How to build a career with social impact

It’s important to people to have a job that doesn’t just pay the bills, but is something that is meaningful to them.

More and more organisations are introducing opportunities and initiatives to empower work, so that social responsibility and the ability to make a difference are not confined to certain roles.

As the global community grapples with a growing number of intractable problems – including climate change, income inequality and racial discrimination – finance and accounting professionals are well-placed to make a real difference.

What’s more, firms that strive towards making a positive social impact with their clients and their employees will continue to attract and retain the best candidates.

Leah Lambart, career coach and founder of Relaunch Me, says a large proportion of her clients who are looking to make a career change are motivated by social responsibility.

“Younger people want to work for purpose-led organisations that are doing positive things for the environment and social justice,” she says. “It’s important to people to have a job that doesn’t just pay the bills, but is something that is meaningful to them.”

What is social impact?

According to The Centre for Social Impact, a collaboration between the University of New South Wales, Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Western Australia, social impact is “the net effect of an activity on a community and the wellbeing of individuals and families”.

A KPMG series published in 2020, 20 Predictions for the Next 20 Years, identifies the rise of the social impact career as a growing trend, forecasting that in the next two decades, “employees will increasingly expect more empowering work. They will want to see their labour have a clear impact not just for the business, but also on society more widely.”

In response, the report advises, “employers will need to ensure their wider strategy encompasses a social purpose”.

Shift career gears

Andrew Hamilton is the director of Social Scaffolding, a consulting firm that works with not-for-profit organisations. Hamilton says there is broad scope for accounting and finance professionals to pursue social impact careers, particularly in disability and aged care not-for-profit organisations.

A shift from government block funding to a transaction-based business model under the National Disability Insurance Scheme means service providers now need a CFO, he says.

In this new landscape, not-for-profits “need people on the board who understand how best to invest cash reserves and the importance of cash flow forecasting”, he says. “The role of CPAs and accountants is now more important than ever. It’s essential.”

Stay and make a difference

While the not-for-profit sector does provide the most direct route towards making a social impact at work, drastic career moves are not for everyone – nor, indeed, are they necessarily required.

Nate Sturcke, founder of education start-up Skills of the Modern Age (SOMA), believes anyone can make a positive social impact at work, whatever their workplace may be.

SOMA offers an online course in social impact called The Good People, which covers ideas and frameworks such as design thinking, doughnut economics, systems change and “ikigai”, the Japanese notion of balancing your skills and passion with social need and financial sustainability.

“There’s a really good opportunity to do it in tandem with existing roles... Think about how you might introduce concepts like systems change into the activities and projects you do on a day-to-day basis.” Nate Sturcke, Skills of the Modern Age

Sturcke’s advice is, don’t quit your day job, or at least not immediately.

“There’s a really good opportunity to do it in tandem with existing roles,” he says, particularly as organisations become more socially conscious.

“Still be the expert in your field, but think about how you might introduce concepts like systems change into the activities and projects you do on a day-to-day basis.”

Opportunities for change

In an era of greater transparency, many organisations are increasingly providing employees with opportunities to make a positive social contribution in their professional lives.

An example is PwC, where 48,000 staff volunteered more than 816,000 hours to support their local communities in the 2019-20 financial year, as part of a corporate volunteering program.

Accountants can also play a key role, as companies in the private sector seek to calculate social return on investment (SROI) and report on their social impact, from their supply chain through to the end user of their product or service.

CPA Australia resource: Modern Slavery Compass: A tool to point business in the right direction

Small steps for big impact

Define what success and impact mean to you personally.

Establish what’s important to you, advises leadership coach and author Ingrid Messner. Ask, what’s your purpose, your values and your passions? What type of legacy do you want to leave?

Start within your own organisation.

“Look at existing annual reports and, if there’s something missing, ask why,” adds Hamilton, who acknowledges you might encounter pushback.

“If there’s no interest in social impact reporting, look for examples of what competitors are doing in the market,” he says. Explore the concept of shared value, where organisations pursue financial success that also yields social benefits. “There’s evidence that, if a company is having a positive impact, its share value goes up,” he says.

“Arm yourself with some good data and some good stories.”

Develop new skills.

Enrol in a course or volunteer with an existing organisation.

“There are lots of great social enterprises in the community that need support all the time,” says Sturcke.

Set achievable targets.

Focus on the things you have the power to change.

If your goal is too broad, for example “to change the world”, you will be constantly frustrated when you inevitably fail to see any progress, says Messner.

Instead, set smaller and more measurable goals – for example, to discuss the environmental impact of decisions made at work with your team.

December/January 2022
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