Consulting attracts a dynamic and interesting group of people. Many of us want meaningful work, but want to contribute to society as well. As a result, consulting firms often participate in social impact in a big way. I don’t know what other firms do, but today I’ll share some ways you can participate in social impact at BCG. I’m sure the other firms have similar programs, and this will help give you better context to ask more specific questions.
Secondments/Leave of Absence
BCG provides us with the option to leave BCG for a few months to a year to work directly for a social impact organization. This is a great opportunity to step completely in the line of duty. If you think you might want to go into social impact after BCG, I recommend trying this. It will help you decide whether you really like social impact, and you’ll be able to identify what else you might need to learn at BCG to be successful in the field.
Social impact secondments or LoA’s happen on an application basis with the expectation that you’ll return to BCG afterward. You’ll usually get partial tenure credit (50% is common). On a secondment, you’ll keep your BCG benefits and a portion of your salary. On an LoA, you won’t be compensated by BCG, but the organization usually pitches in.
You often have a large degree of flexibility on the kind and size of organization you work for. Partners at BCG can often help create opportunities at the mega-NGOs, while BCG will often work with you on smaller organizations that you have interest in or self-source.
BCG has a variety of ways to provide “extra-curricular” social impact opportunities. First, you can participate in the “board fellows” program. This comes from partners on the boards of non-profits who develop projects to help those organizations. I’m currently on a project that will help a veteran transition organization enhance their ability to support vets moving into civilian life.
The second way you can use your “magic time” (time you don’t really have, but that you find anyway) on social impact is through local office-wide programs. The Washington D.C. office teams up as with several other organizations to create project opportunities for the office’s associates and consultants. These organizations don’t have any BCG partners on their boards, so the projects get organized and directed slightly differently.
I did a social impact project through the second method as well. I helped develop a fundraising strategy for a local non-profit teaching technical skills to young adults at risk of homelessness. We started with a Principal leading us, but he left BCG shortly after the project started. The way it worked out, I ended up leading another associate and a rockstar executive assistant through the project. We managed the relationship with the client, had periodic check-ins with a Project Leader in the office, and just worked things out. I had a great time gaining some early leadership experience while doing some good in the process.
In either case, these “magic time” projects will look and feel like a regular consulting project, but at a slower pace. We typically design them to only take a few hours a week (max) over the course of a year.
Normal case work
BCG also provides opportunities to do social impact as a regular case. If you want to make this a big focus, you can apply to join the Social Impact immersion program. This gives associates & consultants with at least 1 year of experience a chance to exclusively work on social impact cases. It requires a bit more from you as you might need to travel globally more, return home less, and contribute to other publications and research. You’ll likely work for the mega organizations on some of their most important projects.
Even if you don’t do the immersion program, social impact cases often hit the staffing pipeline. They’re often competitive to get onto since lots of us are interested in making a difference, and they sometimes require longer hours to try to get as much stuff done as quickly as possible, but higher cost here comes with a higher reward.
I even recently managed to create my own social impact case. Each BCG office has some annual budget for pro bono work. Typically partners choose what to spend it on, but this year my office ran a “Shark Tank” competition giving associates and consultants a chance to pitch our own project idea. I pitched an idea to help with an expansion plan for an anti-human trafficking organization and won! It has been one of my favorite cases at BCG so far, so I’m already planning on what to pitch next year :).
Is Social Impact for you?
If you get into consulting, I highly recommend trying to do something in social impact. Social impact cases reward you with the chance to make unique impact. You will also have a better chance of quickly getting some leadership experience. Even just working with partners you don’t know, or simply like to work with can be its own benefit in the right situation.
Keep seeking truth.
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