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Insights to a Career in Social Enterprise

Forté Foundation
Forté Foundation
Insights to a Career in Social Enterprise

Valerie Bockstette: I have an MBA. My career track is a little bit untraditional or maybe traditional.

Andrea M Kimmel: I think we live in an environment where careers evolve, and career interests evolve. And I think I wanted a degree that would help my career evolve with my changing interests.

Whitney Guston: For me, the opportunity to go to business school was not only to meet amazing people and really expand my network but also to be able to work effectively with people who are experts in finance.

Elissa Sangster: Hello. And welcome to the Career Lab podcast. Earlier this month, Career Lab traveled to Boston for an evening of panel discussions, networking and workshops at Harvard business school. Our speakers represented just some of the many options open to women in business today. Valerie Bockstette is a consultant at FSG Social Impact Advisors, a nonprofit consulting firm dedicated to philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. She talked about the growing career opportunities in the world of social enterprise.

Valerie: So we help foundations such as the Gates foundation or for example a community foundation such as the Boston Foundation, or corporations that are focused on corporate social responsibility. Figure out how to best invest their resources and who to give money to, how to measure the success of those grants. I have an MBA, My career track is a little bit untraditional or maybe traditional. I graduated from Brown in 2000 and majored in International Relations but decided to become an investment banker so I worked on Wall Street for three years doing mergers and acquisitions work then came to Harvard business school to get my MBA, specifically to transition into the nonprofit sector. Graduated from HBS in 2005 and spent two years at a small nonprofit consulting firm in Boston working as its managing director, and just recently transitioned to FSG.

HBS is actually a wonderful institution in terms of what they call social enterprise. There are a number of classes at HBS on the academic side so my second year half the classes I enrolled in were actually taught at HBS and focused on different topics of nonprofit management. There’s a very strong social enterprise club on campus and there is a program called Leadership Fellows, which I participated in, which funded me for my first year in the nonprofit sector so it paid half the salary so that the nonprofit could afford someone like an HBS grad.

Elissa: Careers in the nonprofit world are often seen as a trade-off, sacrificing money for intangible rewards. Valerie talked about what drew her to the nonprofit world.

Valerie: It’s just that joy of knowing that what you’re doing is valuable and that presumably you are not working for a nonprofit whose cause you believe in. So to know that you’re contributing to that cause every day, even on frustrating days, is very important. I think the other thing that I’d just touch on is you’ve got so much more responsibility when you work for a nonprofit because their nonprofits are so resource constrained you probably have two or three jobs at the same time. You may or may not notice that, but you will understand how an organization runs from top to bottom.

You may have to wear the accountant hat one week, and the marketing hat the next week, and the chief operating officer the third week even if you’re right out of college because there is just so little staff, often. Nonprofits are also incredibly dynamic because they are always trying to find funding from different sources so you get to be in a very entrepreneurial environment, which again is, especially when you’re young, such a wonderful place to be and responsibility is basically thrown at you as you can absorb it, which is not the case in I think the private sector. The nonprofit sector is an amazing place to work.

There are so many opportunities as the leadership deficit is hitting the sector, and that is the study that said that about half of the managing directors and executive directors of nonprofits are retiring in the next 10 years, so there is an incredible need for young, talented leaders to come work in the space and run and manage projects and programs and organizations and we need young folks to come and do that. It’s an amazing place to work because you’re surrounded by colleagues that all are there for intrinsically motivated reasons. There’s nothing like getting out of bed in the morning and being so excited to come to work every day.

Elissa: Valerie’s work at FSG is part of a new and growing career sector. We ask her how someone interested in this kind of work can locate a job.

Valerie: I think especially corporate social responsibility or this notion of social enterprise which can refer to the blending of the sectors between nonprofit and for-profit, and even government is really new. I think the industry itself hasn’t quite figured out what it is and where it’s headed, but it is here to stay. I think right now careers in that space are a little bit undefined and may not be easy to get, or to even locate. I think a lot of these initiatives come up within corporations and get staffed internally but [inaudible 00:04:37] our departments are growing, there is a whole set of social investment funds, socially responsible investment funds that are emerging that allow people to have careers that are traditionally business and finance-oriented but are all geared towards a social outcome. And so, again, that is a new field and there are a lot of players emerging so I think, yes, there is maybe some confusion but that’s because it is so new.

Elissa: Valerie’s story highlighted the value of an MBA for someone interested in nonprofit leadership. While we were at Harvard, we also spoke with Andrea Mitchell Kimmel. She is an alumni of the Harvard business school of 2003 and currently an associate director of admissions at HBS. She talked a little bit about her own decision to pursue an MBA and how she knew the time was right.

Andrea: I had been working on Wall Street and finance for three years and I felt like my learning curve was starting to flatten a little bit and I was certainly building a skill set that was narrow in a sense. It was very finance-oriented and I thought broadly about my career and what my vision was for the next 30, 35 years and I said, “Geez, what if in 10 or 15 years I don’t want to be in finance anymore?” I think we live in an environment where careers evolve and career interests evolve, and I think I wanted a degree that would help my career evolve with my changing interests.

Elissa: Andrea talked about the skills one needs to learn in business school in order to build a successful career, particularly if you’re looking to move into a more nontraditional sector.

Andrea: I think the beauty of an MBA degree, particularly one like ours here at Harvard Business School, which is a heavy focus on general management, which means that in the first year of the program you’re getting exposed to the broad disciplines that make up business. So it’s finance, and accounting, and strategy, and human relations issues, and marketing. I think the beauty of that is that I feel comfortable in a lot of different environments. I might tackle a marketing problem, I work specifically in marketing, but I manage a team and I have to understand how to motivate my employees, how to boost morale, and how to organizationally, cross-functionally partner with the other parts of admissions, with the school. I think you have exposure to that in an MBA program, to all of those elements. I can speak all those languages. Even if I don’t work day-to-day in technology and operations, I know how to sit down with our director of tech [inaudible 00:06:54] and help get a project I need to work on through their department.

Elissa: Whitney Guston, a first-year student at Harvard Business School, joined us to talk about how she made the decision to attend and what it’s really like. Whitney has a background in marketing and wants to continue to pursue that interest with her MBA. She’s surprised to find that she’s enjoying a lot of the classes that she was dreading.

Whitney Guston: Because I didn’t graduate from a undergraduate business major, I felt that I needed more broad courses in finance and accounting and that kind of thing that I never really got as a public policy major at Duke. So for me, the opportunity to go to business school was not only to meet amazing people and really expand my network, but also to be able to really understand the subject and make sure that I can work effectively in the future with people who are experts in finance and in accounting and that kind of thing and in operations. Because in my experience at American Express, I was often working with people in different divisions and while it was fine to not have gone to business school as far as understanding, generally what we’re trying to accomplish together, I feel I have a lot much richer and much more deep understanding of the overall business strategies, now that I’ve experienced some of those courses.

Elissa: Whitney also talked about her philosophy of networking. Wen you’re first starting out in your career building a network can seem daunting. We asked her how she does it.
Whitney: The easiest thing is to send someone an email if you’ve met them at an event and if you’ve gotten their card, just send them an email and let them know maybe something about yourself, maybe something that the two of you have in common, and mention to them that you went to the same school or that you are members of the same club or whatever it was. And ask them if they could provide any guidance for you on their own career path and any advice they might have. Obviously you don’t want to ask them right off the bat to help you get a job but it’s more about making them feel like they can help you, but making them also want to help you. You have to approach their sense of pride I think. You have to sort of … Maybe this is the wrong way to say it, but you have to maybe “butter them up a little.”

Explain to them why you have heard of them or why you’re so interested in their career and what choices they made that you think are really unique and you want to hear more about. Most people love to talk about themselves so as long as they can find the time to spend with you on the phone or maybe over coffee, I think most people are more than happy to help out anyone that asks them for advice. I usually am. When I’m really busy, sometimes I can’t respond to people right away but I always make a point; anyone who asks me for advice or any alums from Duke who’ve ever asked me to sit down and talk to them, I usually find a way to do it.

Elissa: If you’re interested in hearing more from first-year MBA students and their perspectives on their programs, tune in to Forté’s MBA video diaries. Each week, you’ll find a new entry from one of our Forté fellows around the country, as they navigate their exciting first year. You’ll find a link to the video blog on the Forté Foundation homepage. I want to thank all of the speakers who appeared in Boston and around the country for our Career Lab events. To learn more about the Career Lab, visit This podcast is sponsored by the Graduate Management Admission Council. Visit for more information about the GMAC test preparation, careers in business, and finding the right school for you.

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