Saturday, May 10, 2014

Talent for good

Last year the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and White House Office of Social Innovation, with help from LinkedIn, GuideStar, the Foundation Center and Palantir, hosted a GoodJobs CodeJam, where we supported student teams in using open data to create technological tools that would help students build careers in the social sector. In my role as co-leader of the Digital Civil Society Lab (which was launched at that event), I was focused on the digital tools that career starters use and rely on to for their professional planning.

The CodeJam was a success - cool tools got prototypes, several of which are still being developed and built upon. Data got used and reflections provided to app builders and data providers. Good connections were created between industry, nonprofits and students. The Open Data Dance had its world premier.

In retrospect, this event was a bit like asking me, when I was a college senior, to prototype using a telephone as a meaningful exercise in preparing for my career. Cutting edge technology at that time would have been faxes and answering machines (no, I'm not exaggerating. ATMs were new my senior year). For today's students, the assumptions about digital are ingrained. In their reflections following the CodeJam we heard repeatedly that the tools should be assumed and the challenges of shaping careers with meaning is about finding mentors, mapping coursework and internships, making connections, and finding enterprises that value them.

I've written a lot about the social economy - the complete space in which we use private resources for public benefit. This includes (as enterprises) nonprofits, social businesses, hybrids, informal networks, temporary associations of individuals, and the socially-focused strategies of corporations.

One way of thinking about the social economy is to imagine all the ways we as individuals organize ourselves to accomplish something that benefits others. In other words, at its root, it's about people.

(Photo by Lucy Bernholz: left to right, Fagan Harris, Cheryl Dorsey, Anne-Marie Burgoyne, Lisa Foster Thompson, Paul Schmitz, Jonny Dorsey)

Yesterday, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and the Aspen Institute Impact Careers Initiative hosted a "Talent For Good Summit." The question on the table was how today's career starters can plan for and make happen professional careers that focus on social good - and how the multiple types of organizations where that work happens can find, recruit and develop these people. At Stanford, this is a big question. The university is well equipped, creative, and resourceful when it comes to helping students find jobs or start enterprises in technology, finance, consulting, banking, and other commercial industries. (Just last week I experienced a true Stanford teaching reality - six weeks into a ten week term a student withdrew from class because his tech company had raised a seed round of financing). It has services and resources for students interested in careers in public service or the social sector, but these are less visible. Recruiters from the public and social sectors are much less accessible to students and much less visible than their commercial counterparts. The Talent For Good Summit was one step (of several) that students and the career resources on campus are taking to encourage and support students to dedicate their most significant private resource (their own time, interests and careers) to social and public interest careers.

The students invited, prepared, and hosted a great panel (Cheryl Dorsey, Echoing Green; Anne Marie Burgoyne, Emerson Collective, Lori Foster Thompson, North Carolina State University, and Paul Schmitz, Public Allies). Participants included social entrepreneurs, local nonprofit leaders, students, social business recruiters, and university leaders focused on career development. Small groups worked on ideas to create a shared agenda for recruiting, developing and connecting young professionals - from both campuses and communities. Related initiatives, such as the TalentPhilanthropy Project and the #OverheadMyth were looked to as potential allies.

There was meaningful disagreement about the need to channel some of the students' "I've gotta be a founder" energy into existing enterprises and the need to help organizations really use young professionals, instead of making them wait 20 years to have any input. The demographic and economic realities - from student loan debt to baby boomer professionals who won't (or can't) retire - were noted. Real improvements in recruiting tools (such as those used by TFA and the CFPB) were highlighted (yes, digital tools do make a difference!) And we discussed, dropped, revisited, and reminded ourselves repeatedly that community based social change requires leaders (and leadership recruitment, development, celebration) from communities, not just elite campuses. Can students from elite campuses help build pathways to leadership for their age-peers in communities, not just focus on building pathways for their own careers? We raised it and brainstormed about it - but no, we didn't solve it.

You can read the Impact Careers Initiative report - and see their ranking of colleges and universities that support impact careers here.

Hats off to the student leaders who are moving this work forward - Jonny Dorsey, Fagan Harris and Elizabeth Woodson.

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