Crazy? Brave? Naive? Selfless? These are the questions I asked myself before I made the final decision to quit my job to pursue social impact work on a full-time basis. (Don't worry - I have a 401K, a brokerage account, a Roth IRA, and two savings accounts :) ). I soon came to realize there is no reward without risk and that quitting my safe, stable job was the best decision I had made in a long time. Only once I was able to disregard what those in my immediate surroundings thought of me, was I able to be truly free, genuinely myself and ready to embark on the journey of a lifetime.
As a primer, this is where I worked for nearly six years:
This is Fox Plaza, or as some recognize it, Nakatomi Tower from the movie Die Hard. No, I did not work for Fox News. :) I worked in the legal department in Los Angeles and helped defend our sports, television and film business units from employment lawsuits, among other things. This was my first full-time job out of college. I graduated from UCLA during the recession and am a very pragmatic person, so I chose the safe, stable career route. I was promoted three times within five and a half years, the pay was decent, the perks were decent, but most of all, the job was stable and safe. I never worked a weekend and had great work life balance.
Fox is a miniature city, complete with dry cleaning, shoe repair, a car wash, three decent restaurants on the studio lot, a coffee shop, free screenings, two gyms, and even some cool set tours. My favorite part about Fox is that Fox provided myriad opportunities to volunteer with my Fox colleagues through corporate social responsibility programs. I have been very involved in and passionate about social impact since high school and I felt Fox provided abundant opportunities to volunteer through Fox. Fox has allowed me to continue fulfilling my driving need for meaningful, positive work, albeit almost exclusively in my free time. Fox enabled me to partner with numerous local non-profits devoted to education and after school programs for at risk youth as well as non-profits devoted to eradicating homelessness. I raised funds for Children's Hospital Los Angeles through the Fox Triathlon Team for two years to support pediatric cancer research. Fox also enabled me to partner with Public Counsel, the largest pro bono public interest law firm in the world, and represent parents looking to adopt foster care children. I am forever thankful for these opportunities.
Volunteering through Fox's charitable organization, Fox Gives:
Volunteering at the Fox Triathlon Team's silent auction to raise funds for Children's Hospital LA:
Racing at the Nautica Malibu Triathlon on behalf of Fox for Children's Hospital LA:
My first Pro Bono Adoption Finalization Hearing (one of the happiest days of my career):
However, my day to day job duties consisted of defending the company from lawsuits, and I began to feel as though I had exhausted all extracurricular avenues to give back to the community through Fox. Call it an "existential crisis," "soul searching," or whatever you'd like. Simply put: I knew I could give so much more to those who are less fortunate, who have not had the same privileges I've been lucky enough to have in life. Additionally, I couldn't help but compare myself to all of my UCLA friends who went on to work at nonprofits, joined the Peace Corps or started their own private social enterprises. Almost everyone I knew and respected from my alma mater was working to make the world a better place. Studies show Millennials are highly motivated to make a positive impact on the world and this is one Millennial stereotype I actually identify with and also recognize in my driven, hardworking Millennial friends. I came to realize I had strayed from my true passion for social impact to pursue what in my narrow view at the time was a practical, safe and reliable career path during the recession. The recession was long gone by the time I was promoted a third time at Fox in 2016, and I knew it was time to refocus all of the time and energy I was giving to Fox to matters more worthy of my hard earned degree.
Realizing I had an unquenched, insatiable desire to truly make a lasting, positive impact on the lives of those less fortunate, I began exploring opportunities within organizations I had already been supporting for years and discovered Kiva's Fellowship Program. I had been lending 0% interest funds to entrepreneurs in under-developed and developing countries around the world through Kiva to help these entrepreneurs purchase the animals, supplies, or solar energy systems, for example, that they needed to grow their businesses and support their families. Why Kiva? Kiva positively socially and economically impacts those less fortunate in the most tangible way imaginable: through microloans. Hugs and emotional support are wonderful, but I'm driven by measurable results, and Kiva consistently realizes tangible, positive impact day in and day out.
I initially thought I could work out a part-time volunteer position in the U.S. and help Kiva during my free time, while maintaining my full-time job at Fox. In other words, I planned to have a greater positive impact, but while being safe and avoiding any potential risks to my livelihood. After applying, I realized Kiva preferred full-time volunteers in foreign countries to be Kiva's eyes and ears on the ground. The Kiva Fellow's role would be to:
facilitate Kiva's relationship with local field partners (microfinance institutions, NGOs and social enterprises that already have established trust with local entrepreneurs)
ensure borrowers are using the funds as they say they are
brand market Kiva's name
find potential additional field partners
train field partner staff on Kiva programs and policies
streamline microlending processes
The more I learned about Kiva's Fellowship Program, the more I was unable to see the cons to working unpaid for four months in another country for Kiva. Even though this route would be a complete divergence from my nearly six year path thus far, in so far as earning a stable income on a full-time basis, I could not look past the enormous positive impact I would be able to achieve through Kiva. After more soul searching and many pros/cons lists, I realized this is a once in a lifetime experience that I simply could not pass up. After I was accepted into Kiva's Fellowship Program, which only accepts about 19% of applicants, I provided my two week notice and began to prepare for my trip with less than a month to go.
I ultimately learned that baby steps only take you so far and that it takes real risk in the form of a big career move to fully transition to a genuine, honest and fulfilling life devoted to social impact.
Stay tuned for my Kiva Fellowship adventures in Vietnam!