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Surprises And Innovation in the Social Enterprise & Nonprofit Sector

By Erdin Beshimov

Did you know that social enterprises and nonprofits comprise one of the largest industries in the U.S.?

The social enterprise & nonprofit sector employs more workers in the U.S. than industries such as agriculture, mining, construction, communication, finance, insurance, and real estate. Surprising, isn't it? This sector is one of the most innovative around and promises a vast array of exciting career trajectories.

Write down a list of things you feel are most important to you in your career.  If challenge and opportunity for innovation top your list, make sure the social enterprise and nonprofit industry is on your radar screen.  Organizations and companies in this sector grapple with some of the most challenging issues on Earth.  And what's more, there's less concern these days about whether a company is nonprofit or for-profit, and more focus on necessary solutions. Flexible on strategies, firm on goals: this is the current mindset of the social enterprise and nonprofit world. 

The sector's agendas run the gamut from defending human rights to advocating energy-efficient technologies, to promoting affordable healthcare and housing, to preserving ancient cultural artifacts.  And these agendas are being recognized.  Numerous nonprofits like the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and recently a social enterprise called the Grameen Bank have won the Nobel Peace Prize.  Needless to say, it's hard to say no to the impressive humanitarian undertakings of these organizations. 

With challenge comes opportunity.  While the nonprofit world isn't exactly a fast-lane to riches, don't misjudge nonprofit careers as unrewarding.  Many times, tremendous opportunities for professional development outweigh the modest financial gains.  And for someone who's just starting out, diverse and challenging experience weighs more than gold. The Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit consulting firm, reports that it expects leadership positions throughout the nonprofit world to more than double in the next decade.  The fast-lane to big responsibility for daring twenty-somethings is now wider than ever. 

Besides being one of the largest sectors both in the U.S. and internationally, the world of social enterprise and nonprofit may surprise you with its sheer breadth and diversity.  Its ranks include private foundations, hospitals and health care organizations, colleges and universities, religious organizations, libraries, and museums. And while the bulk of players are nonprofit, the industry spectrum is enriched by consultancies, venture capitalists, social entrepreneurs and other for-profit social enterprises seeking to "do well by doing good."

Perhaps one of the coolest aspects of the social enterprise and nonprofit world is its remarkable proclivity for innovation.  New ways of solving problems emerge every day, with workers increasingly harnessing new technological developments to promote the common good. Newly burgeoning green technologies and investments are only a preview of things to come. 

The note on the nonprofit world's door says "All Are Welcome." What counts is your passion for change and the ability to promote it. In the end, you just can't beat the feeling of working toward something larger than yourself. 

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