Tony Cappaert

Finding a Match for Social Impact

Spin back the clock to February last year. I was living in Seattle and working as a program manager at Microsoft. While I enjoyed my work and loved my team, I had an itch that I just couldn’t scratch: I wanted to join a non-profit.

I had several volunteer experiences since graduating from MIT in 2008, both through volunteer consulting projects and mentoring new entrepreneurs at a microfinance organization. Through each experience, I became more convinced that I needed to explore a career in small enterprise development. But how to make it happen?

I quickly encountered a roadblock. Every paid, non-profit opportunity I could find was basically in one of two groups:

  1. Entry-level positions with no skill requirements
  2. Senior-level positions requiring 10+ years of experience

I fell somewhere in the middle. I felt I had solid background in data analysis and project management that could be useful in any work environment, for-profit or non. At the same time, I didn’t have 10 years of experience. There seemed to be a mismatch between my skills and the opportunities available in the non-profit sector, and I didn’t know how to break in.

That’s when I came across ProInspire, an organization building the next generation of leaders for the nonprofit sector. Its flagship program, the Inspire Fellowship, “recruits outstanding business professionals with 2-5 years of business experience that want to use their skills for social impact.” The highly-competitive program offered targeted, one-year positions with leading nonprofits, monthly trainings with a cohort of peers, a coach, and a network to support career growth. I decided to apply.

After a process of essays and interviews, I was accepted as a 2010 Inspire Fellow and matched with the Grassroots Business Fund (GBF), an impact investment firm that provides financing and technical assistance to entrepreneurs in developing countries. As a Strategic Initiatives Manager at GBF, I have the opportunity to work with some of the most passionate social entrepreneurs on the planet. I leverage my business and project management skills on a daily basis: building models in Excel, developing new technical assistance initiatives, or managing our client supervision process. Best of all, I know that my work is contributing to a social mission greater than the bottom line.

Beyond my 9-5 at GBF, ProInspire has lived up to my expectations, providing constant support during my transition from Microsoft to the nonprofit space. Each month, I meet up with the other fellows for an all-day training on topics ranging from goal setting and project management to career development and leading through influence. I also meet monthly with a career coach to help me through the transition process. The support has been invaluable.

Beyond the formal program activities, growing and learning with the other fellows has been the most rewarding aspect of the fellowship. The transition from one sector to another can be challenging; knowing other people who are going through the same process has made it that much easier. In addition, the instant network of other like-minded, talented young professionals will no doubt prove valuable as I continue to develop in my career.

The Inspire Fellowship and my work at GBF has been an overwhelmingly positive experience so far. And while we’re only seven months in, ProInspire is now recruiting the next pool of fellows.

If you or someone you know is an exceptional professional with two to five years of business experience, consider applying for the 2011 Inspire Fellowship. The Round 1 application deadline is Friday, Feb. 25. More information is available at here.

Take the plunge – you won’t regret it!