Is my desk in the way of making a difference?

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Before I became a venture philanthropist at Impetus, I just couldn’t figure out how to make a positive contribution to society I wanted from behind my desk – whether it was in an office or in a classroom. My skills are more suited to producing financial models, assessing the strength of business plans and putting together a growth strategy for a start-up. I constantly asked myself: how could I help?

Then, during my year at INSEAD, I attended a career advice lecture designed to help students find their way out of academia and into the real world. Like many of my fellow students, I assumed a career in banking, private equity, hedge funds or consulting was what lay ahead. But this lecture challenged my assumptions. The speaker was a woman who led a charity pioneering conflict resolution work with young adults and under her leadership, the organisation had become a national charity.

While I listened to her I could really sense the passion she had for her work. I was inspired; I wanted to know more about her work, but even more so, I was curious as to how she found her place there.

After that lecture, over a coffee, I had the chance to ask more questions about how the charity had managed to scale up so significantly and increased its reach to help more young people. I asked her about her vision for change and how she made it a reality. I asked about her team and more about the programmes she offered young adults. In short, I was trying to figure out how I could make a similar impact.

Then she said that there was a place for people like me. They were a group of people with exactly my skills who shared my passion to help organisations grow. In fact, they had helped her charity grow and they used an effective model called venture philanthropy.

That conversation was a turning point for me. All this time I thought that the social entrepreneurs or charity leaders around me had something special about them that enabled them to make a change in the world, not me.

Ten minutes on the Impetus Trust website and I realised that I too could help others. I could enable others to achieve their vision by giving what I had: my skills and expertise in business.

It sounded like the perfect balance to me and I decided to try my hand at venture philanthropy to see what I could with what I had in me.

After joining Impetus, my first project was helping to prepare a government bid for I CAN, the children’s communication charity, and I worked side-by-side with the Chief Operating Officer. The partnership was mutually beneficial. I was able to share the skills I had gained over years in the private sector before my MBA, producing a model of financial reporting that could illustrate the underlying operational requirements for the level of social impact the charity wanted to have. And what I learned from I CAN was that everything in the world had underlying business assumptions that connected to real world impacts. I was impressed by the COO’s vision to change the world and how this translated to detailed financial models and business plans.

After a year with Impetus, I realised that by working with ambitious and fast-growing charities, I was actually coming across issues very similar to those I confronted in my days working in a start-up. All organisations require a basic business foundation, and, if done right, they can grow at a significant pace, increasing their impact and making a real difference in the world.

Although I had always wanted to make a difference in the world, I never imagined it would be using the same skills I use at my day job. My experience with I CAN taught me that it doesn’t matter where you work, what matters is the motivation behind your actions and the skills you contribute to a cause you believe in. I’m proud to have contributed to the growth of the charities in the Impetus portfolio. Impetus helped me realise my dream of making a difference in the world, and I certainly won’t stop anytime soon.

Impetus − The Private Equity Foundation
About The Author
Elena is a Manager at Bain Capital and previously worked as an Investment Manager at Impetus Trust. She first joined Impetus as an intern and today continues to give her time and talent as a pro bono expert.

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