successful in landing a role in social enterprise. These participants have a strong base of skills that are attractive to social enterprises and are primarily looking for exciting work and greater responsibility in their next move. This means they tend to be more flexible on other incentives such as title, salary and location, making them ideal for small, growing social enterprises.

If you have five to ten years of experience, now is the time to switch into a full-time role in social enterprise.

Career switchers with less experience need to be open to part-time or temporary positions if nothing full-time emerges. This will help you build skills and experience in the space. Career switchers with more than ten years of experience should be ready to wait a little longer for the right opportunity to emerge. The space does need your considerable talents. Senior level openings are just less common.

As I mentioned before, IBL’s participant data represents just a glimpse into what makes a successful career transition into social enterprise. Hiring decisions take into consideration a myriad of unique factors for each position. We hope that our lessons learned at IBL can steer you in the right direction as you prepare to make the jump into a social enterprise career.