Managing your career during COVID-19

By Roshan Paul | Aug 10, 2020
Roshan Paul | ACHNET

By now, we’ve all heard the soundbytes of COVID-19’s impact on our work. As organisations, we all need to save cash, invest in future programming, adapt to digital, care for our colleagues’ mental health, and be better communicators. Easy peasy. At the same time, we’ve also all heard that the economic recession will be deep and prolonged, perhaps until the end of 2021, which will dramatically affect jobs and careers in every sector, including the social impact one.

So what is a professional in the sector to do?

Start by considering the macro environment post-crisis. There are people who believe that the international order will be changed profoundly, others who are fever-dreaming about a post-capitalist, climate-friendly, new world order with universal basic income, others still who think that not much will change apart from an acceleration of what was already happening.

But, as any political scientist knows about looking into crystal balls, you’re almost certainly going to be wrong. So even though it’s essential to consider where this is all going, you need to operate with the assumption that whatever you believe may happen could be wrong.

Which brings me to the first of my four trends and tips for fellow social sector professionals who are wondering how the pandemic and subsequent recession will affect their work and careers.

1. Social sector skills will be more widely applicable than ever

Because we’re used to being wrong, right? That’s what our monitoring and evaluation (M anad E) data tells us. (Just kidding; any data showing our programme doesn’t work is obviously an outlier.) But for those of us who can’t smugly claim to be data-driven, here are some quintessential social sector skills that might help us thrive in the new world.

. Problem solving: Each of us has already taken responsibility for making the world a better place. That quixotic sensibility and optimism will be needed in a world where tens of millions have slid back into poverty, are facing increasing domestic violence, or finding out that the government programmes they relied on are now broke. No time like the present to work out your innovation muscles.

. Replicating what works:At our best, the social sector is usually more open to replicating effective solutions without obsessing about creating a monopoly or claiming market share. Once we’ve innovated solutions, we will need to replicate them quickly at every level of society.

. System thinking:Most social problems are interconnected. That’s why so many nonprofits that begin by running a low-income school end up also working on healthcare and livelihoods and gender. Our current crisis is an amalgamation of systems change problems, across business and government, and at the most macro scale imaginable. The social sector will need to step up and show that we’ve been ahead of this game already.

For many in the sector, these are skills that we’ve built over time. But if you need a touch-up, you can consider taking an online course, or picking a mentor’s brain, or holding teach-ins at your organisation (for instance, have your fundraising lead run a session on pitching, or your M and E lead teach the whole organisation when to see data as an outlier and when to see it as evidence). This is a great time to broaden your organisation’s collective skill set.

2. The private sector this way comes

The second trend, already underway, will accelerate: Expect the private sector to play a much greater role in driving impact. The last two seismic global shocks were 9/11 and the 2008 recession. Both led to an increased demand for careers in social impact, with myriad people questioning what they were doing with their lives.

“Expect social businesses to rise from the ashes of failed nonprofits, but also expect traditional companies to play a role.”

If this crisis sparks