Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Anthropological Entrepreneurship," A Career Strategy

Many anthropologists, academic and applied, have become addicted to the federal government to fund their research or jobs. For those considering as career in program evaluation and/or the non-profit sector, federal funding has become a crutch.

It is time to realize that the world is bigger than that. In addition to federally funded programs there  are the private, state and local government supported programs. There are also opportunities in the private sector, but that is a different story.

In today's funding climate, the federal government is not the most secure source and the successful non-profits are forced to compete by improving their performance and finding alternative funding sources. Program evaluations are needed to justify continued funding, to sell grant applications to new or other sources, and internally, to develop new and more efficient management systems as well as new funding and business models in order to survive..

A recurring complaint or question that I hear from anthropologists who want to transition into the real world, is: "They won't consider me because I don't have the experience;" or, "How do I get the experience I need?"

I  recommend a strategy that I call "Anthropological Entrepreneurship". What you can do is create a job for yourself. And in the process, you are creating your professional personality and a self identity as a product that you can sell. That is, you take control of your career by becoming your own product.

The first step is to think like an entrepreneur, not like a day laborer or corporate drone or academic bureaucrat. To think like an entrepreneur, you have to take control of your life. This begins by defining your product as a solution to someone else's problem and your market as the someone else who has the problem you can solve.

Next, you have to be willing to take a risk and trust in yourself by investing your own resources (time, money and talent) to get started.

Third and most important, you have to be willing to fail and learn from your failures but not surrender to them. If you can do these then you are ready to venture out into the real world and get some practical experience.

 A good place to start looking is locally and at the small non-profits that have limited professional staff. These agencies are always in need of a skilled social science or business planner to help them develop their evaluation plan and/or to do their evaluation work. They are also generally unable to buy or pay for such services. The advantage here is that you can test yourself as a product. Failure here is not a bad as failing in a bigger and better know job/assignment. At the same time, the agency gains from your free service and whatever benefits or value your efforts contribute to organization. Remember your failure is not necessarily theirs nor is their failure necessarily yours.

Non-profits depend heavily on volunteers and generally have "working" boards of directors rather than "policy" boards. They are therefore often hard put to find board members to replace or fill vacancies that occur when volunteers are burned out. Boards are made up of local leaders and activists. This is great place for you to start building a profession network outside of academic anthropology and to prove yourself to potential clients. In some cases, this can lead to a paying job or a project contract.

Finally, the difference between an applied anthropologist and a career anthropologist is that the applied anthropologist expects clients to come to him/her, while a career anthropologist goes out and shows potential clients why they need his or her services and why they should pay for them.


Blogtrout said...

Would this be anthropreneurship?

Barry R. Bainton, PhD, MBA said...

I guess if one wants to miss the whole point of entrepreneurship among anthropologists, one could obscure the idea with a neologism. But then it distorts the message to the applied anthropology community. It may work for the academic who needs a new idea to get tenure.