By Rahim Kanani, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Rahim Kanani is curator of digital platforms at the Skoll Foundation and manages a social change column at Forbes.com titled “The Common Good.” The views expressed are the author’s own.
With economic opportunity being the top issue in America today, there’s one slice of the economy that’s been largely overlooked as a constant source of growth and national benefit: the social sector.
With 13.5 million workers, nonprofits employ the third-largest workforce among U.S. industries, behind retail and manufacturing. According to a study earlier this year from Johns Hopkins University, the non-profit sector registered 10 years of job creation from 2000 to 2010 at an average annual growth rate of 2.1 percent. In contrast, for-profit jobs declined by an average of 0.6 percent per year. Furthermore, the report continues, during the recession from 2007 to 2009, non-profit jobs increased by an average of 1.9 percent per year, while businesses averaged jobs losses of 3.7 percent per year.
In support of these findings, this year’s “Voices of the Sector” survey conducted by leading non-profit job board Idealist.org found that 48 percent of organizations are hiring this year, up from 42 percent in 2011. In addition, 54 percent of organizations surveyed are offering salary increases this year, up 9 percent from last year.
With social sector jobs available and on the rise, what slice of the population should we focus on to fill these positions? College graduates.
According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, 28.5 percent of college graduates (age 21-24) are either unemployed or underemployed – more than 5 percent the combined national average. Couple that finding with Net Impact’s recent survey, which found that more than 70 percent of college students are looking for jobs with social impact, and ranking such importance above having children, a prestigious career, wealth or community leadership. Indeed, 45 percent of students say they would even take a pay cut in exchange.
All this suggests that one recipe for job growth is developing robust pipelines between college career centers and nonprofit organizations. Every college career service in the country should be developing and maintaining relationships with social sector organizations near and far in order to meet the career demands of 21st century graduates. The reverse applies just the same: nonprofit organizations must befriend institutions of higher education and share with them not only hiring opportunities, but the skills and competencies they require in order to succeed and grow. In other words, we need both sides to embody an entrepreneurial mindset of relentlessly identifying and informing one another.
Developing a stem to stern pipeline isn’t the only path to economic growth. There’s yet another recipe to achieving prosperity and meaningful impact that college graduates should also explore: social entrepreneurship.
Social entrepreneurs create innovations that disrupt the status quo and transform societies for the better. In applying entrepreneurial approaches and solutions to entrenched social challenges, these tough-minded optimists are ushering in a wave of positive change all over the United States, and indeed the world.
One issue of particular importance to a prosperous future for all is the quality of childhood education, and I’ve got examples of three social entrepreneurs working to deliver on the national promise of having a fair shot at the American dream.
In 1990, and after finishing her undergraduate thesis on the idea, Wendy Kopp founded Teach for America, a growing movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education. Since its founding, nearly 33,000 participants have reached more than 3 million children nationwide during their two-year teaching commitments in low-income communities. Today, Teach for America employs more than 1,500 staff across the nation, proving that entrepreneurial ventures guided by social transformation can impact the lives of millions while also creating substantive economic opportunity in the process.
Another disruptor of the status quo is Charles Best, who in 2000 founded DonorsChoose.org, which makes it easy for ordinary citizens to help public school students in need through small donations. Since 2000, more than 800,000 individuals have used DonorsChoose.org to funnel more than $120 million in support of educational asks. Having already impacted the lives of nearly 7 million students across the country, DonorsChoose.org is growing year upon year, and continues to deliver great value to society in the process.
Then there’s Eric Schwarz, who founded Citizen Schools in 1995, which accelerates student learning through an innovative expanded learning time model – one that has been recognized as a national example by the White House and the U.S. Department of Education. The organization’s program for low-income middle school students includes hands-on learning, discovery, teamwork and fun, led by professional educators and staffed by volunteer Citizen Teachers. Currently operating in seven states, Citizen Schools serves more than 4,000 students and is in the midst of expanding its efforts this year to 25 urban middle schools.
These are just three examples among many, but I hope they serve as both an inspiration and reminder to recent graduates. These social entrepreneurs are living proof that it’s possible to create economic opportunity for yourself and others, provide lasting benefit to communities all across the country, and narrow the gaps in achievement and opportunity for those most in need – all at the same time. It’s a win-win-win.