Landing a summer position at Acumen is a dream come true for an MBA student with a passion for social impact. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work as a 2015 Post Investment Associate in Acumen’s New York office. As I look back on my summer, I wanted to share what I learned about landing an internship in the social impact world.
1. BE SERIOUS ABOUT SOCIAL IMPACT
Social impact is at the core of Acumen’s work. The same goes for others in impact investing or social enterprise. In my Acumen interview, I was able to draw upon my experience working in Haiti, my undergraduate internships in the nonprofit sector, my MBA extracurricular activities and my readings on developments in the social impact sector. These experiences not only allowed me to show a continued interest in the sector, but they helped me demonstrate a better understanding of Acumen’s work and the challenges that the organization and its portfolio companies face.
If you have not worked in the sector before, you should be able to demonstrate your interest and commitment to it in other ways. Whether you have taken a +Acumen course, attended social enterprise conferences or volunteered locally—you should have more than one example of how you are engaged in social impact work. Not because you need to check a box to get a job, but because this is what gets you out of bed in the morning.
2. THINK ABOUT THE CHALLENGES YOU MIGHT FACE AND HOW YOU WOULD SOLVE THEM
The challenges faced in the social impact sector are often big, messy, and unprecedented. While you may not have experienced such challenges personally in your work, you should think about what these may be and how you would tackle them. A lot can go wrong in the work required to bring electricity to a rural village in Sub-Saharan Africa — infrastructure, politics, bureaucracy, funding gaps, hiring talent, securing technology — the list goes on; think about specific examples and how you might go about solving them. For example, if you are seeking a position at Acumen, it could be helpful to do this mental exercise for a handful of Acumen’s portfolio companies.
3. STAY CURRENT ON THE ISSUES IN THE SOCIAL ENTERPRISE AND IMPACT INVESTING SECTORS
These sectors are still quite young and quickly evolving. The people working in these sectors will be familiar with the challenges and debates emerging among sector leaders and you should be too. Read publications like the Stanford Social Innovation Review, follow relevant experts on Twitter, read books written by sector leaders, watch TED talks—there is no shortage of freely available and thought provoking material out there for you to digest.
4. BE AUTHENTIC AND BE NICE
This cliché is true everywhere but perhaps even more so for the social impact sector. When working with an incredibly values-driven organization, the team absolutely must reflect this (also, no one wants to work with a jerk). I experienced Acumen’s values every Monday morning during our all-team meetings. We closed each meeting with a discussion on “Values in Action”— a time to highlight a situation where you experienced a colleague living out the Acumen values. I do not remember a single meeting passing during my entire summer without a story of a coworker demonstrating incredible audacity, integrity, generosity, or respect. I never worked with a team that so truly embodies its organization’s values. It was a privilege to work with this inspiring group.