Talent in the social impact sector

Common challenges and smart solutions for attracting, developing and retaining talent in our sector

GSEN teamed up with over 50 entrepreneur support organisations to capture a diversity of perspectives and experiences when it comes to attracting, developing and retaining talent in our sector. The resulting Talent Project consists of three parts: a blog series, a report summarising our talent research and a social media campaign to break the silence surrounding talent challenges experienced by intermediaries of the social impact sector. All of those aim to present the challenges, opportunities and potential solutions around this diverse issue. The 15 blogs are written by thought leaders that deeply care about the topic; they will be published one-by-one through different online magazines around the world.

The Talent Blog series is a collection of perspectives from 15 social leaders in 9 different countries. With contributions from social entrepreneurs, social investors, accelerators, incubators and foundations, each blog shares unique insights on the topic.

The series challenges CEOs, senior leaders, line managers and board members to reflect on their personal and organisational approach to talent management. With practical guidance and lessons shared, the blogs offer a variety of ideas and inspiration to rethink one’s talent management strategy.

Contributors to the series:

  1. Carmen Di Rito, Chief Development Officer, LifeCo UnLtd South AfricaThe Art of Unleashing Talent (STANFORD SOCIAL INNOVATION REVIEW)
  2. Gaby Fisch, Director of Talent Development, MaRs Discovery DistrictPrioritise Time and Space for Real Learning & Development (PIONEERS POST)
  3. John Cawley, Vice President, the McConnell Foundation Reflections on Talent: an Intergenerational Perspective (ALLIANCE MAGAZINE)
  4. Roshan Paul, Co-Founder & CEO, Amani Institute A Bigger Challenge than Supporting Social Entrepreneurs (NEXT BILLION)
  5. Nicole Etchart, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, NESsT – Five Keys to Raising Social Enterprises’ Talent Quotient (NEXT BILLION)
  6. Rafael Achondo, CEO, Matteria – Millennials Seek Shift in Workplace Culture (ASPEN NETWORK OF DEVELOPMENT ENTREPRENEURS)
  7. Tom Rippin, CEO, On Purpose – Why we have to move beyond the Social Entrepreneur (PEBBLE MAGAZINE)
  8. Heidi Kikoler, Coach, Return on Talent3 Completely Free Ways to Begin to Bring the Best Out of the People You Lead (*TBD – formerly THE CHANGER)
  9. Ding Li, Vice President, Non-Profit Incubator (NPI) – The Key to Developing the Social Sector in China (STANFORD SOCIAL INNOVATION REVIEW)
  10. Vanessa Reis, CEO, Edge ColombiaCulture Eats Strategy for Breakfast (PIONEERS POST)
  11. Jana Tepe & Anna Kaiser, Co-Founders and Job-sharing CEOs, Tandemploy GmbHThe End of Talent Management (INNOVATION EXCELLENCE)
  12. Ryan Little, Consultant and former Project Manager with BMW Foundation Herbert QuandtRamping Up Talent Acquisition for the Social Sector
  13. Naomi Ryland, Co-Founder & CEO, *tbd (formerly the Changer) – Attracting a Younger Generation of Talent
  14. Rachel Crawford, Portfolio Programme Manager: Talent in Emerging Markets, Village Capital GroupHelp Entrepreneurs Raise Talent, Not Just Capital
  15. Krisztina Tora, Lead, Global Social Entrepreneurship Network – Talent Challenges in the Startup Social Entrepreneur Support Space

Mandarin language blogs

  1. Gaby Fisch, Director of Talent Development, MaRs Discovery District – Prioritise Time and Space for Real Learning & Development

German language blogs

  1. Tom Rippin, CEO, On Purpose – Why we have to move beyond the Social Entrepreneur
  2. Rafael Achondo, CEO, Matteria – Millennials Seek Shift in Workplace Culture 
  3. Carmen Di Rito, Chief Development Officer, LifeCo UnLtd South Africa – The Art of Unleashing Talent 

As well as highlighting the issue, the blog series presents a range of actual and potential solutions. We will be sharing the blogs one-by-one as they are published and the project will conclude with a report summarising our findings.


Background to the project

The BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt and the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network both work with international networks of social innovation organisations. In 2016 we began to notice an unwelcome trend: organisations in the social impact sector were struggling to attract, develop and retain employees.

We set up the Talent Project to explore this issue further and determine if this was a widespread, chronic challenge. Teaming up with our networks, we conducted 25 interviews and surveyed more than 50 organisations working in the space.

The results confirmed the hypothesis that social enterprises and their supporters were experiencing challenges in attracting, developing and retaining talent. Although the diversity of challenges was broad, some trends did emerge.

Many leaders shared a concern that our sector is underinvesting in talent: talent management is not simply a question of salaries, though this certainly has a role, but also a matter of how prepared we are to allocate resources and thought to finding and developing talented professionals who will help us achieve greater impact. The findings also raised the need to share lessons and put this issue on the radar.

Stay tuned for our final report which distills our learnings around talent in the social impact sector.

The project is lead by Anne Kathrin Merkle. Please reach out to her if you have questions or would like to participate in the project in any way.