Jack Graham is the social entrepreneur behind Year Here, a social leadership programme for ambitious recent graduates and school leavers. Here, he explores the career choices of the next generation of ambitious professionals and offers added impetus to readers’ potential escape plans.
I predict that the tide is turning: corporate experience is no longer a pre-requisite for a high-impact social sector career. And the next generation knows it.
In the past few decades the received wisdom has been that savvy purpose-driven grads should spend a few years in the private sector developing their skills before making the shift over to the non-profit sector (where, it’s assumed, all professional development ceases abruptly). And programmes like On Purpose have made the transition ever-smoother. And the strategy seems to work for many: the founders of some of the top social ventures in Britain all started their professional lives in the private sector. Take Teach First, The Challenge and Entrepreneur First – their founders are all ex-McKinsey.
But it seems that things are changing. Programmes like the one I run for ambitious recent grads and school leavers, Year Here, are providing the kind of professional development opportunities that people could, traditionally, only benefit from on corporate grad schemes. And more and more social entrepreneurs are drawing inspiration from the high-speed startup-to-IPO story of tech entrepreneurship and setting our sites much higher, with competitions like the Dell Social Innovation Competition and the Big Venture Challenge looking for seriously ambitious teams and ideas to change the world.
And it isn’t just the supply of social leadership development opportunities that is on the up. Demand is rising too. This year,Teach First – the two-year leadership programme that puts top grads into challenging schools – is predicted to become the UK’s largest graduate employer.
Over the summer we met an inspiring chap called Fred. He’s 18 years old – although his maturity and eloquence might fool you into thinking he is older – and spending his gap year in Britain, teaching students at a challenging school in Kent. It’s Fred’s generation that knows that you needn’t compromise your ambition, professional development and career success if you want to apply yourself to improving the conditions of the most disadvantaged and marginalised in society.
So, if things really are changing, what does this mean for those who want a career with purpose and are considering their initial entry into the job market?
Well, any graduates who are still thinking that a corporate job is the only way to develop business acumen should drop that misconception immediately. You do need business acumen but now there’s a plethora of opportunities to grow that in the social sector, while developing a deeper understanding of the social issues that you might seek to solve. And don’t stay in your comfort zone by remaining in academia, enrolling for a Masters’ in anthropology or international development – get out there and experience poverty and injustice first hand.
And for those stuck in unfulfilling corporate careers, there’s now an added urgency to make the leap. A new generation, raised in a world where globalisation and digital technology have fuelled a blurring of the traditional ‘sectors’, are hungry for success and social impact. They’re right behind you, so jump now before you’re left behind.