Pursue Your Purpose, Make Your Mark. 

Careers4Change has started this series of changemaker profiles to inspire and encourage those who are considering a career change to explore the options in the social impact sector and find their purpose.  We are keen to reinforce the message from social and impact investor leaders that impact entrepreneurs are at the forefront of rebuilding the economy post-pandemic and purpose-driven businesses are the future.

Colleen Ebbitt

Colleen Ebbitt is a Vice President, Programme Officer for J.P. Morgan Global Philanthropy, EMEA. Colleen has 15 years of experience centred around corporate social responsibility, social impact investment, enterprise development, public policy, and banking. She’s passionate about improving lives and communities through innovative solutions to social challenges. Colleen is a regular contributor to thought leadership on social impact investing and inclusive growth at global conferences and volunteers regularly at MediCinema.

Why did you want to move to a social impact role?

Being in touch with my community is a very important part of my life; I have always been very socially aware and actively volunteering. My professional and purposeful life were very separate while working as a Vice President banker at J.P. Morgan. That was until J.P. Morgan, in partnership with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, launched a social impact investment fund (Global Health Investment Fund), in 2012, to invest in late-stage pharmaceuticals to get affordable medicine to low income countries. That was the first time I saw this merger of philanthropy and investment. That’s exactly where I wanted to be. It was the catalyst that made me explore the new emerging area of impact investment and social entrepreneurship.

How did you make your first move to mothers2mothers maternal HIV/AIDS charity based in South Africa?

I became a coach for social entrepreneurs with Ashoka which happened to be a J.P. Morgan philanthropy grantee in Switzerland. I really enjoyed it but they didn’t have volunteer opportunities for impact business or finance. That’s when I started looking at impact investment fellowship programmes. I spent a lot of time thinking: Is this going to be detrimental to my career progression? Should I make money and continue to volunteer instead? If it didn’t go well, I already had eight years in banking behind me. I felt more confident because of that. I decided to take the risk.

Fellowship programmes like those provided by Acumen or LGT Impact Ventures are targeted at people who already have work experience, not undergrads or recent graduates. Within LGT Impact Ventures’ portfolio of enterprises I found mothers2mothers, a maternal HIV/AIDS prevention organisation. I had already volunteered with them through a philanthropy group called Giving Women. I loved this organisation. Plus, it was based in Cape Town and I was really interested in looking at health in sub-Saharan Africa – a hot spot for impact investment at the time. When I applied for the fellowship programme, there was another opportunity available in Colombia. But it was such a nerve-wracking transition that I really got into this ‘all or nothing’ mindset. I wanted to work for mothers2mothers. It just felt right.

What was difficult about the move?

It was an eye-opening experience. When you are coming from a corporate environment, you are made to believe that that’s the most competitive area with the smartest people. The truth was that I quickly felt out of my depth surrounded by incredibly talented people in the social sector; with their immense experience, background, and knowledge. I had enthusiasm for this area and was bringing different skillsets from a banking background. However, in terms of truly understanding the nuances of really deep-rooted social issues, in a place with geopolitical risks and cultural barriers contributing to the problems surrounding HIV/AIDS, I had a lot to learn. There were some difficulties setting up the first emerging market social impact bond. I quickly realised that some of these impact investment structures are so unique and tailored to local markets that they are difficult to scale and extremely lengthy to set up.

How does a role in a social sector organisation differ from the corporate sector?

The stakes were so high emotionally while working in the social sector. Working with HIV/AIDS, it was difficult to witness not only the hardships that these individuals faced from stigma but the hardships of living in disadvantaged communities too. Everything from poverty and inaccessible education to violence against women. Being in the field brings unbelievable highs as you see how impactful the work is in improving lives and communities. I didn’t get that from my previous job in the corporate sector, it wasn’t as fulfilling.

You are now overseeing philanthropic grants supporting more inclusive economic growth back at J.P. Morgan. How has that role differed and why did you move?

After working with mothers2mothers, I knew I wanted to stay in impact investing. I ended up working with the U.K. Government’s Inclusive Economy Unit (GIEU) as a Senior Policy Advisor. GIEU was responsible for the U.K.’s social investment strategy. I was creating social investment funds and partnering with social, private, and government sectors to design solutions to tackle social challenges such as affordable housing or access to finance for social enterprises.

I wanted to bring to the corporate sector what I had learnt while working in public policy developing the skillset to lead a strategy – J.P. Morgan Global Philanthropy allowed me to continue to work on inclusive economic growth. I had the required experience to come back into the corporate philanthropy space; with my corporate background I knew the stakeholder aspects, I came with field experience, and I had important strategy and agenda setting skills to make philanthropy as impactful as possible.

It’s incredible to be a strategic partner for organisations and fund really impactful programmes. As a philanthropic funder, J.P. Morgan had to adapt with our grant partners during the pandemic so they could continue to change lives and create more inclusive economic opportunities. The lack of travel this year has been challenging – especially when you are doing strategic planning, due diligence, and overseeing philanthropy for South Africa, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey, and France – travel is such an enriching part of my role. But it is a privilege to work on these issues every day.

What top tips would you give to someone thinking about a career transition?

  • Get some form of experiential learning – either board, community, or volunteering experience. You can sit and read about the social impact space but volunteering or a fellowship will really open your eyes to what it would be like if you made that switch. You won’t look back if it is something you are really passionate about. If it is the wrong move, no decision is forever. Don’t overthink it.
  • Think about your values. Oftentimes people might say: I couldn’t possibly move because of how different the earning potential is in the corporate vs social sector. If you are driven by money, that’s one thing, but if you are driven by community, making an impact, or travelling, you’ll reach a different conclusion.
  • Find role models. Personally, I’d look at Jacqueline Novogratz, the CEO of Acumen. I find her story about how she got into impact incredibly inspirational and she’s helping more leaders into that space.
  • Discover opportunities. Follow LGT Impact Ventures – their portfolio of organisations is top-notch and, if they do open their applications, they’ll be on your radar. Big Society Capital is a great career site, as is Escape the City, and of course, Careers4Change. It is limited with regards to how many head-hunters are out there in the social impact space – these organisations are really valuable.

Want to know more? You can follow Colleen on LinkedIn and Twitter.

If you have a career transition story you would like to share, get in touch!

Pursue Your Purpose, Make Your Mark. 

Careers4Change started this series of changemaker profiles to inspire and encourage those who are considering a career change to explore the options in the social impact sector and find their purpose.  We are keen to reinforce the message from social and impact investor leaders that impact entrepreneurs are at the forefront of rebuilding the economy post-pandemic and purpose-driven businesses are the future.

Chris Colwell

Chris worked in commercial banking for 10 years and decided to pursue a more rewarding role which aligned with his aspirations to support the third sector. His day-to-day role as an Investment Manager is to support both new and existing clients from the initial stages of investment, to assessing business plans and financial forecasts, to managing the ongoing client relationship while acting as the client’s main point of contact.

What inspired you to move to the social sector?

If I think about what I was doing day-to-day in my previous job, I wasn’t making a tangible difference. In my current role, I’m seeing the explicit changes I am making to disadvantaged communities and that’s very inspirational. I was already involved in local community projects but I wanted to make a bigger difference on a day-to-day basis. There’s something very rewarding about giving a grant to a community or project, and then seeing the end results: the number of jobs it creates, or how many local people it helps.

How did you make your first move?

I’d seen the opportunity on a LinkedIn advert. Originally, when I looked at the job description on a speculative basis, I felt underqualified regarding the charity and non-profit aspect, but I decided to apply. The lesson here is that we tend to put ourselves down and it’s easy to be put off by reading a job description by thinking that we don’t tick certain boxes. In reality, I was blinded to the fact that I had lots of relevant experience that would be valuable to Key Fund.

Sheena, the Founder of Careers4Change, got in touch with me.  She assured me that much of my experience did align nicely. For people moving from the corporate sector, the likelihood is that you don’t have experience in charities or non-profit organisations but, you will have other experience that would apply, and dynamic diverse teams are crucial. As corporate individuals, we are used to analysing business plans and accounts – a skill which we can bring to the social sector. You can leverage these skills for the next stage of your career.

When you made the move, what was really difficult?

On my first day, they gave me six files and said: where you were working previously, would you have been looking at any case studies or proposals like these? The answer was no.  It was a big move away from the practices and parameters I was used to while working at a bank. Looking at all the social elements takes some getting used to. When you are working at a bank you are looking at accounts and profits, in a social organisation you are looking at how certain investments will make a societal difference. It is something I had never had to consider before.

How do you think the social sector differs to the corporate sector?

The main difference is the type of colleagues and clients you are working alongside. They are hospitable, generous, and caring; people who don’t have money as a motivation, but want to make a real difference. Everyone who is working in this industry is concerned about seeing first-hand the changes they are making to society, and bringing their values to work. We have to ask ourselves: why are people working in the social sector? Why have they chosen that path instead of working in traditional business?

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

An important part of my role is seeing my clients and the projects in action ‘on the ground’, across a range of geographical locations, as I can truly see the impact they have on their communities. You feel more connected to the people you are working with and can see the impact for yourself.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

I can’t think of anything; it has been a really good move for me. Although, more recently, Covid-19 has had an impact. A big part of my role was being very mobile and spending three to four days visiting clients across a wide area, and we can’t do that anymore. Usually, we deliver the initial investment but we also have a relationship-based model so we work with the clients throughout the project, between five to ten years. I look forward to returning to visit my clients in the near future to see the direct impact our funding is having.

Do you have any top tips for anyone thinking about a career transition?

You can gain a lot from looking at social organisations’ websites and their case studies to get an idea of the sort of work they are involved in. Check out Key Fund, the National Lottery, Power to Change, Locality, and Careers4Change. Use LinkedIn frequently. You could follow some inspiring leaders such as the CEO of Key Fund, Matt Smith, who was just awarded a CBE.


Want to know more? You can follow Chris on LinkedIn and Twitter. Check out Key Fund.

If you have a career transition story you would like to share, get in touch!


Pursue Your Purpose, Make Your Mark. 

Careers4Change has started this series of changemaker profiles to inspire and encourage those who are considering a career change to explore the options in the social impact sector and find their purpose.  We are keen to reinforce the message from social and impact investor leaders that impact entrepreneurs are at the forefront of rebuilding the economy post-pandemic and purpose-driven businesses are the future.

Naila Mir

Naila has 20 years of experience centred around sustainable business, corporate social responsibility, employee engagement, partnerships, and strategic communications. Her purpose in life is to make a difference to people’s lives, and support, empower and enable young leaders to reach their potential. Beyond her business life, she has contributed to mentorship programmes, advisory roles for sustainable projects, and connects like-minded, purposeful individuals around the world. This inspired her to create P3 Collective, a not-for-profit network geared towards helping young people achieve their purpose and collectively make a social impact.

What inspired you to change careers and move from Unilever?

I was with Unilever for more than 15 years, I joined when I was 25, in Pakistan. The objective of my career at Unilever was to get to a certain point where I could run my own business. My time there was up. I’d had a great journey and achieved everything I could, from running big campaigns across 100 countries to business partnering on communications and sustainability. I left Unilever to pursue my own purpose which coincidentally meant helping other people discover their purpose, assisting them on their journey, and helping companies become more like Unilever.

I was lucky to be at Unilever because that is where I started my sustainability journey. I realised that the three things that I loved doing when I was younger are what I ended up doing as an adult; being a business woman (my Dad always created businesses), teaching (I had an imaginary classroom), and helping people (I used to help a lady who was visually impaired). Those things have lived with me and I have always followed my heart, and what makes me happy.

What steps did you take to move sectors and grow your network?  Did you reach out to anyone in particular?

My ambition was to focus on making a business of my own – sorting a plan, structure, name, and the correct environment. However, I did a makeup course first, it was something I had always wanted to do and never had the time to. My plans for the future involve ethical makeup too. Afterwards, I started reaching out to my network, looking at hybrid business models, and searching for consultancy platforms that I would want to work with. Most of the projects I have worked on have come through networking. I believe strongly in building and maintaining relationships, networks, and collaboration.

What did you find really difficult about your career change?

It was the fear factor. What am I going to do?  What if I don’t get a job? What if I don’t get paid as much? I’d left Unilever without a job but, I knew I had enough to survive three to six months.  I had to shift my mindset to: I’m stable, I have three months’ salary, I have six sisters, so six houses, and if worst comes to worst, I’ll rent out my house, be a bartender, and wait on tables. It would pay my bills and I love meeting people. My mindset had to change. And it did. I knew I’d have six months to explore the opportunities that I couldn’t when I was working nine to five.

What differences are there between your previous job and your current job?

The biggest difference was my own change in mindset. The advice I give to students is: If you are going to be happy and follow your purpose, and be successful while doing that, you need to change the way you look at things. Tell yourself: I’m not going to fit myself into a job, I’m going to look for jobs, projects, and roles that fit into my purpose. This is my mantra. It means you are pursuing your own happiness and defining what success means to you. I didn’t make money my driving factor, I made purpose my driving factor and because of that, I get the jobs I want and get paid for the value I give.

What part of your role is the most rewarding?

When I know people are coming to me for my expertise and something that I love doing. That means I’ve created value. What excites me is when my projects get scaled or my idea is picked up and it goes global or company-wide. The current organisation I’m working with value my business partnering style and agile approach, and it’s great when it is adopted. I’m not interested in being a millionaire, I’m interested in executing great projects, creating an impact, and bringing others with me in the process.

What part of your role is most challenging?

I was the challenge. I had to build confidence in myself and my value. I had the experience, know-how, and portfolio of projects to prove the impact I’d made. I am confident in the right environment – put me in front of 1000 young leaders, or people who are purpose-driven, I can talk for days. With an older generation of senior leaders who think differently, I won’t express myself as well.

Also, we have the tendency to be envious of each other. We can go on LinkedIn and see a 20-year-old involved in an innovative project and think: Why am I not doing that? Why am I doing things slowly? Why am I not getting noticed? Remember, you are as great as anyone else but we need to learn to reach out and collaborate. Share your ideas. I stuck with my values and purpose, and I am now influencing others to collaborate, be better human beings, and respect inclusion and diversity.

What top tips would you give to someone thinking about a career transition? 

Discover your purpose and what makes you happy. Define your journey and idea of success. Then, look for a role that fits you. What do you want?  Be clearer about what is in it for you. Nobody can define your success but yourself. Purpose is not only about sustainability. You may be a graduate looking for a role that’s purpose driven but, you also have other pressures and expenses, so you want a job that pays well. There’s nothing wrong with that. Try and find projects that are going to be your success rather than just a company’s success. What is the company going to do for you?

I believe that everyone can be a Malala Yousafzai & Greta Thunberg. If empowered and guided, every individual has the potential to do good, make the world a better place, and make a positive impact in whatever they do, or wherever they work.

Want to know more? You can follow Naila on LinkedIn and Instagram. Check out P3 Collective

If you have a career transition story you would like to share, get in touch!