Launching a Career in Corporate Social Responsibility

Alexandra Nemeth

Content Marketing Manager at MovingWorlds.org

Driven by a deep-seated belief that a better future is possible, Anna Derinova-Hartmann has followed her curiosity across continents, sectors, and industries. When a third Master’s Degree brought her back to Europe a decade ago, she readily dove into local social justice movements and political activism. Beyond volunteering, she also picked up consulting projects for the United Nations and participated in demonstrations against abuses of power. Activism energized and inspired her, but she also quickly realized that “without the resources to make it real, even the most amazing ideas won’t get off the ground.”

This led her to a question that has been the guiding force of her career ever since: How can I mobilize resources across sectors to unleash meaningful social impact? She started off working with NGOs to help them develop connections to the corporate world (after all, that’s where the resources are) but faced an uphill battle from the start. In many ways, she was ahead of her time – she reflected that, “Back then, there was still this perception that partnering with a corporation meant ‘selling out’.” But although the people around her couldn’t see the value in these kinds of cross-sector partnerships, Anna shared that “even back then it was clear to me that this was a huge gap that we were completely ignoring. Corporations are good at setting targets, marketing, and have the global footprint needed to scale, while NGOs have strong networks, purpose-driven missions, and proven impact. I kept thinking to myself: if we could figure out how to bring NGOs and corporations together in a mutually beneficial way, the potential for impact would be like nothing we had ever seen.”

Continue reading to see how Anna’s career path has come full circle, and the role that the MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship played in helping her put the pieces together!

Stuck in a Career Change Rut

With institutional inertia blocking her from realizing her vision on the NGO side of things, Anna decided to approach things from another angle. She took her next role at a corporation so she could learn how it operated from the inside out. 

“The corporate world was a total departure from the NGO world,” Anna remembered, “but I loved it. I was able to really hone my skills related to people, project, and program management. I was also able to learn and experiment with lean/agile frameworks in a very safe environment. In a resource-strapped NGO, you typically only get one chance to do something – but in this environment, I had the resources and ability to test, fail, learn, and iterate.”

Eventually, Anna had tested, learned, and iterated her way to managing over 100 people in the business services division. She explained, “I was working with a lot of techies, and through that was exposed to the world of tech for good. I was fascinated by the way technology could be leveraged for social impact.” This piqued her interest and was something she wanted to further develop, but was discouraged by the exclusive focus of corporate leadership on financial targets. She reflected, “At the time, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) space was so under-developed that my ideas fell on deaf ears. Once again, it was time for a change.”

This time, Anna took a new role with a startup social enterprise that gave her “the opportunity to have an immediate impact while still working with technology.” She had the opportunity to put into practice everything she had learned about product development, monitoring and evaluation, hiring, and stakeholder management from her previous roles, ultimately launching a new business unit. The fast pace and ability to iterate and test were exciting to Anna, but once again, she bumped up against a familiar problem: in working with investors, she saw the same “heartbreaking gap between promising ideas and resources to fund them.” 

Anna encountered the same challenge that many of our community members experience before participating in the Institute: working at an organization that has a social mission, yet somehow does not create a sense of career fulfillment. To compensate for her lack of purpose at work, Anna continued to actively volunteer on the side with women in tech, refugees, and startup social enterprises. But as a professional, she still didn’t feel any closer to answering her original question. “It was not sustainable,” Anna reflected, “I was stretching myself so thin, I was burning out. I knew it was time for a new approach, I just didn’t know what that was yet. But something needed to change.”

Every experience in your life is being orchestrated to teach you something you need to know to move forward.
Brian Tracy

Then COVID-19 hit, and everything changed. For Anna, “The pandemic was a reality check. It finally hit me that I had spent the last 10 years stuck in a cycle of starting a new role that I thought would allow me to make a real impact, making some progress, hitting the wall of disillusionment, then changing roles to start the cycle all over again. As long as I was busy jumping from role to role, I didn’t have to dig into my own deeper truths and the sense that something was missing.” 

As the devastating effects of the pandemic rippled across the globe, Anna wrestled with deeper questions about her purpose and role in this world. She was successful in her career by all traditional metrics, and a good boss who nurtured and developed the employees she managed. In that way, she was making an impact with her work, but the pandemic forced her to re-evaluate exactly who she wanted to dedicate her career to making an impact on.

Already locked down at home, Anna decided to invest some of her extra time into exploring other options. She shared, “I spent a lot of time networking virtually, and started joining hackathons to use my skills to support the immediate needs of communities in the wake of COVID. Through doing that, I discovered this completely different world of people who do not separate their purpose and their job, but instead have figured out how to combine the two. Being around all of these inspiring people, the inspiration was contagious.”

Taking the leap

Energized by the purpose-driven professionals she met during lockdown, Anna began researching ways that she could transition her career to do the same. She remembered, “I felt like I was fumbling around in the dark. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to break the cycle of making changing jobs just for change’s sake, and instead figure out how to make a change based on who I really am and what I care about.” 

Her online research eventually led her to MovingWorlds, and the Fellowship program turned out to be exactly what she was looking for. She took the leap and applied, but when she got in, she started to get cold feet. “I was in this mental space of ‘I don’t know if I can do this, will this be worth it, it’s all so unknown’,” she remembered, but luckily after talking it through with family and friends she decided to move forward and embrace the new experience with an open mind. Anna (and the entire team here at MovingWorlds) was so glad she did.

The Fellowship begins with a virtual training and cohort building weekend, and that experience had a significant impact on Anna. She shared, “I still remember the kickoff weekend – in many ways it kicked my butt! I was astonished by how much I was previously missing out on, concepts like the purpose economy and frameworks like design thinking. I was blown away.”

In addition to all she was learning about the social impact landscape, Anna was also learning more about herself in a way that she had never done before. “It was also the first time in my entire career that I sat down to write out my goals and purpose. That level of introspection made all the difference – before, I was going with the flow, and now, I was defining the flow for myself.”

With Movingworlds guidance, Anna shared that she “was able to take all of the fragmented pieces and learnings that I’d picked up throughout my career – interests, strengths, passions, experiences, skills – and formulate them into a coherent story that pointed the way to a new path. Finally being able to find the right words for these emotions I had been experiencing for the last decade was so validating and left a deep impression on me.”

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
Soren Kierkegaard

This guided introspection as part of a supportive cohort of like-minded professionals helped Anna reach the breakthrough she was looking for. She shared, “I realized that my top priority was to move into Corporate Social Responsibility. It finally clicked that everything I learned from my NGO, corporate, and startup roles gave me a uniquely valuable perspective, and overlaying that with the new frameworks and concepts I learned in the Fellowship, I was able to go back to that original mission of bringing the private and social sectors together, but with a lot more confidence.” 

The Fellowship isn’t a prescriptive program – and Anna appreciated that, too. She explained, “Once I was able to formulate what I specifically needed and wanted to do next, MovingWorlds was there every step of the way providing the information, resources, introductions, and tools to make it happen. It was incredibly practical – we were introduced to a lot of theory, but MovingWorlds managed to connect it to real-world practice and teach us how to apply these concepts and experiment with them in a way that worked for us and our unique goals.” 

Anna posting on LinkedIn

Re-launching a purpose-driven career

It didn’t take long for all of the hard work that Anna was doing to pay off. About halfway through the program, she landed an interview for her dream role: Community Engagement & CSR Program Manager at Amazon. 

Going into the interview, she felt confident and prepared. She reflected, “I was now able to formulate my professional story in a coherent and consistent way. Before, I felt that my background was too sporadic – a little bit of everything – but now, I’ve been able to frame it as a story of creating my own path, taking the transferable skills from each of my past experiences and connecting them to why I would be uniquely positioned to succeed in this new role. It was no longer a story of ‘I’m looking for something but I don’t know what.’ Instead, it was a story of ‘I’ve gone through all of these different fields to collect experiences and establish meaningful connections that have helped me develop a systems level view of how these different components sectors could work together to unleash impact greater than the sum of its parts’.”

Another aspect of the Fellowship that Anna credits with helping her in her interview was learning how to network. “I’ve always been afraid of approaching new people to network,” Anna shared, “but MovingWorlds gave me the right templates (like this one for networking on LinkedIn) and systems to take a structured approach. Leading up to the interview with Amazon, I really did my homework and talked to different people in CSR and community engagement roles to learn what it took to succeed. With that information I could then build the case for why I was the right person for the role by laddering my transferable skills to those requirements.” 

As it turns out, Anna’s unique collection of experiences and ability to connect her past experience to her future direction was exactly what Amazon was looking for, and she was offered the job. “Being able to connect those dots during the interview is what made all the difference,” Anna reflected, “and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without MovingWorlds. The program helped me develop a new perspective and challenge assumptions I had taken for granted before. I’ve learned how to be a true systems thinker, which has given me the ability to approach any challenge, interview, job search, or future venture from various angles and then pull it all together.” 

Making a career change based on who she is, rather than changing jobs for change’s sake, is something that Anna will carry forward with her for the rest of her career. As Anna reflected, “It’s never an end-station: MovingWorlds showed me that you continue to evolve and develop even if you’re already an expert in a certain field. The learnings from this program not only helped me land my current role, but will continue to inform my perspective down the line when future opportunities emerge.’

Reflecting on her career transformation and Fellowship experience as a whole, Anna had this to share: “The funniest part about this whole journey was that all of the discomfort and uncertainty I was experiencing when I applied were exactly what I needed to open myself up to a new path. Before the Fellowship, I had this desperate desire to avoid the deeper questions. Where once I saw a lack of control or certainty, I now see possibilities. And the truth is, taking the time to answer those questions in a supportive environment surrounded by the right people was the key to breaking out of that endless loop and launching me into the perfect role at the intersection of my profession and my purpose.”

Whatever makes you uncomfortable is your biggest opportunity for growth.
Bryant McGill

For more support connecting the dots between your past experiences and future career direction, apply to the MovingWorlds Institute.