Careers in Depth: Social Impact in the Private Sector

Interested in social impact but not sure how to incorporate it into your career? You’re not alone. On April 4, Net Impact’s Fordham and NYC chapters joined forces to present an interactive conversation on social impact career opportunities in the private sector followed by a networking reception. Many of the attendees, who represented a variety of ages, races, and industries, were interested in transitioning into a more impactful career.

The panel of industry experts moderated by Cal Zarin, Founder and Principle of Shared Value Media, included Erin Eriksson, Executive Director of the M?A?C AIDS Fund; Colleen Galvin, Senior Vice President, Citi Community Development; and Kyra Kaszynski, Strategy and Relationship Executive for the United Nations at Deloitte. The panelists provided insights, discussed trends, and shared their career paths with attendees.


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On career transitions:

The panelists emphasized the value of diverse work experience, encouraging job seekers to play up their strengths. “The best way to work your way up is out and in,” they agreed. Colleen recommended that those with a corporate background use their skills to volunteer for a nonprofit organization. Though she didn’t originally gravitate toward community development, by volunteering when she was unemployed, Colleen made new connections that helped her define her career-path.

Even once you know what you want, getting there isn’t easy, and the panel revealed that it is equally challenging to transition from corporate to nonprofit as it is from nonprofit to corporate. While getting her MBA, Erin decided to focus on HIV and AIDS work with the intention of entering the nonprofit public health space. “The philanthropy world is hard to get a foot in the door, and once you have a foot in the door it feels like musical chairs sometimes,” she said.

“Most of my career has been in the private sector. I wanted to get into NGO work but found it difficult to transition,” said Kyra. “Be creative about the thing you’re most passionate about. Find the right place and then work your way towards what you want.” Kyra explained that though Deloitte’s social impact team is small, as part of the company’s retention efforts it gives employees opportunities to be part of its social impact work. “You need to be entrepreneurial even within your organization,” added Colleen.

And for those nonprofit senior leaders interested in transitioning to corporate? “You need to find the right company because your reputation is on the line. When they’re serious–they will want you,” Kyra said. “’Public-private-partnerships” is the hot term in CSR right now,” she added. “Take the time to learn the lingo if you come from a difference space.”

Once you’ve been through an interview, Colleen recommends that you then take steps to maintain the relationship. While she prefers not to receive LinkedIn invites from interviewees, she does recommend sending your interviewer relevant news articles that relate to the company’s work without including a specific job ask.

To MBA or not to MBA?

The question of whether to go back to school to kick-start your impact career can be a difficult one. The panelists agreed that they use their MBA skills every day and that the relationships they built in grad school contributed heavily to their current successes. ”A trusted recommendation goes a long way when hiring,” said Erin, who was offered valuable opportunities by her professors. For those who are interested in an advanced degree but are lacking a specific focus such as public health, Kyra and Colleen suggest that more general MBA or social impact programs can also be useful.

On trends:

“Supply chain is a real evolution due a lot to millennials who are conscious consumers,” says Kyra. She believes that consumer businesses should be doing more with CSR because they can develop initiatives that tie in nicely with their product, and the garment industry should be doing more because of labor unions. “The last ones you’ll see are extractives,” she said, “and banks also still have far to go in terms of social investing.”

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