How I Became a Social Intrapreneur: Kathleen Largo

How I Became a Social Intrapreneur: Kathleen Largo

Kathleen Largo is a social intrapreneur and ecosystem builder based in Southeast Asia. She helps companies meet their social responsibility targets using entrepreneurial skills. Her passion for social development began in 2010 through summer jobs, internships, and non-profit work to continue her education outside the classroom. At a young age, she received training in science and journalism which made her naturally curious about human development and society.

When I was 20, I wanted to become a social entrepreneur. I wanted to set up my own social enterprise and help a community with the business profits. But I was young and didn’t have resources, so I focused on building my network (it’s free) and joining organizations that could teach me how as I tell my story, although unfinished, I will share the paths I took, which are written as key milestones and hopefully give an insight into how I became a social intrapreneur.

Yes, I didn’t make a typo error. A social intrapreneur is defined as an employee who uses entrepreneurial skills to develop a program, product, or service that creates value for society and the company. They can be analysts, product managers, or communications officers. They do their work skillfully to address a social problem and deploy internal company resources to do so. I spent more than 5 years in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) sector, and that’s why I consider myself a social intrapreneur. This was never a career option back at the counselor’s office, so it’s a very new concept to me at the time.

The Firsts Matter, But Differently For Everyone

I didn’t have a job offer from any huge company after I graduated from university, but I had an opportunity to manage a project by an international youth organization. They hired me for a short contract (4 months) despite not having any work experience, and by the end of the program, we managed to fund 5 winning ideas with approximately US$4,000 each. What was special about this first job is not what I did particularly, but what happened afterward. I got recruited to be a member of the Global Shapers Community in Manila, and from there, my horizons expanded with regards to what types of career a young person can have. It’s very powerful to be in the same room with environmentalists, educators, directors, writers, photographers, civil servants, and young celebrities. It helped me realize that society demands the youth to be all these things, but support isn’t always available. That’s why young leaders and groups tend to seek each other to bond, network, and make friendships.

I received my undergraduate degree in Business Administration from the University of the Philippines. It wasn’t my first choice, nor was it my second. The entrance exam for my university was very competitive, and this particular “failure” moved me out of my comfort zone and into an area of uncertainty. In other words, my score was good enough for the school, but not for the degree program. I gave a third choice, and that’s how I ended up in the college of business. While there, I was active in 3 campus organizations and usually spent more time doing their program activities than academics. This was embedded in the college culture since it resembled working experiences within a company. It developed essential skills in the workplace, such as teamwork, creativity, problem-solving, decision making, and professionalism. Social skills are developed when you’re having fun, so I consider this the most important reason behind joining such groups.

➼ PATH UNLOCKED: Volunteer for interest groups; Work with youth organizations

Job Fairs Are PR Projects

After experiencing a project-based contractor’s job, I started applying for jobs in the startup sector because I liked the lean team and sharing ideas with whoever’s in charge. I had good grades and a leadership portfolio, but for some reason, I wasn’t getting calls from the big companies I had applied to during the job fairs.

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Looking back, none of the jobs I got were from these fairs or job portals. LinkedIn wasn’t popular in 2013, so I had to go to other traditional job sites. It got me interviews, but the jobs I eventually signed contracts for were ones that I was referred to or headhunted. Believe it or not, I found my dream job through an advertisement on their Facebook page (more on that later). Nowadays, there are Facebook groups built for each sector and are continuously looking to fill headcount in their organizations. 

What’s nice about online platforms like LinkedIn is you get information about companies that are hiring with a few clicks. But what I’d like to point out is that opportunities exist in multiple places, so as the saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t go to all the job fairs because your CV will not stand out against a hundred others. When you’re looking, read about the companies you admire, and don’t leave out those that aren’t hiring. Make lists and follow job sites on their social media pages since they aggregate all this information, so you save time doing it yourself.

Dress Up Your CV With A Cover Letter

There’s a ton of advice already online about crafting resumes or CVs. Here’s mine: If your CV was the emperor, you have to give it ‘new clothes.’ Never submit a job application without a cover letter, or you risk being the emperor in the fairy tale!

I tend to keep my CV clean and neat, almost boring to an extent. But I reserve my creativity for my cover letter and spend time writing what I want to say to the hiring manager. Because I had experience recruiting and interviewing candidates before, I know that having a cover letter can make or break your application, so don’t skimp it.

➼ PATH UNLOCKED: Priorities: 80% Cover Letter, 20% CV

Work-Life Harmony, Rather Than Balance

Most of my experience is working in the non-profit and civil society sectors. While my background wasn’t in social work or international relations, program management skills are necessary for any organization, including marketing, communications, and operations. I chose to start my career working with social enterprises because I believed that my contributions could be of more value and create meaningful work. Looking back, I was also just inquisitive at 20 years old and had wanted to do something out of the ordinary.

What I like best about the NGO sector because you meet passionate people who also know how to have fun. It’s almost rare to meet uninteresting folks when you go to conferences or do fieldwork because we operate from a place of wonder. I was constantly being pushed out of my comfort zone in this line of work, and I greatly enjoyed it. Rather than work-life balance, I subscribe to work-life harmony where both personal and professional aspects interact and add value to each other. Some books that have helped me shape such beliefs are:

  1. What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Tina Seelig. While the stories here were insightful, I’ve developed a habit of asking, “what were you doing when you were 20?” in my job interviews where I asked the hiring manager about him or herself, not about the job. It makes for a memorable conclusion to a conversation and genuinely portrays the candidate as a self-learner. Also, it humanizes the interview.

  2. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. The philosophy of Stoicism helped me get over a lot of my challenges at work. If you tend to get stressed and consider yourself struggling to keep up on the job and with your colleagues, it’s worth having a self-check and learning how to practice removing your ego.

  3. Memoirs! Some of my favorites: A Fort of Nine Towers by Qais Akbar Omar, Educated by Tara Westover, A Fortune-Teller Told Me by Tiziano Terzani

Develop A Growth Mindset

Aside from reading books, I had other techniques to make sure I was constantly learning.

  • Newsletters. I subscribe to more than 50 – a habit I developed since 2012. Some of these companies have closed down and rebranded, but I still find them very informative and keep me ahead of the knowledge curve.
  • Google Alerts. I set up search terms and keywords for topics that I am writing about, which was useful when I headed my local hub of the Global Shapers for a year.
  • Page Bookmarks. I don’t particularly appreciate having 100 browser tabs open, so I tend to create bookmarks of company resources and websites that produce original articles and white papers.
  • Lists. Follow prominent thought leaders on Medium. I also found Twitter Lists helpful because I can design them the way I want and get more focused information.

➼ PATH UNLOCKED: Stock up knowledge on history, current affairs, and forward-looking trends

These same tips helped me during my job searching process. It’s important to follow the company pages on LinkedIn and Twitter and its leadership team to get a gist of the company culture. Glassdoor reviews are somewhat reliable, but I would take any review from there with a grain of salt. While every circumstance is different, I would suggest writing keywords associated with your skills and experience when looking at job sites. Please read the job description but challenge it, especially since it’s rare for these JDs to be true down to the last letter. It’s helpful to understand that recruiters are human like everybody else. Whether you’re applying yourself or through a headhunter, treat everybody the same way you want to be treated.

When I Got My Dream Job At A Corporate Foundation

An early career in the non-profit sector isn’t financially lucrative, but there is a huge opportunity for young people to excel in this field if you know where to look. It’s common to see senior professionals retiring to head their own foundations or work at philanthropic organizations. In my experience, it’s the best place to learn and mature as you grow into the role.

I spent almost 3 years working at AirAsia Foundation, the AirAsia Group’s philanthropic arm – the largest airline network in Southeast Asia. When I joined in 2017, the foundation was still very young, with several social enterprises under its wing. It was composed of a small team and a stellar board of trustees, with direct oversight by the company’s CEO, Tony Fernandes. I was so excited to be hired at my dream job, which would take me to cities and countries I have never been to before. That, and I was thrilled to be meeting different social entrepreneurs in the region, which I knew would help me later on in developing my social enterprise.

I Flew 4,800 Kilometers For An Interview

Since the AirAsia Headquarters was in Malaysia, I knew that I had to relocate if I got the job. A couple of weeks after the phone interview, they invited me to their office for a second interview. I was optimistic – they wouldn’t fly me in to reject me, right? I was correct, but I still didn’t expect to receive the job offer on the same day. I flew back home and thought to myself, “that was a really long commute,” because it took four hours each way.

This achievement wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t take the paths that I did.

Recap:

Path 1: Volunteer for interest groups; Work with youth organizations

Path 2: Priorities: 80% Cover Letter, 20% CV

Path 3: Stock up knowledge on history, current affairs, and forward-looking trends

Treating every interview as an out-of-the-box opportunity allowed me to think that I was being evaluated not just as a candidate but also as someone who will help the organization succeed. I prepared by researching the foundation and its projects based on the public information online, so I had something sensible to say to the hiring manager when I submitted my cover letter and application. I didn’t meet other candidates, but I was told by my manager subsequently that I was “hungrier than the others,” which I attribute to my knowledge a little about everything and following through if I didn’t.

Competence is difficult to assess over a 1-hour interview or even with conversations from listed references of ex-employees and teachers. But what stands out is how a candidate carries him or herself against the recruiter’s expectations. I knew my strengths and weaknesses, and being honest about my career ambitions (aligned with the organization’s goals) also helped me secure my spot.

While it’s definitely nice to talk about how I got my dream job, there are also things to learn from not getting the hundreds of jobs I had applied for. If there is a lesson from rejection, I think it’ll have to be TIME. Have you ever heard a hiring manager say, “We should have hired the other candidate”? This statement is unlikely because (1) there’s no way to know if the other person would succeed or do better, and (2) the manager won’t readily admit that he/she made a hiring mistake. So, the most important lesson with every failure is time. I tell myself that it’s probably not the right time for me to join that company or that another person is getting his or her dream job this time around.

(Thank you so much to Samuel for letting me tell my story! To learn more, I can be reached at www.kathleenlargo.com for questions.)

Also read How I Became A Wallpaper Designer + Entrepreneur

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