I spoke recently at the Social Enterprise Symposium at the Smith School of Business UMD. As always with student events, the audience was stimulating and the questions provided me with new frameworks and perspectives – including how fortunate I am to be in the job I am. There were many questions about working in the field: What is the most fulfilling role in a corporation? How can one make a difference? How should you be assessing a company that you are thinking of joining?
There was much discussion about ensuring that the company you join has a commitment to CR, demonstrated through volunteering programs, philanthropy, and green activities in the office. Implementing or participating in programs like is considered a way to help have a meaningful impact and be fulfilled.
However, I think it falls short. Similar to my view on the terminology ‘giving back to the community’, looking at voluntary work through the company, or at office green programs, as the way to get meaning from your work, suggests that working in a company is not in itself meaningful and societally fulfilling.
Such employee engagement programs are valuable and I have written much about them. They are especially valuable if they are seen as a means to an end through their ability to raise awareness and build momentum. But if you care about the impact of companies on society, you should not pick your employer just because they have a good volunteering program. I think you will be disappointed.
Instead, I recommend an approach of picking a sector about which you feel passionate. It might be healthcare, infrastructure, nutrition, or one of many other fields. Then, rather than ask the prospective employer in that sector if they have a green program in the office, ask a question that is core to the field and to your passion.
If the issue about which you are passionate is healthcare for the economically disadvantaged, ask the prospective healthcare employer what they are doing to profitably increase access to their healthcare services. If it is nutrition, ask the food company how they are rebalancing to increase the proportion of their portfolio that is of nutritional value. If it is a telco, ask them how they are tackling digital inclusion and if they see that as a threat or opportunity. If you really want to discriminate (and if the job market allows you to), this approach will be more likely to lead to a fulfilling job in a company that really wants to make a difference.