When we think of young people, a few words come to mind. Idealistic and naïve? Perhaps, but also driven and purposeful. Increasingly, says Amanda Minuk, what many want from work is “the purpose and a paycheque.” As a graduate of the MBA program at University of Toronto’s Rotman Commerce, Minuk sought the same thing. While the desire for this middle ground is not new, it is on the rise, as is the search for the best path to get there.
For young people who yearn to do meaningful work, Minuk thinks that internships are crucial to making that path easier. They serve as a testing of the waters for both parties: companies look for prospective full-time employees while interns experience first-hand the ins and outs of not just business but the social impact sector too. In an age where protection of Canadian interns is tenuous, if executed correctly, the opportunity a beneficial internship provides even fits with the sector’s mandate.
Yet some organizations are less able to offer internships than others. Smaller businesses outside traditional sectors can lack the budgets for these programs. Enterprises may also lack competitive salaries or the ability to promote their opportunities. For young people entering the workforce, says Minuk, this difference is crucial. Minuk is the founder of Bmeaningful, a job site for the social impact sector. While she earned a fellowship at Right to Play after graduating from Rotman, she realized that there existed no comprehensive resource for others to find similar work going forward.
“I just found that there were no career sites that were targeted to that kind of professional,” says Minuk. “So I guess I also had a little bit of entrepreneurship….you want to create what isn’t there, so I started it.” From there, she expanded her site to include profiles and projects. Most notably, this summer Bmeaningful was responsible for Toronto’s Most Meaningful Summer Internships. The initiative profiled interns from six different companies selected from a pool of “non-profit, social purpose, or corporate social responsibility” applicants.
“The idea is to highlight these kinds of opportunities to encourage the next generation to enter careers in this space,” says Minuk. She knows that young people need more than just a career site; they need a window into what these careers will entail. At the summer’s end, Grand Challenges Canada intern Amna Manzoor echoed that sentiment. “[H]aving the opportunity to be exposed to this impact investing space allowed me to shift my initial focus from traditional corporate finance towards social finance and venture capital that is better aligned around the scope of work I would like to engage myself in,” she says, “which is work that matters and holds meaning.”
The six young people worked at large corporations, small non-profits and others in between. In addition to Grand Challenges Canada, the Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment Foundation, LEAP: The Centre for Social Impact, MaRS, Public, and Summerhill all hired interns. Says Minuk, “There is a lot interest in these types of jobs but sometimes it doesn’t convert into pursuing them… so with the initiative we thought it would be a really great idea to profile the cool organizations that you might not have known [about].”
Toronto-based Public is, in their own words, “part agency, consultancy, and incubator.” Their motto: “Why shouldn’t everyone profit by doing good?” ties directly into the initiative’s side goal, that of “dispelling sector stereotypes.” It is about pulling together the social justice and business streams, and pushing people to rethink their assumptions around various work environments. As Minuk says, it is possible to be successful and create change no matter what type of field you work in. “Really, what drives an organization forward these days [is] people.”
As these people put more and more stock into meaningful work, Minuk believes the opportunities will only increase. The interest certainly exists. “Millennials, generally, is the first generation that had to volunteer to graduate high school, and I think that we’ve also witnessed a lot of events like the financial crisis, and those things shape the generation,” she says. “And this idea that there’s a better way to do business, it’s sort of being driven by the new generation.”
With any luck, both companies and young people will do their part. Initiatives like this are one step in that direction, as future leaders can learn from their experiences. Perhaps MaRS intern Katie Verigin expresses it best: “There are so many opportunities out there to do amazing work and I see so much value in trying out all the things you’re interested in.”
Julia Bugiel studies political science and international development at McGill University with a special focus on the link between cultural and political institutions. In addition to her work as a SEE Change intern, she contributes to several university publications and is an avid reader of many more.