Articles

Social Impact

In Life on June 13, 2012 by thebetweenthoughts

When I applied to business school, the angle I used was that I would create”social impact” through whatever profession I found myself in after school.  Having both consulting experience and non-profit experience, it was an easy sell…a logical result of my professional trajectory.  After two years of questioning my ability to find a job in the social impact arena, I actually ended up at a firm focused on the strategic and operational issues facing higher education institutions and nonprofit organizations.  Social impact seemed like a real goal instead of just a selling point.

One of the first projects on which I worked was an operational review of a nonprofit – we were looking at a business function within the organization that was staffed by four 50+ year old ladies (who, sadly, liked the comfort of paper files and distrusted the systems employed by the organization).  The report that I wrote recommended that we eliminate the group and allow automation to fully take over the function.  (Although I was generally in agreement with the message of the report, the purpose of the whole engagement was to give the CFO a document he could wield in front of the CEO to justify getting rid of this group of obsolete and stubborn old ladies.  My professional opinion didn’t really matter, since we were just supporting what our client wanted to hear.)

A few weeks ago, I offhandedly asked my senior manager what happened with the client after the report.  His response, “they fired them all!”  The other senior managers in the room laughed and congratulated me on a good job.

This wasn’t the social impact I was looking to make.

I have managed classrooms of kids.  I have raised funds for youth leadership seminars and social service programs.  I have worked at the Department of Education (in a very administrative role).  Even when I didn’t necessarily see the impact, I knew that I was making some sort of a difference.

After nearly a year at this firm, I feel that I have in no way contributed to the social well-being of anyone.  I have helped out with the financial operations of multimillion (and we’re talking about hundreds of millions here) dollar universities and foundations and tangentially made an impact on the people they serve.  But really, all I’ve helped them do is improve their bottom line.  Do those savings actually go to their “customers”?  I highly doubt it.  Highly.  Even though I’m working under a “nonprofit” banner, all I’m doing is helping the rich stay rich.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It was this type of disconnect that led me to quit my previous stint with consulting and move to NYC to find a life more fulfilling.  [This isn’t to say that I’m some socialist rabblerouser…I’m a capitalist through and through…but I feel like we should be living in a society where capital can move freely and fairly without any restrictions on access.  Capacity-building (on a personal- and systems-wide level) is the most important thing we can be doing.]  Yet, here I am.  In the same position I was five years ago, only with a fatter paycheck (and a crapload more debt).

I guess I’m still an idealist at heart.  Even though I’ve seen the operational and financial chaos that permeates most nonprofits, I still believe that they serve a need in our society.  They fill the gaps where the private sector and the government have failed.  I don’t want to be a cog in a machine (or to even enable other cogs to operate better).  I want to make a difference.  I want to make an impact.

If only I knew how…

;P

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