Category: Working in the Third Sector

On ‘corporate evilness’

I’ve been toying with whether or not to write about this for a while┬ánow. In my sector of work, what any given corporate gets up to, and how that negatively affects the wider world, is a very hot topic. Taking a ‘public’ stance on the side of these ‘evil’ entities could make for some interesting discussions with my peers. (Spoiler alert: I don’ think corporates are evil.)

So why talk about it now? Late last year Lego made the decision to end a multi-year partnership with Shell. This caused a great deal of jubilation among my peers as Shell, obviously, is one of the worst corporate entities there is. They profit from the extraction of oil, and are thus ultimately responsible for climate change.

Expect, no, they aren’t. They aren’t evil, and neither are they responsible for climate change. Obviously nothing they do helps with the destruction of the planet…

Although, actually, that’s not entirely true either. I’ll pause here to make it abundantly clear that I do know what Shell does as a company, and I’m definitely not in the camp of climate-change deniers. What I am saying is that it is well within Shell’s commercial interests to explore ways of increasing efficiencies in current fuels, to research forms of carbon capture (a technology I have cast my in-experienced eye over before), and to look into the viable production of alternatives such as biofuels. Of course, this doesn’t make them saints by any stretch. To continually lambast them, though, I find confusing.

You see, my issue – and its not limited to people Shell-bashing, its a wider problem I see in the social sector – is how unrealistic a lot of people are about the world in which they live. If Shell shut down all of its operations tomorrow, the Western world would collapse in about a week and a half.

This, ultimately, is where I see social enterprise winning. I spend a lot of my time talking about social enterprise from a ‘social’ point of view and trying to get corporates to take us seriously. What’s interesting though is that, in my experience, it is exponentially harder trying to talk to ‘charity types’ about social enterprise compared to corporates. The minute I talk about profits and money, for the former group, the shutters sometimes come straight down. In addition, when the conversation turns to what corporate bodies are doing (e.g. in the case of Shell spending money researching biofuels) the response is pretty standard: “Oh but they’re just greenwashing!” So? Who cares? If the aim is to get them doing good, and they do good, where’s the problem?

There really is a place for the small local charities doing their work. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be working where I am. But instead of people in the third sector trying to topple the corporates and causing anarchy for the sake of it, why are we not trying to work with them to make the world better? I tell you something, they have far more resources than we do, and – like a child in the playground – they’re less likely to share their football with you if you go round and call them names.

Some people in my sector have such issues with taking money from corporates. I get it, I do – and the principles behind it are well-meant and moral. I ask this, though, which is more immoral: to take money from an organisation that would give it out anyway, and who won’t in any way be affected by you not taking it, and then using that money for immense social good; or not taking the money on the moral high ground, and then completely not being able to fix whatever need you’re trying to address?

Much like my spiel about attitudes to the election, this is coming from a more idealistic place than I usually inhabit. I am increasingly of the opinion though, that the corporate sector is the answer – charity, in some cases, just isn’t changing things quickly or sustainably enough. It has the people and the vision, but not the resources. And the charities with the strongest sense of mission are the ones least likely to want to engage with ‘evil corporates’.

This for me is a problem. I’ve been a little facetious through out this post on purpose – I know that the ends don’t always justify the means, and that you have to consider all the implications of your actions. What I really struggle with though, on a day to day basis, is seeing people with a social aim they believe in, and yet not exploring every option available to them to solve it.


On working in the third sector: #3 Having a work-life balance

The first thing I should point out here, is that after I die and people think back on my life ‘well-balanced’ will be use to describe it by approximately nobody. I am possibly one of the worst people I know at managing the distinction between my work and my ‘life’. And considering some of the people I know, I like to thing this is a pretty big statement.

I wanted to explore what I’m currently going through with regards to work. I’ve mentioned the idea of ‘burnout’ once or twice before, without really expanding much.

I am a prime candidate at the moment for a burnout. I’ve just recently helped organise a conference, which saw me pulling 8am-9pm days quite regularly for the last 3 weeks. I have a couple of days off now, in lieu of the time I spent. But rather than spend the whole time in bed devouring crap food and Netflix boxsets in equal measure, I’m writing this on the train to Bristol, where I am going to spend some time mentoring Enactus teams. This is actually doesn’t involved a whole lot different from my day job, and this is something that I know is of minor concern to my manager.

Thinking about it, it’s not an unfounded concern either. Because my extra-curricular volunteering is so similar to the work I do with Student Hubs it does become difficult to distinguish the two sometimes. Also the large amount of travelling I’m doing – particularly at the hours I’m doing it (the cheapest trains never get you in at humane hours – its almost like they planned that) at the moment does take a lot out of me.

I’ll interrupt myself at this point to say that I know that this isn’t a phenomenon that is restricted to those in the Third Sector. My next entry is actually precisely about the fact that there are a whole group of people who give their time more than willingly to great cause. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

I’m pointing this out as a particular concern of mine – as a Third Sector worker – is because of the (and I use the term very reluctantly) monotony of it. I don’t mean it is boring – if it were then I wouldn’t be travelling all the way from Cambridge to Bristol on a Sunday evening. Believe me, I’m not going home for my Mum’s cooking… (sorry Mum).

The closest thing I’ve had to a ‘9-5’ job was working as a sales assistant in phone shop. That is a job that is definitely different to the work I do mentoring. And that was great – I never had the chance to get bored because I was always doing something different. I imagine this is similar to people in more corporate jobs who engage in volunteering. They do so because they enjoy it, obviously, but this enjoyment is derived in part from the variety of things they do. That was certainly the case for me.

Variety is, as they say, the spice of life. For me volunteering/mentoring/etc is the spice in my life. But the concern is that while having a good hot curry every once in a while makes for a nice treat, eating a vindaloo every night probably won’t do you much good. I’m going to leave that analogy alone before it runs away with me completely, but my point is that while I absolutely love what I do, there is no respite.

(As with everything I write here that has a slight negative tone, I don’t mean to imply that I’m bemoaning my situation at all. I’m merely exploring some ideas.)

As you can imagine, is a subject that comes up in my circles a fair amount. To bring the conversation back round to the idea of a ‘work-life balance’, a quick Wikipedia search tells me that “happiness… is to have as little separation as possible between your work and your play”. A bit further down the page, it goes on to say that workers for an organisation identify with the values and its values and norms, and then incorporates those into their own identity. If the organisation’s values align with the individual’s pre-existing ones then they have a better work-life balance, and are less likely to derive stress from that situation.

It makes for an interesting read. For the most part, the idea of ‘work-life balance’ to me speaks of a clear separation. If I can leave the office at 5.30 and then get on with my life (socialising, watching TV, anything that isn’t remotely to do with work) then that is a good thing. I will be refreshed and recharged for the new day.

But as idyllic as that might sound to some – and indeed it did to me while I was working as a sales assistant – right now the concept of having to separate my passion for my job with my passion for Enactus seems counterintuitive. Indeed, the two are so aligned that one usually helps me immeasurable with the other.

This wasn’t really the entry I planned to write when I opened my laptop. I was supposed to talk more about how there is a predisposition for people in the Third Sector to also volunteer, and that this carries with it a danger of a point in time where one could burnout completely from a sheer overload of social action. I wrote just now that I get no ‘respite’ from what I do, and that too much spice in life might be a bad thing. That was sort of where I was going to go with that.

The thing is though, I don’t need respite from what I do. Yes, I’m tired quite a bit from travelling, and I’m not quite as up to date with the latest series of Suits as I’d like to be. But ultimately I absolutely love doing what I do. As much as I can see why people would worry about a burnout, I don’t think I’m on the verge of one. I volunteer in the same sector as I work, but the work I do does have its differences and the energy involved is not the same. I fully appreciate that there are other things beyond Student Hubs and Enactus, and I recognise that I’m potentially not best placed to offer any sort of advice or perspective on how to balance that.

But in terms of how I’m balancing the two, I think I’m doing ok. Wikipedia certainly seems to think so. And as we all know, if Wikipedia says it then it must be true.


On working in the Third Sector: Introducing a ‘mini series’

So I’ve been a little quiet lately. A number of reasons – it isn’t that I haven’t had a great deal to write about, but rather a distinct lack of time to properly articulate everything. I’ve had a number of rather large life changes in the last few months, and now seemed like as good a time as any to take stock. I’ve been meaning to start blogging again – since November actually when I spoke to someone at a weekend training event who said they really enjoyed my writing. Thank you to that person – I have been meaning to start again and (delayed though the actual action was) you are actually a big influence in that decision.

Anyway, I recently took on a new job working with students and helping them to become more socially active. More specifically I help students who want to start – or who are interested in – social enterprises and social action projects. I love my job immensely – student social action is something I’m very passionate about, and it is a joy and a real privilege that I get to spend my days working with such inspiring and driven groups of people. That they look to me for advice is both thrilling and deeply humbling, and that I can provide them with just a small nudge in a given direction fills me with a sense of great pride.

But doing what I do is not without its downsides. And recently I’ve been having somewhat of a – well I shalln’t call it an ‘identity crisis’, because that seems immensely melodramatic. I have been doing some serious thinking though about my situation and I’ve had some very interesting conversations with people about ‘life in the third sector’.

For the next few weeks then, in an effort to re-establish this blog and as an exercise in writing, I will be endeavouring to try and explain some of the thoughts I’ve been having. It is mostly a self indulgent thing, I’ll admit; I’m doing this primarily for my benefit to try to set things out straight in my mind. But perhaps if you’ve stumbled across this in a similar mindset, it might help you to order your thoughts on the subject.

So I’ll leave this here for now, with the promise – not just the intention, an actual promise – of more to come very soon. I’ve no idea how long this drive to blog will last this time. If you’re one of the people who regularly reads this (I’m allowing myself the luxury of imagining you exist out there somewhere) you’ll know how fickle I can be with writing. But we might get a good month or so out of it. Who knows?

Until next time.