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How can we make careers in corporate social innovation popular among young people?

students in class listening to lecture
  • Millennials are increasing looking for jobs in companies with strong social responsibility initiatives.
  • However, corporations and institutions must lay the ground to make jobs in corporate social innovation accessible.
  • Most students currently pursuing social impact careers have greater financial means.

As the climate around consumerism and impact has shifted, so too has the push to encourage more students to embrace corporate social innovation as a viable career path.

Universities are connecting the dots between how values drive students from the onset and how this could manifest in the workforce.

One survey by Global Shapers Community found that 65% of the 26,000 millennials surveyed read a company’s sustainability report to determine their social responsibility initiatives and that what they found directly impacted both their opinions of the company and their decision to work for them.

The tides have turned and jobs aligned with values have become a necessity, not a "nice to have".

But, before universities move forward on pushing corporate social innovation on value-aligned millennials, it is essential that we take on the responsibility of revamping the environment we create for all students within schools, not just for some.

In order to make social innovation a more viable career path for students of all identities, it is necessary that both corporations and institutions work together to make it more accessible.

Social impact careers: not just reserved for the privileged

The next generation of leaders might be itching to make a difference, but in order to make this an option for any student, we need to first acknowledge how privilege currently plays a role in limiting who has access and who doesn't.

Right now, the vast majority of students who are able to pursue social impact careers are those who have the means (both financially and time wise) to take on an unpaid internship or spend a summer doing fieldwork with a social enterprise.

The more we can bridge the gap for students who are stretched between their desire to make an impact and their desire to make a living, the better.

Noa Gafni
Executive Director, Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social Innovation


For my students at Rutgers, for instance, spending time working without pay is not an option, no matter how badly they wish to work in the impact space. As leaders in the space it is our responsibility to create systemic change and ensure they feel empowered to drive impact wherever they land — particularly since many of them will be joining large corporations.

Our task is to show them that working in the corporate sector can be a viable way to make an impact professionally and globally. At Rutgers, we use the four pillars of corporate social innovation in order to frame students’ opportunities at these corporations to drive impact:

1. Giving back to society

We think corporations have untapped potential to help solve societal problems, with recent events spotlighting corporations’ opportunities for impact.

Giving back to society is rooted in the well-founded understanding that successful organizations best optimize their success by sharing their human and financial resources to strategically address social needs.

2. Aligning profit and purpose

As we work to demonstrate to students that their impact can be as measurable at a for-profit organization, it is crucial for organizations to hold their side of the bargain. When Porter and Kramer write that “not all profit is equal… profits involving a social purpose represent a higher form of capitalism”, it describes a societal good that accompanies a firm’s financial success.

This success is enabled by clarity about the firm’s purpose and this often imagines an impact far greater than their core strategy. The more we can bridge the gap for students who are stretched between their desire to make an impact and their desire to make a living, the better.

3. Engaging in responsible business practices

It is essential for socially innovative corporations to publicize any responsible business practices that help set them apart, from committing to environmental sustainability to focusing on embedding diversity, equity and inclusion into their ways of working.

For instance, startups like Away are proud to share on their website how their design process cuts down their carbon footprint by partnering with eco-friendly luggage suppliers. Additionally, it is as important for DEI efforts to prioritize hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds in all roles, including at the C-level, entry level and in the impact arms of an organization.

4. Advocating for social issues

Rightful advocacy on social issues is another hallmark of successful socially innovative companies. These organizations shape solutions on issues often larger than their own industry; frequently they are also highly skilled at partnership initiatives and appropriate activism.

The value alignment between these corporations and students who resonate with social movement and change is undeniable. The task at hand then is to make sure that students are seeing that they too can help enact change from the inside of larger corporations that, at one time, could have had the reputation of being too stuck in their ways.

If we want to empower all students to make an impact with their careers, we need to embrace corporate social innovation as a viable career path. The next steps are not just limited to teaching it as a subject ("CSI") — that is just the beginning.

Instead, our call-to-action should be rooted in creating even more opportunities for students to engage with leading corporations in this space, so they can acknowledge their work and see them as their partners in change.

We know addressing today’s challenges requires the work of all sectors. Let’s show students that they can be change makers within a corporate setting, too.