Key talent that social enterprises can use from profit firms

This article originally appeared in Business Daily Africa.  

Social enterprises and non-profits increasingly recognise the need to adopt management skills from the for-profit world.

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And a great potential source of talent are professionals who want to change career lanes — people with experience in finance, human resources and strategy hoping to leave their corporate jobs in order to follow their passions.

But what many social enterprises fail to recognise is that private-sector recruits often come to them looking to build new skills, not just provide the ones they already have.

For ambitious young professionals, the abilities they develop quickly at a social enterprise are the sorts of communicating, problem-solving and relationship skills that can take years to acquire in the corporate arena.

That’s what makes the jobs that social enterprises offer more of a lane change than a permanent detour. These professionals have the unique opportunity to combine their management skills with inspirational, hands-on work.

Social enterprise, therefore, offers a compelling job proposition — both to those who see it as a long-term career choice and those who want to shift back into a corporate environment.

In the course of my work at Bain & Co, I’ve meet an increasing number of professionals who start out in the corporate world, work for a time in social enterprises and then return to a for-profit company.

An internal survey of these people at Bain revealed that more than 90 per cent felt that their experiences in social enterprises or not-for-profits had helped them develop their listening and collaboration skills.

Significantly, 85 per cent said these skills were highly or somewhat relevant to their for-profit jobs. Many professional services firms make social work a standard part of their employment proposition. For example, lawyers and consultants do significant amounts of pro bono work, or place their people in externships with third-sector organisations.

Social enterprises that focus on wooing corporate talent must also be committed to their own efforts to achieve scale.

Dropping one or two people with accounting skills into a 1,000-person social enterprise isn’t going to have a positive impact unless it marks the start of a serious effort to build that organization’s professional capabilities.

Davis-Peccoud leads Bain & Co.’s Global Social Impact Practice. She is also a senior director of the Global Organization practice.