Use your career to make an impact and bring change
More than 2,000 students and professional leaders from around the world convened in Minneapolis November 6-8, for the 22nd Annual Net Impact Conference – an event to inspire a new generation to create positive social and environmental change in the workplace and the world.
This year’s conference theme was Breaking Boundaries – “leaving limits behind, forging unexpected alliances, and exploring creative solutions – to transform the world.”
General Mills was a convening sponsor of the event with a number of speakers from the company sharing how we are challenging boundaries for the good.
I was excited to be included among the General Mills contingent at this year’s conference, as well as serve as a panelist in a breakout session entitled “Impact @ Work.” The session challenged boundaries we tend to create around our own job descriptions. As we discussed, positive social or environmental impact at work is not just for people with “sustainability” or “social responsibility” in their titles or those working in nonprofits.
Although corporate social responsibility has never been part of my job description, it’s certainly something I think about every day. My belief is that the skills we bring to work can be further leveraged to help make a difference for causes we care about. We just need to identify opportunities where our passions align with the company’s broader efforts and business needs.
Those opportunities are everywhere once we start looking!
Indeed it’s the participation of “the rest of us” without sustainability or social responsibility titles that will drive meaningful change, particularly in larger multinationals where impact can be great.
In the Impact @ Work session, we discussed the concept of “intrapreneurship.” A Net Impact “intrapreneur” is someone working in a large organization who is able to leverage their organization’s unique resources to bring about positive social or environmental change.
My own journey to General Mills and intrapreneurship was by way of Ukraine. After grad school, I left a Fortune 100 company to work as a volunteer with MBAs Without Borders, providing technical assistance to business enterprises in the former Soviet Union. At the time, I truly thought I’d spend the rest of my career in the nonprofit sector.
Although I cherish that experience, my two years in Ukraine made me realize that I was better suited for other things.I missed the global reach and potential for impact that a larger company offered.
Within General Mills I’ve been able to help drive change in ways that meet organizational needs while drawing on my own talents and passions.
* When the company was looking to drive employee engagement in its Join My Village (JMV) initiative in support of women and girls in Malawi and India, I eagerly raised my hand. I’m now part of a team of employees providing input on internal promotions, brand building and website redesign.
* For our company’s Think Global, Volunteer Local (TGVL) event, I leverage project management skills to help coordinate service events for 2,500 employees at 60 locations around the world in conjunction with Earth Day.
* And several years ago I saw an opportunity to help eliminate one million pages of print per year, saving the company money in materials and process waste, while conserving energy, water and some trees at the same time.
Through projects like these, employee intraprenuers are able to drive meaningful change in ways large and small, while working on themes that they are passionate about.
My advice to the Impact @ Work session participants, many of whom were job-seekers, was:
* Above all, pick the right company. Identify your personal values and be sure to find a company aligned with those values. The main reason I could work on JMV, TGVL and my print initiative was because I was at a company supportive of and conducive to these ideas.
* Assuming you have made it to the right place, how do you then practice social intraprenuership? You need to understand the business you’re in. Ultimately we’re talking about solving business problems. To do that and have credibility within your organization, you need to understand the issues the business faces so you can build a business case for what you want to go after.
* After creating the business case, you’ll need to find like-minded allies and sponsors within the company. Many priorities compete for the same resources so engaging others and shoring up support is critical. Those allies will help you to “sell in” the value creation you’ve identified.
* Finally, be tenacious and open-minded. Always keep your eyes open for opportunities to be an intraprenuer making an impact.
Watch video of keynotes and sessions from the conference at NetImpact.org.
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