Business as un-usual: a career with purpose

Business as un-usual: a career with purpose

By Rebecca Spohrer, Acumen+ London Chapter volunteer

An exciting program in London and Paris helps professionals embark on a more fulfilling career

“What is my purpose in life?”

Who hasn’t asked themselves this question? I’m assuming the answer isn’t “to work for the Man.” If it is, you can stop reading now. But if you dream about doing something more meaningful but are not sure what, or if you have a vision but are afraid to leave your salary-paying job to do it, read on.

On Purpose is a one-year, full time leadership development program in London that places professionals in two six-month rotations within different organizations with social missions, providing weekly training and regular one-to-one coaching and mentoring.

One of the program’s amazing Fellows, Sasha Afanasieva, shared with me how the program spring-boarded her from her “regular” job to discover a new and unique professional path. After six years in investment banking, Sasha was ready for a new challenge. On Purpose helped her to expand her network and apply her expertise to make a difference. It took her out of her comfort zone: “For 6 months you’ve got to make a project work in a completely different environment than what you’re used to. That was a pivotal point for me.”

Through the program, she learned about Human-Centered Design – the idea that the customer’s desires, culture, and needs – must be at the center of the business approach. This is an increasingly fundamental concept in social impact – meaningful development has to start from the beneficiary, not the mind of the benefactor. Excited by the concept, Sasha took the +Acumen Human-Centered Design course to deepen her understanding of how to put consumers at the heart of the business. For example, the course taught her about the solar energy company and Acumen investee, d.light, who in 2008 introduced an affordable high quality solar light with the goal of reaching the 2 billion people in the world who live without access to electricity. Though it was originally envisioned only as a light, thanks to customer feedback it now also has capacity to charge mobile phones, currently reaching over 49 million people.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the On Purpose program is its impressive network: placements include Big Society Capital, JustGiving, Save the Children UK, Virgin Unite, The Social Investment Consultancy, and many more. On Purpose connects Fellows into these networks, but but it’s not just about social enterprise – it’s about exposing Fellows to new ideas and business models, to help them apply their skills in new and meaningful ways whether it’s in business, the social sector, or the social enterprise sector.

For Sasha, the coaching and mentoring provided by On Purpose was invaluable. It empowered her to go on to start her own business: a cycling app called Blubel that maps routes based on real cyclist data, and empowers cyclists in cities to connect as a community. She applies Human Centered Design by constantly reverting back to the testers for input. “A lot of work that I’m doing now is understanding users and behavior – how you can drive behavioral change through understanding of design. It’s a way of thinking that involves ongoing interaction. On Purpose and the Acumen+ course really lined up the dots for me.”

The deadline for the London October 2015 On Purpose cohort is May 11 and May 18 for the Paris cohort. Find more information about the On Purpose program and how to apply here.

Sign up for the free online Human-Centered Design course offered by Acumen+ and IDEO.org (May 12-July 6 2015) here