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Rising Stars: A Journey From The Private To Nonprofit Sector

By Erdin Beshimov

Carter's first job out of college with a pharmaceutical company was a dream come true. Ultimately, though, he decided to leave his job and embark on a journey at a nonprofit. And he's learned a few valuable lessons along the way.

Name: Carter Romansky
School: Brown University
Major: Biology
Years Out of College: 2-5
Title: Program Manager
Company: New Sector Alliance

First Steps

For Carter, his first job was truly excellent in many ways. "I worked with a fantastic group of individuals who trusted me to do important, challenging things. My role required me to be analytical as well as intuitive; it required me to work with people from other companies and across disciplines within my own company; and it required me to constantly learn new skills."

Ultimately , though, Carter decided to depart from his first job. "I began to feel that my work - helping a large pharmaceutical company acquire new products - was not creating long-term value for the company or for society. "

"In leaving this job for a new one in the social sector, I learned something extremely important: you should not be a vehicle for your job, rather your job should be a vehicle for you. When I first started working, I saw my job as a box that I fit myself into so that I could complete certain prescribed tasks. But over time I realized that I had to treat my job as a platform from which I enact the changes I wish to see in the world."

From Then to Now

In changing careers Carter learned to transfer his skills from one line of work to another. "My major was directly relevant to my first job at a pharmaceutical company , but not so much to my second at a nonprofit, strategy-consulting firm. However, I use the basic business and management skills that I learned in my first job on a day-to-day basis in my second."?

In the beginning, however, Carter's experience ran contrary to the popular opinion that switching from business into nonprofit is easy. "The transition from the private sector to the social sector was not an easy one to make. It took nearly eight months of reading daily job postings on the Web and plastering the world with my resume. I can't say there was any one big break that led me to my current job -- it was just a matter of persistence and belief in what I was doing."

Challenges Faced

It took Carter a long time to transition between sectors. "Part of that was my fault - I expected to walk out of my hot-shot private sector job and be handed any social sector job I wanted. But it just doesn't work that way. And it shouldn't. There was a certain vocabulary that I needed to acquire and some basic knowledge of the social sector I need to gain before I could be effective there."

So, what was Carter's strategy? "After a few months of searching with relatively little success, I sought out an organization doing something I thought was really important and offered to do some very intensive volunteering for them - on the order of 10-20 hours a week. I worked with the organization to structure some specific projects that would be valuable to them but would also help me gain some important experience. The projects had clear, tangible outputs and also included ways for me to apply the skills from my private sector job. This volunteer work was vital in helping me approach other organizations and get my current job."

This experience gave Carter an original perspective on the industry he was departing from and the new sector he was embarking on. "What I've learned in my time in the social sector is that there are many "business" functions that many businesses are not that good at and that many nonprofits are actually really good at. Both sectors have strengths and weaknesses and the most fertile ground lies in between."

My Experience

In his everyday work Carter proves that nonprofit workers are classic multi-taskers. "Working at a small nonprofit organization , my job involves a little bit of everything. I manage our consulting engagements, keep track of our finances and do some fundraising. However, most of my work is dedicated to the New Sector Residency in Social Enterprise. This program gives recent college graduates the opportunity to lead a strategic initiative for a nonprofit organization. People who join our Residency develop leadership and management skills that cut across sectors and that support a career focused on positive social impact while at the same time helping a nonprofit organization better serve its constituents.

Delving deeper into the nature of his work, Carter says, "It's my job to ensure that the program is succeeding on both sides of its mission - that it is both helping our Residents become better leaders and enabling our nonprofit partners to increase their impact. Over the coming decades, the nonprofit sector will need to recruit over 600,000 new leaders - more than twice the number currently employed - if is to continue the work of educating our children, maintaining our health, and empowering our communities. It is incredibly rewarding to be in the thick of the movement to meet this challenge."

Did I Ever Think I'd End Up Here?

When Carter left his job with the pharmaceutical company he wasn't specifically planning to go into the social sector. "What I needed was a job that had all the analytical requirements and responsibilities of my old job, but one that allowed me to add back that element of long-term value creation that I felt I had lost. I knew the social sector was a place I could find that job, but I also knew it wasn't the only place to find it."

Carter's science background is a bit different from that of most of his colleagues. "However," he says, "I think that a non-traditional background can be a tremendous asset. It's important for any organization to incorporate multiple perspectives and ways of thinking, and so a person whose major does not fit typical expectations can really enrich a work environment."

Advice for Others

"A friend of mine once told me 'you can only begin from where you are.' I've always thought that was pretty good advice. And so for people looking to transition to the social sector , I think it's worth realizing that there's no time like now. Planning and finding the right opportunity are both important, but there comes a point where you need to just commit yourself to the things you believe in."

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