October 18, 2009
Following your heart: Jobs with impact, 'social capital' gaining popularity
Now that the financial system has been rocked to its core, “social capital” is getting a lot of buzz. But what is it? It boils down to putting your efforts into jobs with a socially positive impact, connecting money with meaning and investing with those principles in mind.
People of all ages are pursuing those mantras -- twentysomethings seeking socially responsible jobs straight out of college, Gen Xers in their 30s and 40s leaving highly paid posts in major corporations to launch socially aware startups, baby boomers investing in such companies or advising them on how to be more socially aware.
“A lot of organizations are forming social enterprises in a way that they didn’t used to to highlight their social mission,” says Amy Benziger, co-producer of SoCap09, a San Francisco-based conference on social capital. “It might be perceived as potentially sacrificing profit, but now it’s looked at as a positive thing.”
Kate Tierney was on top in the traditional corporate world. As senior vice president of organic food distributor United Natural Foods Inc., she had been in a position to move to president. But Tierney sought more impact, not power.
“I recognized [that my job] wasn’t filling the mission part of my soul, and I knew I needed to go and find something that could fill some part of me,” she says. “I had made the big bucks.” Tierney, 42, now works as the national director of sales at Alter Eco, a fair-trade startup.
Interest in social-capital career moves such as Tierney’s is likely to swell, says Beth Lester, vice president of marketing at consulting firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, especially among those ages 18-24, who are more likely than older people to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company.
Studies: Workers willing to change
In a study conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates in conjunction with Landor and Burson-Marsteller in June, 40 percent of about 1,000 participants said they were willing to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company.
Another study, a 3,500-person survey in June 2008 by the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, found that almost 50 percent of workers ages 44-70 not already in second careers focusing on social impact were interested in one.
“Most people are interested in working for and buying from companies that they judge are a good company,” she says. “Particularly for young people, that means having an ethical, socially responsible and sustainable company.”
After working on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in Las Vegas shortly after graduating from Stanford University in 2008, Kanyi Maqubela’s life changed.
“I realized that ... any sort of work I did from then forth had to have a social aspect -- not to necessarily be altruistic, but whatever my impact was had to be a social impact first and anything else second,” Maqubela says.
Many Gen Yers have already made money at high-level jobs with major companies and find that an often necessary pay cut -- from 15 percent to 30 percent -- is worth it.
Kevin Jones, co-founder of SoCap09 and founding principal of venture-capital firm Good Capital, says many people in their 30s and 40s are stuck with a mortgage, marriage commitments or child-rearing obligations that “keep them in the regular economy” but want to break free.
John Ujda, former vice president at Primedia Inc.’s Rentals.com, says most people devote a large share of their lives to working, and he wants that time to matter. Ujda, 36, now works as vice president of marketing for Better World Books, an online bookseller that supports literacy.
“There’s definitely an extra spark right now,” he says.
“There’s a huge get-out-of-bed factor, because what I’m doing right now matters beyond a paycheck or a shareholder return.”
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