In Nov 2021, YNPACt kickstarted it's student engagement programming with a career Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) between students and alumni working in social impact consulting. The event came after a student poll which highlighted social impact consulting as the #1 voted industry of interest, among others including sustainability, healthcare, and education.
Our panellists came from a variety of backgrounds, with Callysta ('19) and Gideon ('21) having been in social impact consulting since graduation, whereas Hoa ('17) and Tiara ('19) have spent time in other industries.
Why social impact consulting?
We started the session off by asking our panellists, “What brought you to social impact consulting?” While they have all had different career arcs, with some panellists joining the industry in recent months and years, and others transitioning into the industry at a later stage; they were all drawn to the opportunity to work on meaningful social causes while gaining corporate skills - a unique combination within the social impact field, and one that combines “the best of both worlds”.
Gideon shared that he had been shaped by Yale-NUS College’s culture of discourse around social issues, and enjoyed being able to re-engage in a similar environment at work.
For alumni currently fulfilling the Tuition Grant Scheme (TGS), requirements, considerations such as the minimum income made social impact consulting, an attractive early career option as compared to careers in purely non-profit organisations
Comparing to Peers
True to its pitch, the panellists shared that social impact consulting draws on the structure and rigor of traditional consulting firms. Tiara, who moved from urban planning to social impact consulting earlier this year, wanted to gain more generalist exposure early in her career, instead of specializing in a particular skill set, such as urban planning - and a single country. Similarly, Hoa, who had previously worked in a research role, found social impact consulting to have a more obvious practical output, in her work driving strategy for non-profits and government organisations.
Our panellists also shared about applying consulting skills to social impact initiatives outside of work: Gideon and Callysta, who volunteer with organisations in the area of skills development and employment, shared that skills such as taking a hypothesis-driven approach to break down complex problems, coming up with a structured research plan, managing projects and stakeholders, and effective communication skills, enhanced their ability to contribute to on-the-ground volunteering experiences and bring added value to their teams.
Inside the Industry
The students present were keen to learn about our panellists’ alumni’s experiences as social impact consultants.
In response to a question on how alumni managed instances where client requirements presented a personal ethical dilemma for themselves, one panellist shared that even in a client-centric business, they were still able to have open debates on such issues with their colleagues and in some cases, their clients as well
Students also asked about downsides to the industry, and whether social impact consulting was necessarily all that it was made out to be. After all, as one alumni put it, there is sometimes the notion that large-scale impact - the kind that social impact consulting strived to unlock - was necessarily the best way to engage in social issues.
To which, the panel almost unanimously agreed that social impact consulting was but one medium through which one could engage in social issues. The consulting experience complements the work of dedicated organisations well, bringing a high-level view of a number of industries and a versatile skill set which can be applied in other contexts.
However, the panellists pointed out that on-ground organizations often possessed deeper technical expertise and a more accurate sense of how lives were changed by programmes and policies. Ultimately, the panellists argued that social impact consulting was one of many possible career options to contribute and bring about positive impact. While it may be a helpful launchpad, it is fluid as a career space that students can consider further along in their career journeys as well. Hoa, for example, chose to focus more on urban planning consulting after working with a generalist social impact consultancy.
The session then culminated in a series of practical tips for the students. Tiara urged applicants to ask about the firms’ staffing practices and theory of change. Callysta encouraged students to trust that employers would be interested in their personal experiences, as long as students could draw out the important implications and data points for interviewers to take note of. Gideon encouraged students to view their careers as just one way to engage in impact, and continue to engage in side projects to maintain a breadth of perspective.This event was the first in YNPACt’s series of AMAs, which are intimate, casual chats we have lined up to connect current Yale-NUS College students with alumni in a range of industries to offer insights, advice, practical tips, and support in their career and life journeys.
Stay tuned for YNPACt’s next Career Ask-Me-Anything where we discuss all things related to careers in Environment and Sustainability in 2022!