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How To Transition Into Social Enterprise

On September 9th, we ran one of our Adam Street Club events with On Purpose, a London-based social enterprise leadership development program. Here are some nuggets of advice from the evening.

At Escape the City, we're often asked by our members about how they can transition into careers in social enterprise, CSR and not-for-profits. On September 9th, we ran one of our Adam Street Club events with On Purpose, a London-based social enterprise leadership development program. Here are some nuggets of advice from the evening.

Tom Rippin, On Purpose CEO

After some years researching cancer, Tom started his non-academic career at management consultants McKinsey & Company, where he worked across the private, public and non-profit sectors. He transitioned into the social enterprise space, first advising the CEO of Comic Relief on private sector matters and then working at RED, the business founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver to help eliminate AIDS in Africa, where he was Managing Director for Europe and Director of Business Development for RED International. As well as running On Purpose, Tom is the Chairman of Spice, and a non-executive director at the Shaftesbury Partnership.

Beware the passion paralysis. When I was transitioning out of McKinsey, people said "just follow your passion" but this is not as easy as it seems! I still haven't figured out my "passion" - certainly not my life-long passion. Instead of trying to work out your passion, just figure out what you're going to do for the next 3 years and if that's sufficiently exciting to you, that's great. You can always change after 2-3 years.

Only ask yourself questions you can actually answer. If you're looking to transition into social enterprise, it's easy to get caught up in what 'topic' you want to explore - whether you want to get involved in education or international development or helping people into work... but there are lots of other ways that you can narrow down your thinking as well and they are just as useful: would you prefer to work on the front line or in an intermediary role? Do you want to be with a commercial organisation or are you leaning more towards working with a charity? Do you want to work with established organisation or with a three-person startup?

Do not over-think it. Do some doing. Do some networking and do some volunteering.

If you have no experience in the sector, it's a great idea to balance doing pro bono work with organisations you want to move into, alongside your current paid work. The social enterprise space is relatively small and very friendly so after just half a dozen networking events you'll start to see the same faces around. Once you get to know people you can try and see if you can be helpful to them. Once they know you, a conversation about a job with them (or one they know about elsewhere) is much easier.

Niall Smith, On Purpose Fellow

Niall Smith now is the Enterprise and Innovation Specialist for Citizens Advice following his On Purpose placements with Interface and O2. Prior to joining On Purpose Niall worked supporting local government in the UK across a broad range of issues from political leadership to service transformation and migration to public health. Within this work Niall specialised in the creation of peer to peer learning networks and communities of practice. Niall has also worked in knowledge management and operations management in environmental law and online technology businesses. Niall holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from Birkbeck, University of London.

Passions are hard to work out but your motivations easy to decipher. You can trace these through reflecting and examining your childhood and past work history.

Use your current skills as a base, but also be prepared to be thrown in the deep end and to pick up new skills. The organisations will badly need your current skills but the On Purpose year, for example, is a great way to do something different.

Appreciate that programs like On Purpose function as career catalysts. One of the biggest benefits of doing On Purpose has been getting time with people it would be very hard to get time with otherwise. For instance, on our first day, we got to meet Cliff Prior from UnLtd. Being able to introduce myself to him and him saying that I could give him a call - those things really made a difference.

Maria Skanavi, On Purpose Fellow

After two years at Merrill Lynch, Maria left for a Masters in Economics in Geneva, followed by three years in private banking at UBS. In her spare time, she volunteers as an English teacher and helping foreigners adapt to the globalised job market. Her undergraduate degree is in Economics from LSE. Maria is currently Innovation Project Manager at Comic Relief following her On Purpose placement there.

Be careful of romanticising change. It's a very easy mistake to make. At times I have made this mistake myself. Before the program, I thought - 'Great, I will go out there and make so many changes!' Yes, you will make changes, but maybe don't make them all at once!

Daniel Bhugon, On Purpose Fellow

Daniel is leading the Catch 22's development of enterprise models which are seeking to raise funds in the social investment market. This follows his On Purpose placement there. Before this, Daniel returned to London to establish his own software company, allowing him the time to pursue voluntary roles supporting charities in the UK and abroad. Prior to this, Daniel worked as a structurer for several years, most recently in equity derivatives BNP Paribas. He holds a PhD in Quantitative Finance from Imperial College, London.

Take risks with your career. You can mitigate this by doing an MBA or doing part-time consulting with employer as you transition, or doing programs like On Purpose.

As you make the switch, don't burn any bridges. Don't be so eager to leave that you forget the value of the connections you already have. You will always make connections with your previous career - the last thing you want is people remembering you giving them the finger as you stormed out the door.

Distill your interests into 2-3 lines. When I first started out I had a big long explanation of what I was interested in, in terms of social enterprise and how I wanted to change the world. Now I've condensed that into, "I'm interested in how technology intersects with education." When I started telling people that, a lot of other stuff started happening; more introductions and other things found their way onto my path.

Useful resources

Escape the City - An online platform for over 120,000 members who want to 'do something different' - discover the most exciting jobs in the world.

Escape the City resources - Sometimes the best way to start escaping is by educating yourself on the world beyond the cubicle.

On Purpose - London-based social enterprise leadership development program

Oxford Jam - Oxford Jam is the fringe social enterprise festival that happens every year at the same time as the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

Emerge Venture Lab - Harnesses the energies of the most driven and talented social entrepreneurs in the world.

MakeSense - Turn your talents, skills and connections into unique superpowers to solve challenges of Social Entrepreneurs with

GoodPeople - GoodPeople helps you connect with amazing people who are passionate about your cause

Hub Westminster - A co-working space dedicated to helping entrepreneurs & changemakers drive the impact economy.

For more about Escape the City, click here.

For more articles and books by Adele Barlow, click here.

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