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“How can you make a living while changing the world?” Roshan Paul, Co-Founder & CEO of Amani Institute, posed this question to the attendees of the AVPN Annual Conference 2019.
As a human resources professional, I believe that an organization’s most valuable asset is its people – their skills, individual identities, and uniquely lived experiences that employees bring with them when they arrive to work. When these attributes are harnessed, social purpose organizations can increase their impact and work toward solving socio-economic crisis that matter most to them.
After attending the Conference, I could identify five themes to begin addressing human capital challenges in the social sector:
Legitimize social impact work as a career field
Several panelists discussed the importance of legitimizing social impact work as a career field by creating a clear career trajectory similar to ‘climbing the corporate ladder,’ establishing university degree programs focused on social impact, and professional certifications, awards, and fellowships. Joyce Teo, Deputy CEO of the Community Foundation of Singapore, explained that many universities in Singapore are currently missing full courses on social impact and are only teaching concepts at a very abstract level. Additionally, in order to further legitimize the sector, Teo hopes that training and development certifications will be created to lend credibility to the work that’s happening in the sector.
Use labor of skilled volunteers
Beyond professionalizing the sector, Vijaya Bilaji, Managing Director of Toolbox India Foundation, suggests that private sector organisations can leverage its skills by creating a model where skilled volunteers apply expertise from their day jobs to pro-bono projects at a nonprofit. In order to maximize the passion and commitment of the skilled volunteer, Bilaji recommends that the individual has the freedom to choose the projects they support, decide how long they want to volunteer, and be able to see the actual impact of their work.
Address the lower salary problem (or the perception of such)
The lower salary problem (or the perception of such) in the social impact space was also another prevalent discussion at the Conference. Roshan Paul believes that the salary problem can be true in some circumstances but not always. Some social impact organizations are able to pay talent at market rates similar or above the corporate sector, and some social impact organizations make up for lower pay by providing additional perks and benefits not offered in other industries.
Identify transferable skills between sectors & proactively upskill your workforce
As panelists explained how they started doing social impact work, multiple speakers said that they had worked in other sectors prior to settling into their current roles. Hosea Lai, Head of Social Impact – APAC at LinkedIn explained that “the cross over [between sectors] is not the issue. It’s the mindset and lack of understanding of what the other side does (i.e. corporate vs. nonprofit) that’s the problem. We need to begin thinking about transferable skills instead of sector specific skills.” Lai further elaborated that software engineering and data management skills are the biggest growing (most popular) skill-sets in the social impact sector today. Other top skills include nonprofit management, fundraising, and program management. Lai emphasized the importance of upskilling and always learning new capabilities in order to adapt to the changing job landscape with the growing use of artificial intelligence. Organizations should incorporate funding for talent development into their operating costs if they want to deliver the impact they hope to have.
Develop a common language and framework when referring to our work
Ravi Sreedharan, Founder of the Indian School of Development Management, asked, “When two people talk about impact, are they talking about the same thing? There’s currently more uncommonness than commonness in the shared language amongst people in the social sector.” Sreedharan further explained that limited work has been done in learning what it takes to lead and manage social purpose organizations. The current operating approach applies business management and project management concepts to the social sector. The social impact sector will benefit from developing a sector-wide set of commonly used concepts and standard definitions, a framework for managing social purpose organizations, and standardized performance management measures.
While solving the social sector human capital challenges go far beyond just these five themes, I was encouraged to hear sector leaders proposing solutions to recruit, develop, and retain talent. If you have additional ideas as to how AVPN can support you in addressing your human capital needs or challenges, please contact the AVPN Knowledge Centre at email@example.com as we work to develop talent related resources for the social sector.