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Recreating Your Career: Things I Learned at Net Impact 2011

Recreating Your Career: Things I Learned at Net Impact 2011

Picture of William Heisel

Net Impact, career development, health journalism, William Heisel

Here are a few more tips from the Net Impact conference that just ended in Portland. The first set of tips was posted yesterday.

The mind mob can move mountains. Paul Shoemaker of Social Venture Partners Seattle, which raises funds and builds coalitions for philanthropic enterprises, gave a great overview of the future of giving. He made five main points:

1. Mass collaboration is moving beyond Wikipedia. Communities are not waiting for politicians, government agencies or companies to make changes that will improve their health and welfare, Shoemaker said. They are putting their minds together and collaborating – each of them taking on a small role, just as volunteer editors do with Wikipedia – to make changes happen.

2. The online marketplace for philanthropy is going to accelerate, with more sites emerging like the microloan venture Kiva.

3. More organizations are blending philanthropic giving and socially minded investing. Shoemaker's own organization is one example. Acumen Fund is another.

4. Competition or prize giving will become even more common to spur innovation. "It's not the one who wins the contest that matters but the 100 who came up with a great idea," Shoemaker said. (I'm involved with a contest called Be the Change for students in Washington state to devise a solution to a global health problem or to find a new way to generate interest in a global health issue.)

5. Investors are looking for social improvements, not just dividends. More investors are going beyond "green funds" or "socially responsible funds" and focusing on what is often called "mission investing" or "impact investing." As David Wood describes it in The Philanthropy Journal, this is the "discipline of investing both for financial return and social or environmental benefit". Shoemaker's idea about "mass collaboration" to address systemic problems made me think about the potential for a news outlet to start a reader-driven collaboration that would find all the weak spots in a local health system and propose realistic, cost-effective solutions.

The mind mob can be a distraction. Michael Schreiber of GBC Health, a group of companies and organizations focused on improving global health, made a great point about "Wiki thinking."

"If I told you your surgeon was going to operate based on guidance he found on Wikipedia, you would hesitate," Schreiber said. "There's a role for mass collaboration, and there's a role for expertise."

This made me want to do a bit of both. I am going to ask a group of health writers – some of them with MDs – to find a statistic or medical fact that they have seen repeated in multiple stories, with our without attribution, and then try to trace its roots. My guess is that more than a few errant facts came from the self-reinforcing echo chamber of reporters, bloggers, and even academics saying the same thing over and over without questioning the source. If we find enough erroneous information floating around out there, I'll start an occasional series.

Make your own paycheck. This was perhaps the most useful tip for the health journalism diaspora. Things are changing so rapidly in the journalism business, the health business and the nonprofit world that you can't necessarily wait for the perfect job to be created for you. You may have to create your own job. (Editor's note: Check out our Career GPS blog for more advice on professional development.)

Multiple speakers talked about how the job they are doing now didn't exist 10 years or even five years ago. Judy Belk from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors described how the company, which is about to hit the decade mark, has gone through multiple changes even in that short time, changes that have altered the roles of the people within the organization, too.

"We didn't know we were a social enterprise 10 years ago," Belk said.

I have many friends and colleagues working in different journalism models – ProPublica, California Watch, Fair Warning, InvestigateWest, xConomy, Voice of OC. None of these outlets existed five years ago. I know that moving from big operations with 401Ks and health plans into the uncertain waters of these startups was a bit scary for some of the reporters.

If you want to pursue journalism, though, you may have to create your own career path and plan on having it change course every few years. Perhaps not surprisingly, this did not seem to frighten the up and comers at the Net Impact conference. I talked to one pair of friends from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and they seemed excited about the possibility of creating something completely different for themselves and then recreating their role every few years.

The future can look great, even if you have to squint.


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