Sector Switching: making a change for good – Esther Kim, Managing Director

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At the intersection of the need to achieve a meaningful life’s work that benefits the social good, and dissatisfaction with the ethos that puts profits before people, sector switching is luring more and more people to the nonprofit sector.

Esther Kim, Managing Director at REDF and a sector switcher herself, has some practical advice for those considering making the switch from the private sector to the world of nonprofits. First, “get clear on why you want to make the switch” the former McKinsey management consultant says. For instance, those thinking of switching sectors in order to escape the long hours and travel demands of their current corporate job may not realize that the resource-constrained not-for-profit world can be just as demanding in other ways.

Kim explains there are two ways prospective sector switchers can find their way into the world of nonprofits.  The first, Kim says, begins by “following your passion,” whether sustainability, education for girls in rural India, or helping formerly incarcerated individuals get jobs, then finding an organization that shares that mission.

The second way to make the switch flips that model on its head. “Start with your skill set,” Kim advises. “Then find a fit at the right nonprofit.” So, for example, someone with a background in corporate accounting might begin by learning about nonprofit-specific accounting rules, then finding an accounting job at a nonprofit that aligns with their passion.

Kim recommends some tactical strategies for sector switching. Because the nonprofit world “tends to recruit from within,” Kim says, people in mid-career “may need to reset their expectations about where they can start.” Other ways to get more nonprofit experience include joining a board, volunteering, internships and fellowships, or working with a firm that provides services to nonprofits.  For instance, while at McKinsey and Company, Kim lobbied hard to work on several projects serving social sector clients.  This experience, plus a summer internship at a REDF social enterprise, helped her land a full-time job at REDF.

Kim has a potent piece of advice to make the switch successfully. “The best sector switchers bring humility and a willingness to learn from the nonprofit sector, not just skills and expertise from the private sector,” she says.  “Social problems are often harder to solve than business problems, involving many more variables and stakeholders.” The opportunity to find those answers is what’s driving people to make that switch.