My first year of college, my friend Christian and I had an idea for a tech platform that would make civic education more engaging and fun for students across the U.S. We needed to raise about $10,000. Though we had more than that committed in sponsorship revenue in the pipeline from AT&T, Coca-Cola, and Georgia EMC, there was a lag between when the cash was coming in and when we needed to start building our site.
To cover the gap, I cold-called a guy named Bob Pattillo, an entrepreneur and philanthropist from my hometown Atlanta, and he took a meeting with me at Fat Matt's Rib Shack. All I really knew about Bob was that he was interested in education. (I think he only took the meeting because he got a kick out of an 18-year-old cold-calling him). I explained the changes we were making in civic education and American community, and asked him for a $10,000 grant.
After a barrage of thought-provoking questions, he said, "You don't need a grant -- but I'd do a $10,000 bridge loan." I responded: "That sounds great! I'm in! What's a bridge loan?" I was confused why someone would take an investment -- not a grant -- for a project that seemed to have a charitable purpose -- education?
Bob then explained to me the power of business to solve problems in society -- taking an investment versus a grant made him more aligned with my success; and focusing on earned revenue over perpetual fundraising meant that our activities would be more mission-aligned -- a conversation that changed my life.
The Problem with "Two Pocket" Thinking in Careers
Most people differentiate careers from values. To improve the world, you make as much money as you can, and you "give back" some portion of it as a philanthropist. My friend Kevin Jones calls this "two pocket" thinking -- in your day job, put as much money in one pocket, so that, as a philanthropist, you can give it away from the other pocket.
Philanthropy is a tremendous force for good, but is just one way to advance our values. In fact, philanthropy alone does not even come close to leveraging the wealth we create for the long-term well-being of society. If you take the sum of all the charitable giving in the world it is only 1/4000th of the assets invested in capital markets.
This difference is staggering -- but I see it as an opportunity. Is there a way to pursue a career where you do not feel like you are compromising your definition of professional success -- or jeopardizing the financial stability of yourself and your family -- while still living out your values in the workplace, and not just when you're off the clock?
Bob's conversation tore the wall between the two pockets for me. Bob founded a firm, Gray Ghost Ventures, which has been a pioneer in the world of "impact investing" -- people investing in for-profit businesses that align with their values -- and since that conversation with Bob, my whole career has been dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs who are building what we know can be very financially successful businesses and can change the world. I can't think of a world doing my job and working on what I care about are different.
Increasingly rapidly, the majority of society agrees. 69% of Millennials value the impact of their investments over their financial returns. 90% of Millennials say it is important that their job has a purpose beyond just a paycheck. And "impact investing" is now a top-5 career choice from top business schools.
How do I get involved?
I now run a firm, Village Capital, that supports and invests in entrepreneurs solving major problems in society: food, water, energy, health, education, and financial inclusion, and I teach entrepreneurship and impact investing at the University of Virginia. From friends to students to acquaintances, I probably hear the question 50 times a week: "How do I get involved? Where do I get a job like yours?"
It's awesome to combine a career path with your values, but it sounds too good to be true. Recruiters for impact investment firms are not lining business schools like investment banks and consulting firms; the job-seeking process with startups is far less structured than Fortune 500 companies, and while more established companies and industries think years out for hiring, for a startup, the hiring timeline will be days.
The good news is that three clear paths are emerging to find a job that aligns with your values:
Start a Company
Most of the great jobs in the new economy are ones you don't apply for. The barriers to entry for starting a company are dropping daily. You can start--or co-found a company that reflects your values with resources such as:
• Pitching a completely new idea at startup events that groups such as 1776 and UpGlobal operate;
• Finding co-founders and like-minded professionals at co-working spaces in the US (from 1871 in Chicago to New Richmond Ventures in Richmond), nearly every city has a "front door" for entrepreneurship and around the world (whether it's city-based places such as iHub in Nairobi or CCHub in Lagos, or a global network like ImpactHub);
• Or joining an accelerator program that's city-based (Entrepreneur Center-Nashville; 43-North Buffalo) or sector-focused (Greentown Labs in Boston's energy program, or our Village Capital programs worldwide).
Join a Company
Although many discussions of entrepreneurship focus on the "hero founder," entrepreneurship is a team sport, and building great teams is the only way entrepreneurs can succeed. Though the hiring process for both startups and impact investment firms can be confusing and disconnected, emerging programs are demystifying the process.
• For people right out of school, starter fellowship programs such as Frontier Market Scouts and the IDEX Fellowship provide a great onramp for your first job. For underrepresented minorities, the Kapor Center fellowship is a very useful onramp.
• For mid-career professionals, Impact Business Leaders is a great option. IBL runs week-long programs for people with 5-10+ years' work experience, and places them in management roles in growing startups and investment firms.
• You can also go it on your own, using job boards hosted by groups such as GIIN, NextBillion, or the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs.
Whatever you decide, this is your opportunity to show the world you have more to offer than the leftovers of a successful career. You have the power to create a better world each and every day. It's time for you to seize it.
Interested in learning more?
• The Impact Business Leaders' next program is at the Darden School at the University of Virginia January 2-8, with their application deadline November 15th. Find out more at impactbusinessleaders.com
• The IDEX Fellowship deadline is in January 2016. Find out more here: idexfellows.com