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Seeking tomorrow's social enterprise leaders

by James Callander August 31, 2011


Many strongly social-minded people leave university to take jobs in the private sector, often with large, established firms, be it in financial services, consumer goods, energy etc. They see a choice between following their belief that society should be fairer and more inclusive with a “realism” that tells them that if they want to be part of the business world, they need to accept the idea that companies should act solely in the interests of shareholders.

This idea that the “business of business is business” was particularly strong in the 1980s and 1990s. But over the past decade, riding out the bubbles in dotcom stocks, house prices, even sovereign debt, we have seen an explosion in the number of firms who have set themselves wider goals – aiming to satisfy not only shareholders, but also employees, the community and the environment. Chief among these firms are the “social enterprises” that have popped up around the UK and around the world – organisations that trade, without the help of charitable donations, for a social or environmental purpose.

While they often have brilliant ideas and are able to take bold and successful first steps, these social enterprises often lack the processes and disciplines, including rigorous talent management, seen in more mature sectors. This creates difficult-to-fill gaps in middle and senior level positions. It also makes it difficult for early-career talent to find a route into the sector. On Purpose’s social enterprise leadership programme serves two needs: the desire of the ‘Millennial Generation’ to find a career doing good whilst doing well, and the need of social enterprises for people who combine solid commercial and social sector skills and experience.

About the author: after five years in management consulting with McKinsey & Company, Tom Rippin transitioned into the social sector, first as an advisor on private sector matters to the CEO of Comic Relief and then at (RED), the business founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver to help eliminate AIDS in Africa, where he was the Managing Director for Europe and the Director of Business Development for (RED) International.  As well as running On Purpose, Tom is Chairman of Spice (http://www.justaddspice.org)

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