Brian McCollow

Brian is a senior student at Arizona State University and member of the Ashoka U Live team.

Linda Kay Klein about A Meaningful Career

This is the fifth in a series of posts featuring Ashoka U Exchange participants discussing “Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education.” This week we feature Linda Kay Klein,  Director of Work on Purpose at Echoing Green.

Linda Kay Klein and the Work on Purpose team have a non-traditional definition of career. “Frankly, I don’t even like the word career,” Klein told me, “when we say career, what we mean is the overlap between how you self-identify, and how you spend your time. It could mean a whole spectrum of things that make up who you are and how you live your life.”

For 25 years, Echoing Green has been an early stage investor in high potential individuals. During their first 15 years, while people didn’t necessarily know the name Echoing Green, they certainly knew the names of their Fellows who went on to launch incredible organizations such as Teach for America, City Year, College Summit, Public Allies, Op-ed Project and many more. Some of their Fellows go on to become Ashoka Fellows. About ten years ago, however, Echoing Green “went through this crisis period; we considered really closing down our doors as we lost one of our two major funders.”

Echoing Green ultimately committed to revolutionizing their fund-raising efforts, allowing the organization to continue their flagship Fellowship program which seeds and supports a new cadre of social entrepreneurs each year. Over time, the organization grew exponentially and was able to conceptualize new programs.

“We started to think about how we could increase our impact in the world,” Klein continued. Clearly, the Fellows were out doing great work around the world, but it still appeared there was more to be done.

“Meanwhile, people were coming to us separately who didn’t want to start organizations, yet they were the kind of people who wanted to have the kind of lives and kind of careers that our Fellows had.”

It seemed that there weren’t many paths for people to take who wanted to have a career in social change – if you want to become a doctor, or a lawyer, or an architect, there is a path you can take; however, if you want to change the world, and that’s your guiding principle, there probably isn’t a paved road.

Klein and her team started to ask, “What did our Fellows have that allowed them to succeed at that?” The answers formed a book, titled Work on Purpose, that tells five Echoing Green Fellows’ stories in a framework of “heart + head = hustle.” Heart asks what really moves you, while head addresses your skills and abilities, and extends into what your unique insights are and experiences you have that others do not.

“We found that all of our Fellows’ stories had periods in which their heart and their head were imbalanced, or what we call out of whack, in which their work wasn’t hustling. It wasn’t working for them,” Klein recalled.

“When we talk about hustle, what we mean is you’re loosing track of time, you’re doing the work you’d do for free, even if you’re getting paid for it; you’re in the zone: it’s bliss.”

In the first book that Echoing Green put out, called Be Bold, “we identified something called the ‘moment of obligation’. That’s when you’re in one of those moments where you’re faced with what your work is to do in the world.” Such moments seem to come out of inflexion points – where efforts between the head and the heart are not in sync. But these inflexion points, which often occur in the college years, can create a raw environment where you have the greatest opportunity to merge your head and your heart, to create that blissful state: hustle.

Work on Purpose extends beyond the book with workshops, keynotes, and curriculum tools that can be used in both university and nonprofit settings to help individuals discover their noble purpose. University students are often in a point of inflexion, which makes the topics of Work on Purpose highly relevant.

Klein is looking forward to the Exchange for the opportunity to communicate this very new Work on Purpose initiative to the wider Exchange audience, as Echoing Green has never been known for this type of programming. “There isn’t a specific population that will be at the Exchange that I’m not interested in talking to… it’s like this perfect population flux in so many ways,” Klein said.

In her workshop, titled “I want a meaningful career – not just a job: helping students find their work on purpose,” Linda will be giving Exchange participants an inside preview to the curriculum, along with Scott Sherman, executive director of the Transformative Action Network. Klein is excited to get feedback during the workshop, and to engage participants in the long term visioning and development of the curriculum. Linda will also put up the beta version of the curriculum on Pathable, the private social network set up specifically for Exchange participants.

While Echoing Green defines a social entrepreneur as someone who starts a business, it’s not the only way to exist in the field of social entrepreneurship. There’s a difference between being a social entrepreneur and being socially entrepreneurial or existing in the social entrepreneurship space, Klein said, and “we need the entire ecosystem of social innovation and social change and of people who care to be able to support all of these things.”

If we could shift the way that people look at their careers, and their paths over the long term, by using a lens of internal and external impact, we could completely change the way the world operates.