Fancy an Ethical Career? The 40 Students I Met at the University of Essex Do

- Post by Digby Chacksfield, CEO

I was privileged enough to represent the School for Social Entrepreneurs East (SSE East) on an Ethical Careers Panel, which was part of the University's newly created ‘Ethical Careers Week’. Lorna Fox O’Mahony was Chair and the other three members included an investigative/campaigning journalist, representatives from Amnesty International and Stonewall organisations.

Students, in particular, are often interested in ‘ethical’ careers and in ‘making a difference’. We know from experience that many students lack awareness of the range of possible careers open to them. The panel were there to talk about job options for people interested in developing a career, which also makes a positive difference to the disadvantaged and helps to challenge the world’s societal problems.

Defining what an ethical career might be depends on your personal ethics. Our discussion ranged from how to enter the NGO career path, getting the right mix of volunteer experience and paid work, internships, working with corporates who support ethical causes and my personal interest which is around managing your career like you are an entrepreneur. Better still, combine your interest, passion and skill and set up an ethical business that will help solve a problem in society as well as earning you a wage.

The 'ethical' sector has expanded radically as ethics and social conscience becomes part of every day life, to the extent that your mainstream consumer choices and purchases can have a social impact through shared profits, charitable donation and promotion of good causes. More and more large corporates invest in social impact activity, as well as internally encouraging and supporting employees to volunteer to support charities and social enterprises as part of their job roles.

The growth in start up social enterprise and the evidence base is showing that these start ups sustain longer than traditional start-ups.  With the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility in the large corporations, traditional start-ups and SME businesses are becoming more ethical and charities and social enterprises are becoming profitable following large-scale successes such as Green & Blacks. All of this is happening within mainstream activity, no longer on the edges of the world of work but at the heart.

All of this offers a much easier choice for students thinking about their careers and ways forward in life.  New lifestyle careers often have an ethical element to them but contain the aspirational aspect of leading a career that you gain personal as well as financial satisfaction from.   Another of the themes that emerged from the discussion was how do you keep to your personal ethics within any career and what does compromise mean during the progression of your career. Can you keep to your ethics, how does this define how your life pans out in an age when the old fashioned job for life has disappeared and the 'portfolio career' has developed into the 'lifestyle career’?  Of the students who asked questions there was a third who wanted to set up their own social enterprise as a way into ethical work and arguably this is as effective as gaining an internship or volunteer position.  The start up aspiration gives students an opportunity to demonstrate those coveted softer skills of leadership, ownership, resilience and drive looked for by employers and because of this I would suggest that running a small enterprise can be more effective than doing a few hours volunteering for a bigger organisation to get your career going.  If they make it well, a social enterprise can also bring in much needed income to the student.

In this 'global is local' century, a context in the UK of localism, ethical business practice and a burgeoning start up boom it is arguably a fantastic time to embark on an ethical career especially if it is kick-started by something you have started like a social enterprise.  

SSE East is currently recruiting for social entrepreneur start-ups to join its Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme. Apply and find out more here.