Online Extra: The Corporate Springboard to Community Service

For some young idealists, a corporate job is the first step in a career working for nonprofits

By Sophia Asare

In April, 24-year-old Funa Maduka gave up a lucrative future as an analyst with Goldman Sachs Group (GS ) for a very different kind of life. She chose to work in St. Kitts in the West Indies, where she's developing a business plan for a clinic to help victims of HIV and AIDS as a staffer for the Clinton Foundation.

The two gigs aren't as different as they might appear. In her new job, Maduka is using the analysis of statistical models she learned at Goldman to forecast demand for antiretroviral drugs. And she's cutting through red tape like a pro. "The corporate culture helps you build the cunning to maneuver in a nonprofit bureaucracy," says Maduka.


  Unconventional career paths like Maduka's are becoming more appealing to a generation aiming to use business know-how to effect social change. It's no secret that many of today's teens are service-minded. One recent study of more than 263,000 college freshmen found that 83% performed volunteer work in the past year. For these young idealists, high-powered corporate jobs aren't automatically enduring career choices. They can be the first step on a path to the nonprofit world, which often benefits from for-profit management skills (see,1/6/05, "B-School Students with a Cause").

As executive director of Net Impact, an organization of students and business leaders working to solve social problems, Liz Maw has come across a growing number of corporate defectors. "We have seen more interest among business students and professionals in careers with nonprofits," she says.

The nonprofits applaud the influx of young talent from the corporate world, but the companies doing the training are less thrilled with the trend. After all, notes Paul Sanchez, global director of employee research at Mercer Human Resources Consulting, every management trainee who bolts represents a huge investment—in recruiting and training costs, for starters—that can't be recouped.


  Beyond training, there are other benefits that trainees get from their time in the corporate world. Many take the opportunity to repay their student loans, something that may not be possible on a nonprofit salary. Others get a healthy dose of the corporate work ethic.

They also develop contacts that could benefit their future causes. When Daphna Gutman served as corporate sales associate with KBC Financial Products in New York, her business associates were just that: colleagues. But in 2001, when she left to teach fifth grade in Brooklyn as part of the city's Teaching Fellows program, they became potential donors. One of them agreed to sponsor her school's "Opera Is Elementary" outreach program, which brings students to performances at Lincoln Center.

"She was the prime motivator of bringing the program to my school," says Gutman, 30. "I wouldn't have made this contact if I didn't work at KBC."


  Still, given the choice, most companies would rather see the person they trained making money for the company, not teaching fifth grade. So some are giving young, civic-minded employees an alternative: Instead of calling it quits, keep the day job but work with a nonprofit on the side.

One of the first to try this was Bain & Co. Since 1996, the consulting firm has allowed senior associates who have been on board more than two years to work a full-time stint with a nonprofit for three to six months, then return to Bain. In recent years the number of people and organizations participating has grown significantly. It's a way for a company to share its employees' idealism, while getting to keep them, too.

Asare is an intern with BusinessWeek in New York

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