The other 690

Last week when speaking on the “Creating Private Capital Markets” Panel at the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, I noted that one of the big opportunities for Acumen Fund and other organizations in our sector is to capitalize on a huge influx of talent.  Demand to work in our sector is at an all-time high, the result of the rising profile of social enterprise; the blowup in the financial sector (a lot of people with financial skills are rethinking their path); and, hopefully, because society as a whole (or at least the younger generation) is taking a momentary pause to reconsider our definitions of success.

Acumen Fund and other organizations in our sector are currently experiencing overwhelming levels of interest.  One data point that I mentioned on the panel: for the 10 summer internship positions Acumen Fund has open globally, we received 700 applications from an amazing group of candidates.  We’re going to do our best to find the 10 people who are the best fit for our needs this summer, but the bigger, harder question is, “What about the other 690?”

This question was salient enough that Jonathan Greenblatt, co-founder of Ethos Water, saw fit to repeat it in the lunchtime plenary panel where he spoke together with Bill Drayton, CEO of Ashoka; Clara Miller, CEO of the NonProfit Finance Fund; and lecturer and political analyst David Gergen.  This helped me realize that “the other 690” isn’t just a question for Acumen Fund, it’s a question for our sector.  With all of the creative destruction underway in the global economy, there’s a fundamental shift in how talent will be deployed.  For burgeoning sectors like ours, this creates a demand/supply imbalance for talent, and a collective opportunity if we want to take it.

A couple of ideas to chew on:

What if some of the economic stimulus money were used to create a new Global Peace Corps, one that takes some of the best and brightest people of all ages from around the world and gives them opportunities to work on projects (private and public) that are creating positive social change?

What if all of the 690 people who applied to Acumen Fund’s summer internship – plus their colleagues who are interested in working at Endeavor and Root Capital and the World Resources Institute and the International Aids Vaccine Initiative and the Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation and a hundred other fascinating places to work – created vibrant, online communities on Ning or Facebook or Twitter or through NetImpact to share their own entrepreneurial business ideas, and what if the best of these ideas were made available to early-stage investors and grantmakers and social venture competitions run by business schools around the world?

What else should we be doing?

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10 thoughts on “The other 690

  1. A few of the things you touched on are already being done. Check out echoing green website They provide seed funding for social business startups every year. There are other examples out there, but people must be willing to look for them and think outside the box. Your CEO, Jacqueline Novogratz, worked in Africa before founding Acumen Fund.

    I was also at the social enterprise conference and what I heard were people who wanted to go into Ibanking and PE, but couldn’t so they were looking for the next best thing. I would bet that the 690 number is somewhat inflated with these “convenient social converts” and will likely go back down once other markets open up. I just hope the Acumen Fund and other like organizations will be able to choose the right people.

  2. Hey there. I love the idea of channeling latent talent and corporate human capital toward public interest programs and nonprofit organizations working in this space. A few years ago, I wrote a piece on creating a ‘Social Enterprise Corps’ which somewhat addresses this topic. Sasha’s post reminds me that this concept perhaps is still seems relevant. Check it out here:

  3. Jonathan, thanks for this comment, and I love that you were blogging about this two-and-a-half years ago! Maybe now between the financial crisis, the stimulus package, and the current administration we will create some more big opportunities to channel talent in new ways for social change.

  4. Yofree, my sense of the opportunity we have is NOT to be “the next best thing” but rather to create a new path in life where people use their skills (financial analysis, strategic, etc.) to create a new career path. Obviously some folks will just throw their hats in the ring because they can no longer apply to Lehman, but there are also a lot of people who were in finance who are waking up to a new reality and asking themselves whether that path was going to give them meaning and purpose in their lives. If the Acumens of the world can only take on 10 people then there’s no chance that we take a lot of people who are on the fence and show them a new way. Hence the need to do something big.

  5. This is a stunningly good question, at once sobering for the new reality it reflects and inspiring for the potential it represents.

    First, a little background: I edit a small news aggregator that focuses on health issues, humanitarian work and technology that supports both ( It has a few twists. Stories (breaking news, research papers, blog posts, websites, book reviews, e-books — print, audio, video) are grouped for contextual relevance, rather than organized by category, which makes for a rather eclectic page.

    TrackerNews is an experiment-in-progress. Among the surprises so far: how much of an overall picture can actually be sketched using only the “dots” of related stories. Lately, several groupings have highlighted parallel stories from around the world on subjects ranging from homelessness & refugees, to global drought, street medicine and microfinance. Very quickly it becomes clear that need transcends geopolitical boundaries. Fortunately, so do ideas. (Grameen in New York?!)

    Although intern spots may be hard to come by, these are boom times for “need,” so there has got to be a way to tap into all that passion and expertise. To add to your pot of ideas, I wonder whether it might be possible to develop and channel social entrepreneurial investment though existing infrastructure? If the point, or a part of it, is to develop a deep and broad corps of social entrepreneurial talent, it almost doesn’t matter where one begins — around the corner or across the world — so long as the work is thoughtful and useful.

    What if banks and credit unions were encouraged to develop small divisions for social entrepreneurial investment? Perhaps some of the funding would come from the government. The idea would be to replicate the Acumen approach, though at a smaller scale, taking advantage of Acumen’s hard won lessons learned and wise commitment to “patient capitalism.” If there were more Acumen’s (Acumini’s?), there would, at least theoretically, be more internships and opportunity.

    I am admittedly somewhat out of my depth with this. So per my standard rule, use what’s useful, and please ignore the rest…

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