Sarah Gonzalez is the kind of person who doesn’t fit neatly into one particular “box” or category. She’s a data-driven problem solver with a knack for accounting. She’s also a relationship-driven career transition coach. Then, of course, there’s her 24/7 job of being a mom.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, however, compartmentalizing these different parts of herself became more difficult. Sarah found herself wrestling with larger questions about the future that the next generation would inherit, and the role she wanted to play in building it.
She had collected all of these meaningful skills and experiences throughout her career, but they still felt very separate — which led her to wonder: “Is there a way I could integrate each of these dimensions into an authentic career that serves a greater purpose?”
This story is about how Sarah’s quest to answer that question led her to the MovingWorlds Institute, and ultimately, to launching a new career that brought her journey full-circle. Looking back now, a year and a half later, she reflected, “If someone had told me before the Fellowship that in early 2021 I’d be Head of Impact for a social enterprise and aligning my coaching practice with these values, I would have said no way, you’re crazy! But here I am.” Continue reading to learn how she did it!
Learning the Landscape of Social Impact
Sarah started by researching what programs even existed to help someone in her position. She remembers, “MovingWorlds was particularly attractive to me because it was one of the only programs I could find that supported people who were interested in social impact but not social entrepreneurs – most other programs out there were more geared towards business acceleration. The MovingWorlds Institute seemed to really help bring people into the fold of the social impact ecosystem, which is exactly what I was looking for.”
The more she learned about the Global Fellowship program, the more aligned she saw it was to her goals. She reflected, “I knew that I needed to learn the social impact landscape first to be able to understand what my place in it could be. My questions at this point were really broad: What was it even like to work for an NGO or nonprofit or social enterprise? What functions even existed within those types of organizations? What frameworks do they use to guide their work? Was this the right space or sector for me? I was looking to build my confidence, connections, and experience, and the MovingWorlds Institute checked all of those boxes.”
Sarah was accepted into the cohort that launched in July 2020. By the end of the kickoff weekend, Sarah knew without a doubt that she had found the right place for her to learn, connect, grow, and take action. She shared that in particular, “The introspection and assessments (like Imperative Purpose) were invaluable – I came out of the launch weekend understanding that I am driven to create change on the organizational level in a way that breaks down barriers and leads to more effective operations. I had never been able to articulate my purpose so clearly and authentically, and it’s something that has continued to serve me well in terms of presenting myself to others and explaining what I do and why I do it. Another “lightbulb” moment from that kickoff weekend was realizing that some of the existing skills and experiences I had from past jobs, but had been ignoring, were in fact still a tremendous asset. I started my career as an auditor with PwC, but pivoted to coaching because I missed the human connection element and wasn’t a fit for the corporate environment. The assessments and exercises helped me realize that just because my accounting job wasn’t the right fit for me doesn’t mean that the skills I developed there aren’t valuable and transferable. I’m still highly analytical and driven by data – and I realized that those key strengths can apply to contexts outside the corporate world.”
With a clearer idea of her unique strengths and purpose, it was time for Sarah to learn the language and landscape of social impact to see where they might fit. She shared, “I was introduced to – and able to deepen my skills in – concepts and frameworks that are immensely useful to working in social impact, like Social Enterprise, Human-Centered Design, Impact Investing, Design Thinking, and Impact Measurement, to name a few. I was eager to put them into practice, and to do that most effectively, I needed to connect the dots between my skills and social sector needs. Conversations with my cohort made all the difference in doing that – sometimes all it takes is an outside perspective to help you notice new connections. They helped me see the connection between my data analytics skills and impact monitoring and evaluation, and I realized how wonderful it would be to incorporate both those soft skills from coaching and older hard skills from accounting in a different context for a greater good.”
Putting Her Skills to the Test in a New Context
As part of the program, each Fellow is matched with a custom social impact project that builds on their skills while challenging them to grow. This is a great opportunity to test and validate hypotheses about the kind of role they might like to move into next, and to build confidence applying old skills to new contexts.
For her project, Sarah matched with an organization called Phoenix Space. She explained, “Phoenix Space is a non-profit organization focused on providing STEM education, based around the inspirational theme of space science, to refugee and disadvantaged students in the Middle East. But beyond the technical knowledge and space theory, Phoenix Space also provides its students with an environment in which they feel like they belong, and in which they can succeed. I immediately felt connected to the mission, both as a mom and as someone who is driven to break down barriers and facilitate equal access to opportunities. I want to leave a better future behind not just for my kids, but for all kids.”
The project centered on impact measurement, and had two key objectives. “The first was developing a strategy for Phoenix Space around their monitoring and evaluation process, which meant figuring out which methods we wanted to use to collect information, what data we wanted to collect, what resources would be needed to collect it, and thinking through how that data could then be used to inform ongoing learning and improvements to program delivery,” Sarah explained. “The second objective was to create a Theory of Change (ToC), which is the heart and soul of the organization’s impact model. The ToC serves as a guide to ensure that the mission is aligned with the strategies we’re designing, outcomes we’re generating, and ways that we’re measuring them.”
Sarah had a hypothesis that impact measurement would be a good fit for her skills and personality, but to validate that, nothing compares to hands-on experience in the real world. She reflected, “One of the things I really appreciate about Phoenix Space in particular, and the Experteering process in general, is the ability to have almost a laboratory to test things. Phoenix Space gave me the opportunity to run with my ideas – they acknowledged that I was still learning, but also made it clear that what I did bring to the table was highly valued. They really encouraged me to play, get messy, dive in, and be open to a mutual exchange of learning and ideas with the rest of the skilled experts on the team. It really felt like they were invested in my growth as much as I was invested in theirs.”
Sarah loved everything about her project with Phoenix Space, from the team, to the mission, to the actual work itself. She reflected that, “Before the Fellowship, I wasn’t sure where my value lay or where I fit into the social impact space. Taking the leap and experteering my skills in a new context helped me realize that I do have what it takes to make a meaningful social impact, and that this is absolutely the context I want to do it in. Seeing the direct impact of my work for the organization, and getting positive feedback both externally and internally helped me confirm I was on the right track.”
Launching a New Chapter in Her Career
When her three-month project technically came to an end, Sarah found herself not quite ready to leave. Luckily, the feeling was mutual. Sarah remembers, “At the end of the project I sat down with Berenika (Chief Operating Officer of Phoenix Space) to debrief and discuss next steps, and that’s when she said that the Executive Team would love for me to stay on and continue to do this work with them. And I’ll tell you, that was such an incredible moment for me. It confirmed that I already had a lot of the skills I needed to be successful in the social impact space, which is what I was trying to validate all along. It was a no-brainer for me to say yes, and we had worked so well together throughout the project that it was a really organic transition from that into my new official role as Head of Impact.”
The insights that Sarah gained about herself throughout the Fellowship and her project positively spilled over into other aspects of her career, too. Sarah explained that, “I’ve been so inspired by my work with Phoenix Space, and I realized that I want all of the work I do to be for a larger purpose like this. I knew I still wanted to maintain my coaching practice on the side, but now I’ve decided to focus my coaching time on people who want to work in social impact. Going through this experience has left such an impression on me that I regularly recommend experteering or skills-based volunteering to my own clients: even on a small scale, volunteering provides so much information about potential career directions and about yourself. It feels like a beautiful closure of the circle – both parts of my portfolio career are aligned with each other, with my values, and with my purpose – and I’m so grateful for that. It just feels right.”
We’re grateful to Sarah for sharing her story with us, and honored to be a part of her social impact journey. Considering a career transition of your own towards work that you feel good about and makes the world better? Apply to the MovingWorlds Institute for the knowledge, community, confidence and hands-on experience you need to find your place in the impact sector.