How To Get a Job In Social Impact

by Jack Graham, Founder of Year Here

Over the last few years, companies have got wise to the fact that millennials (and those of us that fall just outside that bracket!) are motivated by purpose. Alongside opportunities for development, work-life balance and decent remuneration, social impact has become a bigger factor in our career decisions than before.

Tapping into this trend, you see many more big employers make grand statements about their mission or global vision. But the day-to-day reality is that many of us find ourselves working in corporate jobs to maximise shareholder profits. Put crudely, we’re toiling away to make rich people richer – and that doesn’t feel right.

I run Year Here, a postgraduate course in social innovation. Over one year, we support professionals to test and build smart solutions to social problems in their own backyards. We’ve worked with over 100 people in the past few years and many joined us from another industry.  Lawyers, engineers, journalists and bankers have all become Year Here Fellows.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt from them about how to break into a social impact career.

Dip your toe in the water

Since I started Year Here in 2012, there’s been a proliferation of programmes, fellowships, courses, accelerators and schemes to help people dive into the social sector. Many of these allow people to explore the social impact world without quitting their jobs.

One of our 2017/18 Fellows, Beth Pilgrim, came to us from Social Starters, who offer structured volunteering opportunities for experienced professionals, or check out the events programmes at one of the Impact Hubs.

You can also find your own opportunities: look into becoming a school governor or a trustee of a charity. Charities are crying out for people with legal, financial or marketing expertise.

Bring your skills with you

Among our Fellows, I’ve often seen how (happily) surprised people are to discover that their private sector skills are so valuable in the social sector.

2015/16 Fellow Sneh Jani joined us from management consultancy and put her skills to use by creating a mechanism for identifying vulnerability among older tenants at her frontline placement at Origin Housing. She later applied her business acumen in co-founding Bread and Roses, a floristry social enterprise that supports and employs refugee women. They’ve been featured in The Independent, The Guardian and The Financial Times.

Immerse yourself

At Year Here, we believe that solving social problems starts with understanding them. This means getting to know the big issues of our time – like the housing crisis, social inequality and the ageing population – from the ground up.

2016/17 Fellow Hector Smethurst came to us from Japanese investment bank Nomura and spent his first five months on placement at a GP surgery in Tower Hamlets – one of the most diverse and disadvantaged boroughs in the country. By working with vulnerable patients and understanding their daily pressures, he identified a specific health inequality: the most vulnerable patients were least likely to respond to communications from their GP. He now runs Appt, a health tech startup that uses SMS and behavioural economics to help marginalised NHS patients better manage their long-term conditions.

These are a few of the ways I’ve watched our Fellows successfully move into a new chapter of their career.

For someone on that journey, spend time researching the opportunities available (Escape the City is obviously a great place to start) and figure out which best fit your long-term goals. Find ways to leverage your existing skills – they could be more valuable than you realise. And lastly, explore the problems that matter to you. For aspiring social entrepreneurs that first-hand experience of an issue will unlock crucial insights.

A career with social impact is open to anyone. For some it’s a swift leap, for others it’s more gradual. There’s isn’t only one route into social impact, but there is one essential step – translating intent into action.

Jack is the founder of Year HereTheir next cohort is now open for applications – to find out more and apply, check out the Year Here listing on Escape’s jobs board.

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