The skills, networks & strategies needed to advance a social impact career

Mark Talmage-Rostron
16.08.2022·10 min read

To succeed in today’s market, business leaders must learn to protect the brand, eke out a sustainable competitive advantage, and participate in a growing market.

We all know about globalization. It is a driving force behind all global modern economies and one that today’s and tomorrow’s leaders need to be extremely cognisant of. It is a term that has been widely used to describe how trade and technology have merged in a seamless way to turn the world into a more connected and interdependent place to live in.

It also formed the basis of a recent discussion hosted by Jennifer Bangoura, EdD, Nexford’s Director of Career Innovation, and Dr. Craig Zelizer, the founder and CEO of PCD, the go-to hub for global social change, and one of Nexford’s Global Grid mentors.

The Dr. know best

Since its founding in 2007, Dr. Zelizer has grown PCD to over 37,000 members representing more than 180 countries. He is definitely the go-to person for all things surrounding using skills, networks, and strategies to advance a social impact career.

Normally based in Medellin, Colombia, Dr. Zelizer is quite the jet setter who takes his knowledge to all corners of the globe, enlightening many along the way. He maintains that he is extremely excited about the work that Nexford is doing when it comes to enabling greater social and economic mobility across the world by providing learners access to high-quality and affordable online education.

He comments on the topic by saying, “A lot of the work that I do is on the future of education and upskilling, and how that is positively impacting the future of business. I think Nexford is democratising access to upskilling in a positive way and that is helping provide the skills and the talent pipeline to actually form the careers of the future, because a lot of education institutions, in my opinion, and I do a lot of research in this, are training people for the careers of yesterday.”

Emerging skills and career tracks

There are five clear-cut reasons why you should upskill or face becoming a modern dinosaur. Those are future-proofing your career, making yourself more valuable, opening the doors to opportunities, discovering new passions, and meeting inspiring people. But there are also so many more and key trends around the future of work upskilling.

Dr. Zelizer maintains that the number one skill to stay competitive for impact careers is the ability and the desire for continuous learning. He says, “So in the past, I think many people had the image of you being fortunate enough to go to higher education and complete an undergraduate or graduate degree. Then your training was mostly done, not 100% done but mostly done. Not the case today.”

He continues by mentioning that already the world of work and education is changing so fast that a degree is now just a steppingstone. Sure, he maintains a degree is a much-needed credential that helps people build a solid set of analytical and practical communication skills, but for most jobs, people are going to need to continuously upskill. Nobody has a crystal ball though, so he maintains that the skills required in the next 10, 20 to 30 years are very much an unknown entity.

People have tried to predict them though. ‘Top Universities’ outlined the top five skills that they think employees will need to have in their armoury come 2030 so as to succeed in the modern workplace.

Cognitive flexibility: This will be the ability to both change and conceptualize complex multiple ideas simultaneously. In short, it is a more advanced form of multitasking.

Digital literacy and computational thinking: As technologies continue to expand and evolve, so too will the desire be for people with advanced digital skills to match them. Experts maintain that a master’s degree in artificial intelligence will be critical.

Judgement and decision making: Although RPA is becoming the order of the day in many modern companies, humans will still be required when it comes to the subjective side of data analytics.

Emotional and social intelligence: For everything that can be replaced by digital technologies and artificial intelligence, emotional and social intelligence will still remain uniquely human capabilities.

Creative and innovative mindset: Despite a report by the World Economic Forum in 2018 suggesting that robotic automation will create more jobs than they replace, people will still need to keep mastering their creativity skills whilst maintaining an innovative mindset.

Dr. Zelizer maintains that it is all about having that attitude of curiosity, and continuous learning if workers of the future don’t want to be replaced in their jobs with more competent people. He also maintains that it is not just enough to just work on skills, it’s to think about what skills you need to advance, whether you’re a professional with 20 years’ experience or a junior professional. So, one of the things that’s really important to think about is not just upskilling for upskilling sakes, but rather it’s all about upskilling to increase your employability.

As you think about exploring social impact careers, it pays to make sure you are fully embedded and understand the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Development Goals

A lot of all of this comes out of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDGs came out of the MDGs, the Millennium Development Goals, which is really the first big attempt by the international system to quantify and start setting achievable metrics for International Development.

Dr. Zelizer says, “The SDGs, are ambitious, but sadly we’re not going to achieve them. The world needs to be spending two to $3 trillion a year, to help develop the SDGs and right now we’re only spending about $135 billion on international development. It’s a global movement that’s been around for about 15 years, and it’s about 20 to 50 big global corporates that participate in the movement.”

But there’s also a lot of bad behavior and practices. So, one of the things as a job seeker, at any stage, is to really build an impact career, you can do it in the non-profit sector, the for-profit sector, foundations, education, and government.

Dr. Zelizer adds to that by saying, “Those are the top sectors, but you can make an impact in any sector. And too many people in my opinion, when they think about impact careers, they think of working for the United Nations or non-profit, which are great careers, but you can make an impact in any single organisation or sector. For those who are interested in eking out a career here, it pays to know that Nexford provides programs, particularly MBAs, which are really purpose-built for people looking at careers in business and social impact. And it is also good to remember that there’s a job board called ‘B works’, which is only for jobs at big corporations around the world.”

Dr. Zelizer continues to make many more valid points in that he maintains that when people think about their careers, they really need to take a long hard look at themselves and ask if there is indeed a market for their skills. Alternatively, you need to ask yourself if you are skilled enough to create a new market where you can make better use of your skills.

He says, “Through your coursework, talking to mentors, joining professional associations, is all so important because it’s not just about upskilling, it’s upskilling to understand either if you’re going to create your own start-up, or be hired by others. So do your research, particularly if you’re exploring degree programmes, or in school, or upskilling. Don’t just sign up for something, understand where the jobs are now and where they will be in the not-too-distant future.”

Start with the end in mind!

As universities like Nexford use creative thinking when it comes to creating programs for their learners by looking at the end goal of what learners want to do career-wise, so Dr. Zelizer believes that workers need to do the same. He remarks that you should never start with the job, but rather start with the things you know and what you want to know.

He reminds all that we are in a climate crisis but says that you need to ascertain if you really want to make a difference and work in sustainability, which is not really a job but rather a sector or an industry. So, one of the ways to think about how you want to take your career forward is to move away from a focus on roles to focussing on what the issues are and then choose the sectors where there are challenges that you wish to address. It could be in your community, your country, or even globally. And that all comes back to identifying the key skills for the future.

Like for instance as RPA, AI, and Machine Learning take over the workplace, you need to adapt or die. People need to start seeking out the new jobs that these technologies will create and then upskill to be qualified enough to get into those jobs when they come online.

Research suggests that there is huge value in transferable skills in automation. In the UK for example, Glassdoor data suggests that RPA developers are paid, on average, £6,000 more than other developers. And jobseekers may already have some of the skills that recruiters are looking for.

While there is no substitute for years of experience, many employers will be willing to overlook a lack of experience if the candidate can demonstrate key transferable skills, soft skills such as problem-solving abilities, or a commitment to learning and professional development.

Dr. Zelizer mentions, “Understanding the business of change is one of the most important skills sets and not just knowledge areas. The devil is in the data though and being conversant and fluid in analyzing data, whether it’s quantitative or qualitative will stand you in good stead in helping to switch job functions and careers. So, it’s being conversant in the data relevant to your industry and employing continuous learning. The half-life of a skill has dropped from 30 years to an average of six years.”

One of the ways to stay abreast of this rapid change in the job market and keep yourself open to opportunities is good old networking. Build a network with purpose. And this particularly refers to LinkedIn. Too many people use LinkedIn as a place where they want to look for jobs. But if people switch and use LinkedIn as a place to connect with amazing, curious people, and organizations all over the world, that will increase your chances of getting a job than if you just go around trying to use LinkedIn transactionally.

The remote working wheel is really gaining momentum

One of the great opportunities for modern learners is leveraging the power of remote work and remote impact work. You’d have to have been living under a rock not to see how COVID has impacted ways of working, proving that it is not all about the place of work, but rather getting the job done. Increasingly, remote work is becoming ever more popular in the tech world, but it’s starting to also grow in the social impact world.

In closing, business leaders and their employees shouldn’t solely focus on profit. Sure, companies can’t survive without being profitable, but it has been proven especially in not-for-profit companies, that businesses can thrive and grow while addressing some of the world’s biggest challenges. Thus, these organizations and individuals who work or them must encourage cooperation and collaboration on a larger scale while keeping the greater good top of mind when it comes to making key business decisions.

About the Author

Mark Talmage-Rostron

Mark is a college graduate with Honours in Copywriting. He is the Content Marketing Manager at Nexford, creating engaging, thought-provoking, and action-oriented content.

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