THE BLOG

Go BIG with Your Social Impact Career

Mar 26, 2013 | Updated May 26, 2013

Next week, I am speaking at Emory University in Atlanta (and grabbing a hot dog at The Varsity). Each year, I teach at the UC Berkeley Blum Center for Developing Economies.

Without fail, students ask me how and where to apply their talents, knowledge and passion to build a world of social and economic justice. Where should they work? What should they do?

Consider an economic development enterprise already at scale:

  • Funding 2.1 million jobs for lower-income, essentially unskilled workers, in over 100 countries, making it the world's largest job creator. (The Chinese Army ranks second.)

  • Providing access to affordable, needed products to over 100 million Americans every week -- and expanding to a new country every year.
  • Fully sustainable, earning 160 billion annually -- more than IBM and Microsoft combined and larger than the GDP of 167 countries .
  • Employing 125,000 African-Americans and 74,000 Latinos in the U.S. alone.
  • A fairly reliable parlor game for progressives is trash talking the world's second largest company, Walmart. (Royal Dutch Shell is first.) Poor environmental stewardship, outsourcing, animal cruelty, destroying Main Street blight its record and reputation.

    Anti-union Walmart has a lot to answer for, especially on the economic justice front. Low wages and benefits. Lawsuits over the callous treatment of workers proliferate daily.

    Tough enough to be a Walmart social intrapreneur? Ready to promote social and economic justice from inside the belly of the beast?

    There's no question that it is easier on the soul to work for a NGO, a social enterprise or an economic development agency. Purity is emotionally safe.

    On the other hand, as GuideStar CEO Jacob Harold goads, "Even bankers can have a moral compass."

    The human brain inescapably categorizes: a fundamental survival skill for ordering the world around us -- for making mostly innocent stereotypes - for predicting future life patterns that our mind thinks it knows. Health clinics, schools, microfinance banks, agricultural cooperatives. Government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations. Big business versus small enterprise.

    Say a Walmart social intrapreneur -- someone like you -- over time wins a modest $0.25 per hour wage increase for workers -- $520 per lower-income worker -- about a 2-3 percent increase. Company-wide, you just won about $1 billion for Walmart's frontline labor force. How does that accomplishment compare to your current societal impact?

    If you are up for a demanding, complex job as a social impact double agent, go big.