Attracting social enterprise talent

By Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

What does the age demographic in your social enterprise look like? Old? Young? Somewhere in between? Perhaps if you’re a young social entrepreneur yourself, you’ve attracted people through your college network and kept the team looking quite like you. And vice versa perhaps. I recently interviewed a powerhouse duo (women) who are running a global social business that’s still very much in start-up phase despite its successes. They—one of them the founder and the other the vice president of business development—argued that sometimes being further along in your career can have an enormous impact on the way you operate your business. I mean, you’ve lived and learned more so that argument is one that exists in any profession. And on the other side, young people supposedly have more energy, vitality and a willingness to try new things. At the end of October, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published a short piece called “Hiring Talent for the Social Enterprise Means Going Young: A Look at the Prospects and Perils of Building the Right Team.” The argument of the article, which was written by David Batstone, a University of San Francisco professor of business management, relies on the assumption that social enterprises are distinct, especially in terms of recruiting talent. Batstone writes:

Truthfully, just about every social enterprise will turn to a younger staff to some degree. The budget line available for salaries will lead a start up in this direction, but equally significant is the fact that recent university graduates possess the technical and media skills that a social enterprise needs. The most important reason of all, however, is that it is much easier to hardwire strategy and skills into an open, inquiring mind than it is to teach an old dog new tricks. Nowhere in business is this lesson more true than in the world of social enterprise. Learning to “speak” hybrid and “act” hybrid comes with immersion. Think of it as the children of first-generation immigrants. They do not identify themselves as coming from an old world or a new world, but the world of their own making.

Maybe it’s impossible to say that “such and such” is the right age to hire for a social enterprise, however, what Batstone argues is that establishing a learning culture is what’s key to the progress of a hybrid. Many professionals—young and old—don’t know how to navigate social enterprise right off the bat. Years of experience don’t change that and neither do recent years of school. What’s more important is how talent can work in start-up culture, that is, by themselves and also for themselves.

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