Lifelong Learning in Impact Careers

Author: Concepción Galdón, IE Social Innovation Director/ Academic Lead

In a context where change is the only sure thing, how can those who hope to have long-term impact with their work equip themselves for the future? What are the skills worth investing our precious little time in? Lifelong learning is a very attractive concept, especially for those of us genuinely curious. Moreover, in Impact Careers continuous training is almost a duty. Being the best version of yourself at what you do is of utmost importance when your ability to improve other people’s life is on the line. However, as we progress through the life during which we would like to continue to learn we see our agendas only getting more packed and available minutes becoming an urban legend. Thankfully, learning opportunities are nowadays more available than ever and come in various formats. From reading regularly about your topic of interest to setting months aside for full time programs to everything in between are today available options. Content wise, after more than 10 years in the Social Innovation field, I find three kinds of skills especially relevant: technical, methodological and human.

At the technical level, Social Innovation is becoming ever more specialized. “Having impact” or “building a better world” is not an industry or a career but a myriad different walks of life: social entrepreneurship, corporate social innovation, NGOs or International Organizations are very different sectors that might be a good match for different people. In junior positions, it is very important to contribute with specific value, be it evaluation, technology, fundraising, communication or others. All these skills get obsolete quickly as new technologies and better approaches evolve and, thus, professionals must permanently update their knowledge as they evolve and grow. Part time online programs, for example, or intensive immersive learning experiences of just a few weeks provide for good opportunities to refresh our knowledge.

At the methodological level there are a lot of very interesting things going on. Methodologies from other areas such as business management, code development or product design are revolutionizing since several years ago our way of coming up with and implementing social innovation initiatives. Some that are definitely worth learning are agile methods (Lean or Scrum), business modeling (Business Model Canvas, Value Proposition Canvas) and Human Centered Design (Design Thinking). I find basic principles of these methodologies very helpful in project management positions in environments of high uncertainty and scarce resources.

Finally, in all careers, as we advance to higher management roles, technical and methodological skills become less important (although I believe having a strong methodological background is incredibly valuable in a manager) and soft skills take the lead. Paradoxically, the more technology advances, the more important our human (“soft”) skills become. In Social Innovation, this is particularly important as people in our teams are not in it mostly for the money but they are in it mostly because they feel inspired by their work. Keeping them inspired is paramount, for which remaining inspired yourself is critical. At this stage, I find that the humanities become a critical part of the making of a good professional. Arts, philosophy, history,… basically any content that helps you connect with the basic human abilities of empathy and creativity. 

I just presented you with a long menu, I know. But we do have a life time to learn it.

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