Can you learn different skills at a social enterprise? Are you more likely to become an entrepreneur yourself? Chad Lubelsky of the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation answers our questions, just before the deadline for UK and Canadian students to join social enterprises as interns in each other's countries.
Why should students intern with a social enterprise as supposed to another sort of business?
It depends on what their goals are. A social enterprise is a type of business that has a financial bottom line, but also has a social and environmental mission. Each of these goals is seen as equal, so the financial results should not detract from the business's social or environmental impact, and vice versa. If you're interning at a social enterprise, you should care about all three goals.
What skills might you learn working at a social enterprise?
That depends on the social enterprise, as they run the gamut. There are small social enterprises of three people, and large companies that employ thousands of staff. Depending on the size of the business, you will probably be called upon to wear many different hats. The major thing they all have in common is a focus on social or environmental outcomes, while keeping a financial mindset.
In terms of skills or experiences that you could learn: it depends on the company and who you’re working with. You should choose an organisation that's aligned with your values and the type of world that you want to contribute to.
Social entrepreneurship, de facto, requires you to be more entrepreneurial. You’re inventing the wheel, so you’re called upon to think on your feet. You're likely to be surrounded by innovation and learn non-traditional methods of solving problems. And you're more likely to have an experience that is rounded in its view of the world, as social enterprises tend to care about sustainability.
Would an internship encourage more young people to start their own social enterprises?
It’s not that an internship paves the way for students to begin their own business or social enterprises. Instead, it creates a path of clarity. You realise, 'I like this and I didn’t like that'. What anyone chooses to do afterwards is up to them, but it gives young people new experiences through hands-on learning, and the capacity to build a network of resources to access once they are out of school. They have this pool of resources, contacts and teachers to tap into later, whether they choose to work for a social enterprise or not.
What's the value of doing an internship abroad, as opposed to a similar placement at home?
When you’re in a different place, you’re more open to things because you have a traveller's mentality. You are experiencing a different culture and you can experience other ways of doing things. Going abroad gives you a much more comprehensive way of learning.
Chad is programme lead for RECODE, an initiative of the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation that provides opportunities for students.
Find out more about eligibility criteria and apply for social enterprise work experience in Canada or in the UK by 15 February 2015.