Panelists dish on making a career out of social change

Impact Street: A Social Impact Career Panel brought together six speakers working in social enterprises

· November 30, 2012, 1:41 am

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Carolyn Lim | DP

Second-year MBA candidate Elaine Chou, the co-president and managing director of the Wharton Social Venture Fund, speaks at the Penn Social Entrepreneurship Mentoring Program’s event on careers in social impact.


There’s more to business than just pulling profits.

Last night, students from Wharton and other schools alike gathered to hear how to turn a passion for social change into a career at Impact Street: A Social Impact Career Panel.

The Events Committee for the Penn Social Entrepreneurship Mentoring Program organized a panel of six speakers to discuss their employment with various social enterprises and what students should do to pursue a similar career. These panelists ranged from a current Wharton junior to recent Wharton graduates to a history major from Haverford College.

“What I loved was that we didn’t mean to have such a diverse group of panelists, but the way it came together was so inspiring,” said Wharton junior Johanne Chu, a member of the PennSEM Events Committee.

Umi Howard, director of The Lipman Family Prize Graduate Program in Wharton and moderator of the panel, opened the discussion by asking the panelists to define the phrase “social enterprise” and what types of organizations typically fall in or out of that category.

“It’s doing good, whether it’s through traditional aid or investment or some hybrid of the two,” said Matt Joyce, executive director of the GreenLight Fund’s Philadelphia branch. “It’s a massive pool that everybody wants to jump in, it’s the word of the day. Everybody wants to be there because it’s a term that people resonate with right now.”

Elaine Chou, co-president of the Wharton Social Venture Fund and a current Wharton MBA candidate offered another idea about what social enterprise means. “Whatever bucket you fall in is fine as long as the organization is prioritizing its social component as much as its financial component. However, you want to do that is up to the organization,” Chou said.

So how do you do that? What all six panelists seemed to have in common is a passion for a particular cause. According to Wharton senior Charlie Javice, founder of PoverUP, entrepreneurship is different from business because it involves the confidence that a group of people have the drive and ability to make a change.

2005 College and Wharton graduate Gabriel Mandujano created Wash Cycle Laundry out of a two-fold concern for sustainability and the inefficacy of the welfare-to-work job placement system. His company delivers laundry via bicycles and employs people formerly reliant on public benefits at a much greater retention rate than the large-scale governmental program.

However, the six-figure job offerings Wharton graduates may be accustomed to accepting after graduation may lead towards a different route. Panelist Mark Chou, associate at the Partnership for New York City Fund, left his job as an analyst with the Blackstone Group in New York to pursue his true passion. “Everyone is different, so I’m not going to describe one path as intrinsically better than the other,” he said.

Joyce added, “But you don’t have to give up that thing that you love to do. You can find work that you like to do for a place that you’re proud of.”

There are definite tradeoffs between the two paths. For example, Elaine Chou said the “big business” route offers credibility, skills training and a broad understanding of industries, but Javice recalled seeing friends working long hours as analysts and wishing they were more considered in the thought process of the company.

Above all, the panelists agreed that entering the field of social enterprise requires optimism, confidence and the willingness to accept that you may or may not graduate with a job in hand.

This article has been updated to reflect that Mark Chou did indeed have his job at the Partnership Fund lined up before leaving Blackstone. The article originally stated that Chou left the Blackstone Group with no next job planned.

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