Hello one and all.
To those new to this blog, please allow me to introduce myself first. I am a fly, a humble, little catalyst of the stories of Kalki Evian.
I find that being a fly has offered several advantages - constant observation of human nature and concepts being chief among them. I spent a great deal of time interacting with authors, exploring their creativity, sharing some of my own, and learning to pronounce the letter 's'! Well, learning never ends, and so we move from the fictional to the factual world of consumers, cultures and companies.
So, welcome and buona lettura!
Fly: Hello, John. How are we today?
John: Things are good. Getting more and more excited for an upcoming trip to Kingston which includes the “Career Mashup” day to chat with Smith School of Business students about careers in the non-profit sector. The next day, SFC is holding its 3rd annual “case competition” to recruit and evaluate our next consultants.
Fly: Exciting stuff. I cannot help but start with perhaps the most curious element of your experience: consulting in the public sector. How did that come about?
John: There are a couple of reasons behind this path. First, I grew up in a neighborhood with many social issues (such as drugs, gangs, and violence), so I understand the importance of the work charities provide in these communities. Second, just after graduating from Queen’s MBA, I participated in a case competition featuring a non-profit client. I found the client’s lack of resources and need to market itself in a highly competitive environment to be challenging and yet rewarding because of the need for creativity in such a situation. Creativity is something I’ve always valued.
Fly: Your drive towards a better society is commendable. As you once mentioned, it is about a mix of private, public and non-profit entities. Where would you say the innovations come from?
John: When you share ideas from different perspectives (whether sharing among individuals or organizational models – for example, private and non-profit) and apply them in new and exciting ways, innovation happens.
Fly: While we often pitch the value of ideas and innovations, a big challenge is to successfully implement them. How different is it in the public sector?
John: It can be challenging to initiate and implement innovations in the public sector because there’s still an overall “old school” mentality of doing things the traditional way. Further, public funding means high accountability and thus low risk tolerance. This is counter to an innovation culture which has a need for high risk tolerance and comfort with failure.
Fly: And what about the nature of innovations in the public sector today?
John: You’re seeing more and more social enterprises out there which seek to blend the profit generation model of private organizations with the mission-driven model of non-profits. A great example is Good Foot Delivery in Toronto which hires mostly those with developmental disabilities to courier letters and small packages. Since job prospects for those with developmental disabilities are marginal, working at Good Foot provides a stable income source, in turn, creating loyal workers. The hiring policy also helps differentiate the company from other couriers.
Fly: Speaking of which, the majority of employees at SFC are business students on a part-time role. That goes against the conventional preference of having stable staff. What would you say are the advantages/fallouts of your approach?
John: They’re more like contract workers than employees, but the main advantage is that we constantly have new ideas coming into the organization and will always be at the forefront of the latest trends, technologies, and youth engagement. The fallout is that it takes tremendous resources to constantly be recruiting and training new people to replace those who have left (i.e. graduated). By taking best practices from student clubs that face the same situation every year, however, we’re getting better at streamlining our recruiting process.
Fly: One of SFC’s values is to bring “fun” in the public sector sphere. So how is a typical working week?
John: We strive to inject “fun” in every aspect of the organization. For example, at our most recent recruiting session, we asked Commerce and MBA students to work together to build the tallest tower out of marshmallows and toothpicks. At our O’Day (orientation and training day), teams use LEGOs to build and pitch physical representations of ideas as a team-building tool. We also release an annual YouTube mixtape, a curated list of our team member’s favourite songs at the moment, so we can get to know each other and so others can get to know us. For our team pics, we seek unique ways to pose so it’s not just a typical team photo of people standing side by side. It’s a great opportunity for us to visually show how innovative we are. Lastly, we hold team socials throughout the year which varies from karaoke, to dinner, to board games, to chilling at a team member’s house. I can give many more examples, but this is a nice summary.
Fly: How interesting! How can people, who are eager to do their bit, be part of Social Focus Consulting? And what makes it a compelling consideration for them?
John: One of our values is “Community”, meaning we understand that in order to be successful and impactful, we need to collaborate within the team and with other organizations and individuals. So in this context, pretty much anyone can be a part of SFC, but let’s narrow down the discussion to those who want to become Consultants.
When we recruit students to join the team, we’re looking for those who have a clear reason for wanting to join and those who identify and align with our values. In return, Consultants get experience (business, consulting, marketing, Canadian, management), the opportunity to apply business skills outside the classroom, the opportunity to create social impact, and to be part of a fun and innovative team.
Fly: And of course, readers can connect with your online communities on Twitter, Facebook or the Linkedin Forum, Social Innovation Canada. Coming back to you then, John. You have turned your passion into your career. Easier said than done though, what do you think it takes to achieve that?
John: I think it takes being comfortable with uncertainty and failure. One of my favourite quotes (printed and posted over my desk) is “Pursue something so important that even if you fail, the world is better off with you having tried.” – Tim O’Reilly, Founder of O’Reilly Media.
Fly: Absolutely! Just before we sign off on that note, how is it to be interviewed by a fly? :-)
John: Much better than that time I was interviewed by a mosquito. That was annoying and painful. :-)
Fly: Yes, I don’t like them much either! Well, thank you John, for sharing your views and exemplifying what it is like to work towards the change one wishes to see. We certainly hope to see that accomplished by Social Focus Consulting.
John: Thank you very much for your time and opportunity to share our story!
Fly: To the readers, you can read more about SFC here:
Keep making a difference,
For more posts and insights on consumers, cultures and companies, check out section Air on Blog of the Fly.
© 2015 Malay Upadhyay