I have been doing a lot of research in the last few days on non traditional social work jobs. Half way through my foundation year I discovered that direct practice was not for me and I know there are other MSWs who feel the same way. I think MSW programs need to start providing more info to students about how to map out their career path and part of that should be letting them know all their options (in other words, help them see how an MSW can be used in an area outside of mental health).
I had a professor who told us that an MSW program was like eating at a smorgasbord. We can do a lot more with our education then therapy. The other part of this is accepting that our education can not stop after completing a two year graduate program. This can mean taking CEUs, obtaining a second degree that complements an MSW (like an MBA, MPA, etc) or it might be as simple as volunteering in order to gain knowledge in your chosen area of interest. The point I’m trying to make is that we need to stop limiting ourselves. We need to stop believing that the only way to use our education is by providing counseling to individuals and families.
I have already discussed in previous posts how social workers can go into areas like politics or community organizing, but an MSW can also be useful in business; and I am not talking about private practice. What I’m talking about is social enterprise.
So what is social enterprise? The Social Enterprise Alliance Gives the following definition:
Social enterprises are businesses whose primary purpose is the common good. They use the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas.
Three characteristics distinguish a social enterprise from other types of businesses, nonprofits and government agencies:
- It directly addresses an intractable social need and serves the common good, either through its products and services or through the number of disadvantaged people it employs.
- Its commercial activity is a strong revenue driver, whether a significant earned income stream within a nonprofit’s mixed revenue portfolio, or a for profit enterprise.
- The common good is its primary purpose, literally “baked into” the organization’s DNA, and trumping all others.
As mentioned in the video of the USC panel on non traditional social work, you will need some basic business knowledge to enter this area. This brings me back to my professors smorgasbord statement. The point she was making is that an MSW is a broad degree. It does not make you an expert in a particular area. We need to seek out experiences to round out our social work education.