How to Change Careers to Social Impact: Step 3 – Shortlist Causes

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

Welcome to part 3 of our #SocialImpactCareerGuide series. Previously, we shared how internal reflection on your strengths and purpose drivers form the foundation of a successful career transition. Now, we get to start moving forward and identifying opportunities where you can put your strengths to work in a world-positive way.

In this post, we’ll walk you through the third step of how to change careers to social impact: shortlisting causes you want to apply your unique strengths and purpose drivers towards. The word “cause” may bring to mind late night TV commercials imploring you to save the polar bears, but in the context of this guide we use “cause” to represent a much broader spectrum of issues, challenges, and ways to get involved with them. Aligning your career with a cause doesn’t automatically mean you have to quit your job and join a nonprofit.

In fact, part of what we do in the MovingWorlds Institute is help professionals expand their future possibilities by realizing that social impact isn’t limited to a specific field or organization type; it’s a spectrum. While nonprofits are certainly on the social impact spectrum, the reality is that social impact can now happen in every sector.

Narrowing Down Causes that Matter to You

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides a simple framework to help brainstorm the specific causes that energize you the most. The SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet. and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The 17 SDGs are integrated—that is, they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability. (Editor’s note: You can read more about the 17 SDGs, and also our #SDGsandME series for more background.)

Picking a cause (or a few) at this stage of your career transition journey provides a valuable source of direction as you narrow down potential career directions. Ideally, you’re looking for causes that are both energizing to you and that you have some background or connection with. 

Do More Good / Do Less Harm

We know that to achieve progress towards the SDGs, two things need to happen: We need to “do more good” while also “doing less harm”. For example, let’s say you care about climate action. You could “do more good” by joining a nonprofit dedicated to planting trees to fight deforestation, or you could “do less harm” by working at Amazon to create more efficient systems that reduce the amount of packaging used and waste created. We all know that collectively we need both to happen, but the question for you is: where will you find the most fulfillment and where can your strengths be put to the greatest use?

Broadening your understanding of what social impact is will help you identify new opportunities, which one of our Global Fellows shared, “was really eye-opening for me: I had been limiting myself before because I was not connecting the dots between my past experience and future options.”

Pick Your Top 5 SDGs

Using the 17 SDG as a point of reference, ask yourself the following questions to shortlist the top 5 SDGs causes that mean the most to you:

  • What was the last news article that really grabbed your attention? What feelings did it bring up?
  • What issues have you felt compelled to learn more about and spent time researching online?
  • Looking back on your purpose origin stories, what injustices or inequalities have you faced and worked to overcome?
  • What causes do you relate to on a personal level?

Mapping Your Strengths and Purpose to Your Top Causes

Using the prompts above, take the 5 SDGs that speak to you the most. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to map them to your strengths and purpose. To help you do that, we’ve developed a free Shortlist Your Causes activity, which you can access here. Start by selecting your top 5 SDGs from the drop-down menu, then answer the following prompts for each:

  • How can your strengths support “do more good” efforts?
  • How can your strengths accelerate “do less harm” efforts?
  • How might your purpose drivers influence how you engage with this SDG?
  • Is there a recent story, article, blog post, or other content that captured your attention related to this? Which one? Why?

Let’s walk through an example to make this more tangible. Suppose that SDG 13: Take Urgent Action to Combat Climate Change is at the top of your list, your strengths include relationship building and communication, and your purpose drivers are society, harmony, and community. 

  • You could use your strengths to “do more good” by helping a company with an innovative renewable energy product communicate the impact of its work and advantages of its product over fossil fuels, driving more customers and helping the product scale. Your purpose drivers of society, harmony, and community could influence you to engage as an ambassador of sorts, helping get multiple external stakeholders aligned to adopt the new product by connecting its value with a broader positive impact on society as a whole. 
  • Those same strengths could also be used to “do less harm” by helping a large consumer products corporation mobilize internal support for a proposal to replace the most wasteful components of its packaging with more sustainable alternatives, then communicating the value of the change to the company’s customers. Your purpose drivers of society, harmony, and community could influence you to engage as a consensus-builder, helping get multiple internal stakeholders aligned with the new sustainability strategy by connecting the value of the initiative with a broader positive impact on society as a whole. 

Our recommendation is to do something like this for at least 5 SDGs that speak to you the most, which the aforementioned Shortlist Your Cause Activity will help you do. Later in our #SocialImpactCareerGuide series we’ll think through how to use your affinity towards these causes to find new opportunities to put your unique talents to work.

To learn more about the spectrum of opportunities that exist to create social impact, and how to identify where your unique strengths and purpose have the potential to make the biggest difference, apply to the MovingWorlds Institute