Do you want a career that makes a difference? No matter what sector you work in or want to work in, The New Reason to Work explores the countless opportunities for impactful jobs at every level. It’s easier than you think. The New Reason to Work lays out six essential keys that can unlock your dream career and social impact. Learn how to discover and align your life’s mission with job opportunities, master the skills and demand for social impact, sustain yourself in growing an impactful career over a lifetime, and much more.
Through a uniquely engaging narrative, personal stories that take you around the globe, and concrete exercises in every chapter, The New Reason to Work provides new hope for the future, for your own career and for the world.
Welcome to The Author Hour, I’m your host Benji Block and today, I’m honored to be joined by Roshan Paul and Ilaina Rabbat. They just authored a brand-new book. The book is called The New Reason to Work: How to Build a Career That Will Change the World. You guys, we’re so glad to have you here on Author Hour today, thanks for joining us.
Roshan Paul: Thank you so much for having us, very excited to be here.
Ilaina Rabbat: Likewise. Thank you, Benji.
Benji Block: Absolutely. As we jump into the conversation here, I’d love to just provide some context, some background to the work you guys are doing. Roshan, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and the work that you’re up to, and then Ilaina, maybe go second here?
Roshan Paul: Absolutely. My journey probably began in my senior year of college. I grew up in India, I had a pretty normal middle-class upbringing, came to the US for undergrad. My senior year of college, I came out of my French class one morning, saw a bunch of people clustered around the TV and that seemed unusual for a Tuesday morning, so I walked over to see what was going on and that was when we saw the second plane hit the second of the Twin Towers.
I think that was for me, the day that my whole career and my life trajectory changed from possibly going into the traditional consulting or investment banking route, as most foreign students in America look to do, and that’s when I decided that I was going to actually dedicate my career to social impact.
Turned down, in fact, quite a lucrative job opportunity in the US to move back to India and start working in social entrepreneurship and I never looked back from that. And now it’s been about 20 years of working in social entrepreneurship and that’s what my career’s going to be all about.
Benji Block: I love that. Ilaina, how about you?
Ilaina Rabbat: Yeah, in my case Benji, it is a different version in the sense that I grew up working with social impact without knowing it. I was provided by my parents; they are from Argentina, but they were forced to leave Argentina because the government at the moment was a dictatorship and they were forced to hide. We went to Venezuela; I was born there. My childhood was not so common, I would say, we were talking about democracy, human rights, social justice at dinner.
I think that that really marked the way I wanted to behave and wanted to do. Only when I was older, I realized that that was not common to everyone. I realized that actually it was only a niche people doing that and I was like, “How come?” How do we tell to more people are able to live a life of making an impact?
I think that that really was sort of the connection in my career. I started working since [I was] very young and until today, that’s how I became working on such an impact sector, and want to promote that structure because I believe it’s not only good for the people doing it but also for humanity and the planet.
The Search For Impact
Benji Block: Wow, that’s impactful. I love how both of your stories are kind of happening in separate places around the globe, but it brings us to this question of, how do you end up together working on this? Maybe explain a little bit of that, what brings your paths together?
Ilaina Rabbat: Well, I would say that it’s definitely the organization goal Ashoka. We were both working Ashoka in different products and different projects, in different countries actually but one day, out of tons of common interests probably, we were both interested in this building. We had a meeting that, you know, you always walk into a meeting thinking that it’s just a normal meeting and nothing would happen out of that, but that meeting was different.
The meeting actually ended up creating a whole organization called Amani Institute, where we’ve both been leading for the last 10 years. I would say that because of that there was a shortcut, but basically is our passion for impact work and really trying to make a difference in the planet we live on.
Benji Block: You never know where those connections are going to be made and I love that this has created so much impact and change over the years because of just a simple meeting and then developing from there. I often wonder with co-authors, what are the initial conversations like? How do you go from maybe, I want to write a book someday to, we should write this book together, what was that process like?
Roshan Paul: Well, we’ve been working together for a decade now and working together very closely to start an organization, so you know, the sort of co-founder journey is kind of like a marriage in the way that you really get to know each other’s families really well. We’ve gotten very used to working together. We’ve lived together in Nairobi, starting the organization, and then when Ila went to Brazil, I went to India to keep growing the organization there, we continued working together, speaking a couple of times a week and constantly in touch.
We’ve built a very strong, I would say, working relationship but also personal friendship over the years. And when it came time to write a book about what we’ve learned through the journey of working on Amani Institute all around the world, it just seemed right that we would do that together and bring both of our insights to bare on this through our different life stories. But also through the fact that so much work we’ve done in the last decade has been done together so of course, we wanted to write the book together.
Benji Block: Absolutely. When you think about this book and the people that are going to read it and be inspired by it, pick it up, who were you thinking about as you’re writing this? Who is the ideal reader?
Ilaina Rabbat: That’s a very good question, Benji. Actually, that’s linked to the format of the book. Throughout the book it’s really a conversation with two characters and these two characters embrace somehow the people that would be reading this book. On one side, we have Farah, the recent one that was working in a job, in a company and probably having a pretty stellar life. [Has] had a good life, been able to get married, have kids, have a job.
When one day, realized that that’s not really the way she wants to keep living. She wants to have a job where at least it feels meaningful and that you can have an impact and leave a legacy on this planet. That audience is definitely a big one in the book, but we want people that want to switch careers, [switch] to a career that is something more impactful than the one that they’re having until now.
Now, we have another character called Kim. Kim is someone younger, [who] is really out of college. Is someone that’s very curious and very connected to the planet, to the people, and from the get-go, he really wants to be in a career with impact but he has no idea how to do it because universities normally don’t help you to do that or it’s not an option really, in our lack of option to build a career.
That’s definitely another one piece of audience. And then the third one is people that have been working, already working in the social sector— the social impact sector— and they want to either change or build their career. They want to check the rights of their career, they want to double-check that they’re in the right place in their careers. This book is also for them.
Benji Block: I love that. The narrative writing of this book is really well done where you get your point across, there’s a lot of stats and history that you lay out, but you do it in such a narrative way that it’s extremely compelling. I’m excited to dig into some of the content here. I’d like to begin with the shift that you believe that we’re experiencing, really at scale, when it comes to our relationship with work. You say that the meaning of work is changing. What are those shifts that we’re beginning to see?
Roshan Paul: Absolutely. The book is also coming out in this time, the COVID pandemic is still rife all around the world. Even in the US, we’re talking about the Great Resignation but really, all around the world, we see a hunger from people to build meaning and impact into their career, right?
They don’t want to wait until they’ve retired and then give back to society, they want to do it right throughout, they want to do it as part of their career. I would say, even that— your modern psychology has caught up to what our ancient religious and other wisdom traditions have been telling us for centuries: that meaning and purpose and fulfillment comes from giving to others and helping others.
As we are learning this, and we’re learning that that could be in fact what you make your whole career about, we’re also seeing shifts in what was previously considered the non-profit world, a relatively small sector that has been growing dramatically in the last two or three decades, and has been moving into the business sector as well, with social enterprises, social businesses and for-profit companies also trying to be good corporate citizens and play a positive role in society that goes beyond just making money for their shareholders.
As we’re seeing all of those shifts and trends, we’re seeing that individuals are coming out of college, coming out of grad school, have been working for a few years, and want to make a shift in this direction. As we put all of that together we see that it’s something no less than, the reason we want to work itself, has moved from our parents, our grandparent’s generation where work was really about survival or about building a family.
Today, work is moving into something that’s much more a reflection of our identity of who we are, what we are leaving behind. People really want to make that something really powerful and they’re pushing their organizations, pushing their companies to move in that direction as well.
At the same time, it’s not so clear how you go about doing that. How do you build a career that makes a difference in the world? Since we’ve both been doing that for two decades plus each, we felt we had something to share on that and as we’ve also walked now 10,000 people through those careers, we had something to teach in that regard. That’s kind of why we wrote the book for this particular moment in time as well.
Benji Block: Ilaina, anything you would add there?
Ilaina Rabbat: Probably what I would add is that if you, the audience, is asked to have a job that you are able to make money, to have a living, right? You feel satisfied that you’ve seen the challenge and on top of that you can make impact, why not, right? I think that the question is like, we can have it all. It’s not that we have to pick. And see that we are in the moment where everything is possible that we can have impact, we can have a living and we can be challenged in our jobs.
The Primary Impact of a Job Is to Leave a Lasting Impact
Benji Block: Well, I have to tell you guys, you had me sold before I made it out of the introduction of this book, and it started with really one sentence. I’m going to read your words back to you, but this was the sentence that got me. You say, “We believe that the future of work is one in which your job description includes not only your title, responsibilities and salary but also a convincing case for the impact your work will create.”
If there are business leaders, CEOs, anyone that’s hiring someone— if they were to start doing that and putting that on someone’s resume or on someone’s – for what they’re hiring for, I think it would change so much. Just in that one sentence, you had me hooked, because I see that in the future, and I believe in it. Let’s do this, let’s define what we’re talking about when we talk about impactful work. What does that word mean and what would that look like to create?
Ilaina Rabbat: That’s a great question because there is a lot of confusion around that, right? Definitely, I would start with that it’s not about working in NGOs, non-profit organizations. It is not about charity. It could be, but it’s not only about that and I think that it’s very important to mention because many people going to talk about social impact work, they go directly to that paradigm of NGOs, it is about charity, it’s about giving. Yeah, that’s kind of the thing. It’s great, but there’s way more room than that.
The way we are using in the book and defining it is that if it’s any job, it could be in a company. It could be an NGO, it could be in a fortune business, it could be in government, it doesn’t matter, where the most of your time. So, the majority of the time you spend on the job, you’re using it to create impact.
That’s interesting because it’s not defined by the company. It’s not defined by your manager or boss; it’s defined by you. You are able, each of us are able to twist our job description to really make it impactful. I think that’s where the change of paradigm is in the book, right? That’s the challenge we are putting people on.
You don’t depend on the company to change things. Sure, they will help but you can do it yourself and that is the reason we want this book to spread around for people to have the tools and the willingness, and the hope to make that change themselves.
Benji Block: Can you walk out for me, what it might look like, because I think this one reason that we assume this is more an NGO work, a nonprofit space is because it’s easy to see some of the human impact there that we’re having, the positive impact. What about in jobs where it’s not immediately obvious? What would be an example of how you would work in this idea of impact?
Roshan Paul: Yeah, so we are seeing that more and more companies, for instance, are being pushed by their staff to talk about what’s the impact that they’re having. One example that we talk about in the book is someone who says, okay, they are selling soap to a low-income community and they could choose to say, “It’s all about sales and we’re going to go around selling soap to as many people as possible.” But what if they want to change the way they looked at it and say, “You know, it’s not actually about soap. It’s about hygiene and sanitation so that people in low-income communities get sick less often and by getting sick less often, they can make sure that they keep their jobs and they’re not going to have to quit a job they desperately need because they have to be sick.”
If they were to look at it and reframe it as something that they’re actually doing to help people keep their jobs and say healthy, then that completely transforms the way that they would go about selling soap and the way they would go about making the case to their customers about buying soap, right? It’s really about looking for what’s the larger impact that this particular product or this particular service can have and reorienting how you do things in that way.
As we said, the primary intent of the job is to make the world a better place or leave a lasting impact. That actually changes the way you work on it, it changes the way you interact with your customers, it changes the way you interact with your colleagues, it changes the way you motivate and inspire your team. It gives everyone a different purpose for being a different purpose for doing this work. And I think that’s where the real power lies in reframing how we approach work in the future.
Benji Block: Because impact is really about a strong “Why?”
Roshan Paul: Absolutely, yeah. It’s a lot about a strong “why” and we know that when people are really connected to their why, to the, “Why do you do what you do?” not just what you do but why do you do what you do and that is connected to who they really want to be in the world, it makes them happier. It makes them more fulfilled, it makes them more successful as well.
Benji Block: Ilaina, were you going to add?
Ilaina Rabbat: Yeah, I would love to add. I think that Roshan defined it perfectly and to build on that example, that doesn’t mean that everything’s perfect. There are tradeoffs, right? I mean, this guy that Roshan was explaining that he’s selling the soap probably to follow his path and his mission. He got to spend more time with the clients to tell them how to do this properly.
That may imply that he will sell less and have less commissions, right? Less money at the end of the month. That’s fine, it’s a tradeoff, right? We are capable to decide in that, but then there are options and that’s the important part. So, knowing that whatever we decide has a tradeoff but we argue that the benefits are way bigger than the downsides of that.
Benji Block: Yeah, I had assumed almost every listener listening right now would lean in and they’d go, “I want a job that makes a positive impact in the world.” Would you have some questions that maybe we could be asking ourselves as we seek a job like this?
Ilaina Rabbat: Yes, definitely. We have even a full chapter in the book dedicated to that. I would totally encourage people to go there and check them out. There are six questions if I am not wrong, so let me go and look at them but the first one is really, “What do you care about?” I mean, what is your purpose? That is very important and there is something— these are topics if it is a cause and that’s definitely the number one.
Why is it important for you, the job? The other one is about, “Do you want to interact with the beneficiaries directly?” and that goes back to the NGO question, right?
Benji Block: Right.
Ilaina Rabbat: We are used to thinking that the only way to know impact work is to be in the field—in the job, in the sector— but it basically means being in a place where you are making a difference. It could be in a school, it could be adoption, it could be in healthcare, the center, in the community. And actually, no, you can have a lot of different opportunities that are not directly linked to beneficiaries.
That could be behind the desk, that could be in an office, right? I think that is important to understand if you want to interact or not with the beneficiaries. The other one is about income. As I was saying before, it could be a tradeoff, right? Between what do you decide to work and what is your salary? But that doesn’t mean, and again, that is another wrong belief in the sector, that not because you work with impact that means that you have a lower salary.
Benji Block: Right.
Ilaina Rabbat: There are many jobs with actually very high salaries, but you need to decide also on that, which type of job, which type of salaries that you want. The other one is location, right? Some people, because of preferred reasons, because of preferences they want to work in a specific country or a specific continent, but it is also important to know where you want to work.
The other one is culture and that applies not only for social impact work, but it applies to any type of work, right? I mean, you want to work in an organization that is aligned with your values, with who you are, why you do what you do, with a listening style and communication style. For the culture, it is also very important. The other one is that again, it is not only about doing things in the field.
These types of jobs with impact can be about research, it can be about managing, it can be about fundraising, it can be about advocating for a cause, it can be about writing. It can be many, many different things. So to understand with activity, what is the main activity you want your job to focus on, right?
Benji Block: Right.
Ilaina Rabbat: Then the last one that probably can determine or actually will make you plan what to do next is what is the location you need for that job. So, let me give you an example. If you want to work with impact investment— that is something quite common today in the sector— you may need some economic background or some finance background, right? It is understanding that, but if you want to work, I don’t know, with young people maybe you need that background experience. So, understanding what you need for that job.
We’ll say that those are some of the questions that we need to really find a meaningful and impactful job in the sector.
Creating a Culture That Maintains the Values and Allows One to Thrive
Benji Block: I go back to the culture question and have a follow-up there because I think of what we were talking about earlier, saying we can personally decide and reframe what we’re doing to better understand and better see the impact we’re having. But, how do we know if a culture is the right fit or if it is maybe too far gone to really have that sort of impact, like weighing those options when it is not a non-profit sector and we’re not maybe upper management can be difficult?
What are some of those things in a culture that has a healthy impact that cause it to thrive? Does that make sense?
Roshan Paul: Yeah. I would say, culture is often set top-down. It is set by the leaders of an organization, and you want to look at how did they define the purpose of the organization. Your ideal culture fit for most people comes to, how did they connect personally with the purpose of that organization and that you can see a lot from the way the organization is set up, how it communicates, what its explicit goals are, does it live.
Does its corporate values— not just something they put up on a poster in the office, but it is actually something that is baked into how they run meetings, how they interact with customers, and so on. You can tell a lot from even the way your interview is being conducted what the culture of that organization is like. I think one big part of it is purpose and how that purpose is lived.
The second part of it could be more in terms of how they think about interactions between people, right? How is compensation set up, how are team meetings run, whose voice is heard, and so on, and does it bring in inclusion of different voices in a way that, again, goes beyond the corporate statements that we see so commonly today, but goes into how the meetings are run or how the organization operates on a day-to-day basis.
You know that I would say is a general answer specifically in the world of impact-first jobs, which is the universe in which we’re setting this book. Different organizations will have different cultures so you take the role of autonomy for instance, which has been proven to be one of the key determinants of motivating people. Different types of organizations, more bureaucratic government agencies for instance, will provide perhaps less autonomy and more the need-to-follow procedures and rules.
Whereas social businesses or smaller organizations may give people a lot more freedom to innovate, to operate, to try different things and so on and you know, different people actually like different cultures. I think one of the things that we’ve seen in social impact is that and working with so many people to help them find the career that’s best for them is that some people like bureaucracy and top-down and clear processes and so on.
They thrive in that setting. And then some people would be actually miserable in that setting and they would want much fewer rules, more freedom to innovate, more freedom to try different things, and it really differs from person to person. Knowing that there is a place for you I think is really important, that different organizations with different, or different types of organizations have different cultures and there’s a place for everyone.
It is a really big tempt increasingly and you know, one of the things that we are trying to do with this book is to help people feel that there is a place for them in the world of making social impact.
Benji Block: That’s so good and it’s interesting. We don’t have time to dive into all of it but you take time to really talk about the journey of the change-maker, the inner journey of the change-maker, and I think that plays a crucial role in all of this because when we understand ourselves and then we understand our place in the world, it starts to really impact the decisions we make and then we can see these things and these decisions more clearly.
I definitely challenge people to, again, go grab the book. It will definitely ask some quality questions that will set you on the right path. I want to talk about 2014. Amani Institute is two years old at that point and you describe a story where police are engaged in this sort of armed standoff with burglars right outside your building. Would you tell me a bit about that story?
Ilaina Rabbat: Roshan, do you want to go ahead?
Roshan Paul: Yeah, sure. Firstly, just to place the context of the story, we’re talking about a world, sometimes that this world can be difficult and that you will be called to show courage. You know, the courage of your convictions, but also just courage to step up when you need to do something, and we talk about a time that happened in our life in Kenya where the organization was in its early years, you know, still fragile because it was still a startup.
At that time in particular, Nairobi was going through a series of terrorist attacks and life was a little bit constrained in that there were lots of security everywhere and so on. One day, we woke up to find that there had been an armed robbery on our office building that wasn’t targeting us in any way. It was another company that was a well-known large company that had an office there.
There was an armed robbery attempt on that company but it was where we were going to be bringing our students. We had class that day and our group of 25 students from all around the world were going to gather there for a day of class. We found out about this on Twitter and through our cleaning lady who was getting the office ready for the day. We had to jump into action and find another location for the class and we were able to do that.
But then, one of our staff— we had to get things from the office. We also had valuables in there that we didn’t want to be looted. When the police said that “Okay, things have calmed down. You can go back” one of our staff members went back in to get some of the things we needed and to secure our valuables and so on, but it turned out that wasn’t completely over and the police at that point discovered there was one or more armed robbers in the building.
They shouted that everyone should barricade themselves behind their office and they were still going to come back through again. That was the point at which our staff member was panicking, and I went over from the location we had moved to, to try to help him out. I went back to our office, you know, the police were yelling at everyone who had gathered there saying get behind walls, bullets could start flying and I was hiding behind this wall thinking about my employee who was inside.
That was a real moment of understanding like, this is why we’re here in a way, you know? That was then the conversation that this all led to. I mean in the end, everything was fine. He came out okay and we were able to eventually go back into the building the next day but the conversation that kicked off with our leadership team was, should we leave Nairobi? Are things just too bad?
The Peace Corps has left Nairobi, missionary groups were leaving. Our students, their parents, our partners all wanted to know what were we going to do, and that was where you have to really show the courage to stand up for your convictions, show your values in action. Our values are only— it is not what we think they are, it is what we do when we’re at a crossroads, right?
That is what determines values and so for us that this crossroads moment was really about, are we going to stay or are we going to go? And we realized that the work that we’re doing is here and if you are going to build the skills to do meaningful work, you got to build it in the field and so we decided to stay. It lost us some friends, it lost us some partners but, in the end, it actually led to an amazing set of outcomes and success that wouldn’t have happened if we had decided to leave at that time.
We tell it in more detail in the book but basically, we had this story to show how standing up for your values can actually lead to a much bigger success than you might have otherwise thought.
Benji Block: Absolutely and that is where I wanted to lead us because I think ultimately, that story does hit on something that I think— many when they think of having an impact, they think about the bright cheery exciting side of getting to have impact, but the truth is, it does take a lot of courage and there are a lot of hard moments and big decisions that have to be made. And so as we start to wrap up, if you guys were to just leave us with a challenge, some advice, what would it be and maybe call us into that level of impact moving forward?
Ilaina Rabbat: That’s a good challenge, Benji. I think that for me, what is really behind the book is to challenge work itself. To challenge paradigms, mental models that we are used to have, right? That just because they are given doesn’t mean that they cannot change, or we cannot see them differently. The book is a call for people that want to not only believe but actually have a different type of job and a different type of life.
Again, the question is are we courageous enough to do that change because as you said, there are some tradeoffs, there are some decisions to make around that. But I think that I can guarantee that if people are willing to challenge paradigms, [if] they are willing to challenge why their job is not a means to end but it is an end in itself, it is a means for happiness, for fulfillment, for impact, then I guarantee that it’s totally worth doing it and the benefits are bigger than some of the downsides like we can find in the way.
Roshan Paul: For me, I would say one thing to add to that is it becomes a lot easier in community. We’ve seen all the recent studies coming out saying you are who you spend time with, right? You know, the same people who are overweight are around people who are also overweight or people who are workaholics are around people who are also workaholics.
We’re seeing that it becomes much easier if you surround yourself with people that are also working towards impact and working towards spending their time in their lives, working towards building a better world, right? Sometimes it is hard for people because they don’t know how to find these other people or how to find other people who have shared the same values that they do and so one of the things we urge people in the book is to find your tribe or find your community of practice because these people exist.
If you can, through joining educational programs or fellowships or clubs in your city or whatever it might be, try to find the people who believe what you believe and when you’re with them, it becomes just a lot easier to start to make the choices that you need to make in order to move your life towards your values, towards the purpose that you want to.
Find your community. Sometimes you may have to change or find, just take the first steps if this is something that is— [if] you don’t know people who believe what you believe, take the first steps to try to find them in your city and go from there.
Benji Block: Wow, thank you guys so much for sharing your wisdom with us on Author Hour today. There is so much gold there and then obviously in the book as well. As co-founders of Amani Institute, which, Amani in Swahili means peace. Take a minute here before we close, tell us a bit more about the important work you’re doing there, how people can connect further with that work and both of you online.
Ilaina Rabbat: Amani Institute is an organization that really prepares people for social impact. If you are listening to this podcast and you are asking yourself, “Yeah, I want to have the type of job that they are just talking about. How do I do it? How do I find that community, that tribe that Roshan was talking about?” Amani is a place to go. I would say that don’t hesitate to go to the website. It’s www.amaniintitute.org and there you can find information. Roshan, do you want to add anything to that?
Roshan Paul: Yeah, I would say that the organization works all around the world and runs programs all around the world but also virtually, so thanks to the pandemic, it has never been easier to connect with Amani Institute and to do the programs that the organization offers. I would also say for both of us, we are on the board and active board members at Amani Institute.
You can find us on LinkedIn very easily, you can find us on social media as well or through the website. The book, the website of the book is thenewreasontowork.com, so feel free to go there and you can also send us an email through the website so that makes it easy to contact us.
Benji Block: Well, thanks so much for taking time to be on Author Hour with us today. The book is on Amazon now, you can go get it, The New Reason to Work: How to Build a Career That Will Change the World. Thank you both so much for taking time and being here.
Ilaina Rabbat: Thank you, Benji. It was great getting to know you and to talk to the audience.
Roshan Paul: Likewise, thank you so much, Benji. We really appreciate it.