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You are 15 and are sitting in your high school guidance counselor’s office and she has a question: What are you planning on doing with your life?
You have an answer that will surely impress her. That community service project you did your sophomore year: It has instilled a passion for justice and helping people. It lit a fire in you, and now, you are off to make a difference in the world.
But now, in college, your advisor wants to know — realistically — how you are going to translate your major into a real career, and how you are planning on supporting yourself.
So, here’s your big question, how are you going to have a successful career with a good salary, that also addresses the issue that you have been so passionate about since high school? In today’s world, is that even possible?
This problem is a symptom of how the third sector and private sector are failing to work together. It results in college graduates forced to choose between fighting for issues they care about or being able to pay off their student loans.
Working in the third sector means that fundraising, outreach, and development, is a necessary part of keeping any organization afloat in order to effectively enact their projects.
NGOs design their fundraising campaigns to incite emotionally-driven donations to help them fund their causes. Donors want to feel like their money is going towards bettering the world, and are not exactly interested in their donations funding wages or the office bills. This dilemma leads to severely low funds being allocated toward salaries if any.
So coming out of college, do you “sell-out” and get a high paying job for economic security? Since you would be making good money, you could still donate to great causes every year to try and help fund the social impact that you wish you were a part of.
Yet, that decision perpetuates the third-sector-dependant-on-the-private-sector cycle well and alive, which we know is not working. The problem is not just in varying salaries; think about how our society values a Goldman Sachs Banker compared to the Director of a Small NGO.
The hierarchy that we have created and perpetuated impedes our ability to enact change. Society is giving the big companies free rein to do whatever they want, and then expecting them to pay NGOs to clean up the mess — a pretty ineffective model.
The solution to this problem? NGOs and the private sector have to start navigating meaningful, cooperative relationships that marry the effective strategy of NGOs to address issues and capitalize on the resources and capacity of the private sector.
Ever heard of CSR? Corporate Social Responsibility is an emerging form of humanitarianism that is taking shape between the third and private sectors.
Think of factories that employ mainly women in developing countries, yet do not necessarily understand the needs of the specific community or the cultural landscape of their society and fails to adequately support its workers.
Instead of having an NGO try to fight against the clothing brand, CSR imagines the NGO working alongside the private company to help implement changes that they know work to support human rights.
CSR takes shape in a magnitude of ways, from eyeglass companies gifting a pair of eyewear to those in need for every purchase to technology companies helping develop software for emergency responders. Yet the overall goal of CSR is to consistently try and link the goals of the private sector to those of the third sector.
When humanitarian efforts and economic efforts are intertwined, we often see much faster, and much more significant changes being made.
Back to your meeting with your college advisor. It is important to know that these sectors are in a transition phase. In the same way that the humanitarian sector was able to move away from its beginnings in colonialism, it is capable of moving toward a more sustainable working relationship with the private sector.
So when someone asks what career path you want, tell them it is a work in progress. In the future, positions available in these fields will reflect this new relationship. We’re already starting to see big brands like Microsoft, Chipotle, Adidas and many more launching initiatives for social and environmental causes in the private sector.
As these changes become more pronounced, there will be more and more jobs that cater to those of us who are dedicated to solving these important issues, but who are also attracted to the private world.
In your advisor meetings, do not apply the devolving divide between private and third sector to your own thinking. Develop your knowledge and skill sets to prepare for a job that requires business and managerial dexterity as well as a comprehensive understanding of the issue that you care about because those jobs are going to be a reality very soon.
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