Brigit is a current MBA candidate and the co-founder of Second Day, a talent matching platform and resource hub for those wanting to start a career in social impact. Following a multitude of wide-ranging social impact jobs from Kigali to New York City, Brigit gained first-hand experience of hiring processes, impact washing and the social impact talent gap. She started this non-profit to help mission-oriented young people access the careers where they could make a difference. Second Day offers several programmes for people looking to launch a career in social impact, the largest being the impact fellowship. This matches US undergraduates, with a focus on low-income and first generation students, with paid internships in the social impact sector. Second Day also consults with social impact employers and universities, showing them how to improve their equitable hiring processes, and offers lots of free resources online for anyone interested in a career in social impact.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I’m originally from Chicago. I grew up there and did my undergraduate degree to study International Development at Georgetown University in Washington DC which is where I met my co-founders. We were all friends there and one of my co-founders and I started an extracurricular group focussed on random acts of kindness. That was our first foray into entrepreneurship and it was shockingly successful. After graduating I worked in Rwanda on a behavioural sciences project. I moved to New York soon after to work at the intersection of human centred design thinking and social service delivery. When I got to New York I had a harder time than I’d expected finding jobs that prioritized social impact, so I ended up working many wide-ranging jobs. Most recently, I worked for New York City government, and I’ve worked on my company Second Day on the side since 2018.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is seeing and reacting to a problem that no one else is. It stems from a frustration that no one is doing anything about a problem, a need to take the problem on yourself and help to solve it.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I have always known that social impact work is what I want to do and that a company I wanted to work for would regard it as a core part of their mission. Unfortunately this is rather hard to find and I was lured into several jobs by ‘impact-washing.’ These organisations can be very misleading for junior talent and may put them off a longer career in social impact. I learned a lot about navigating these spaces while many of my peers were working in finance and consulting to gain skills and financial stability. As they began to look for career changes many of them would come to me for advice. My co-founder worked for Bridgespan – a non-profit consulting company with highly competitive entry level positions – and was curious what the hundreds of unsuccessful candidates went on to do. He realised many of them abandoned a career in social impact to follow a corporate path.
We (along with our third co-founder) uncovered the idea of the ‘social impact talent gap’, the phenomenon that individuals wanting to work at social impact organisations, and the organisations themselves, which were looking for wider and more diverse recruits, kept missing each other. We started to address this by making a website which operated as a job board and would post jobs for candidates with five years of experience or less. It was incredibly manual, relying on a network of over 20 unpaid volunteers around the world. My cofounders went full time in 2019 which is when we changed our direction from a job board to a fellowship programme, working individually with students and employers. We plan to digitise and automate a lot of what we’ve learned so we can prioritise our staff time on meaningful interactions with students.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
You need confidence in your idea that sustains a deep-rooted commitment to the problem you’re trying to solve. The ability to work and motivate yourself independently is also critical. Finally I would say incredible time-management, maximising your time and prioritising when there are endless tough decisions.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
I find the Social Impact Talent Gap hugely complex and intellectually challenging. It’s amazing to work with such incredible students and then see the positive impact we can have on their life trajectory. I’m lucky that I’m energised by this problem every day and motivated by how close we are to solving it.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
There are so many. It’s almost a cliché but Patagonia just does so many things right in so many ways. The way they prioritise talent and invest in their employees has lead to an incredible reputation as well as so much brand success.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would love to ask their founder about the biggest challenges they’ve faced and how they approach their talent development work.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Our first year of students graduated into the pandemic in 2020. So many schools and companies were struggling to keep people engaged online and more and more people were turning to Second Day for a number of reasons. It was online programming so students could join remotely from anywhere in the world. There were also a surge of social movements in 2020 that pushed a lot of young people to make social impact a central part of their professional life. Employers were becoming very aware that they needed to develop stronger, more representative talent pipelines in the social sector. It was so exciting to see how we could help people navigate that really tough time and maximise all these positive developments.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Our biggest mistake has been wanting to involve everyone who was enthusiastic about the idea. As a non-profit, we’re eager to accept help from enthusiasts. At times this works well but being able to manage volunteers is an immense task so we have often had these massive, incredible teams that weren’t the most efficient.
How have you funded your ideas?
We’re a non-profit organisation and have raised funding in several different ways to date. We bootstrapped, successfully applied to grants and currently have a business model based on both talent matching and consulting. We charge employers for each internship placement we set up and charge a recruitment percentage from full term placements that we assist with, a scheme that we’re hoping to scale up as we continue to digitise. We also make profit from consultancy work, helping larger institutions hire more equitably.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
I hadn’t seriously brought Second Day into my time at Oxford until I learned about the All-Innovate competition in Michaelmas term, decided to apply and was ultimately successful. A lot of this prize money will go towards digitising and automizing the information from our fellowship programme, enabling it to scale up.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Due to time zones and scheduling difficulties I took a step back from Second Day last year whilst doing my public policy work. It’s been amazing being at the Said Business School because there are so many opportunities there for the taking. A lot of resources for starting a company are based at the Business School.
If a new entrepreneur or start-up came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Of course it would depend on the type of start-up they are. I think social impact entrepreneurs have a very special, supportive network generally so I would encourage anyone starting out in that field to reach out to those geographically close to them. Virtual meetings are great but resources like ImpactHub can help you attend physical meetups. I benefitted from a lot of accelerators and incubators in New York which hosted events for entrepreneurs.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
Yes, sadly a recent competition magnified many of the biases we face every day. We received feedback at one stage that told us that our presentation slides were too masculine and we should soften and round the design. Of course there is a bias but it was unbelievable to see this paragraph that had made it to us through multiple filters. Then, as we were cheering for a pair of male runner ups a woman turned to us, first calling us their cheerleaders and then assuming we were there partners.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
The reception that women and other minorities receive when they assert themselves in the male dominated spaces of entrepreneurship is laden with both conscious and unconscious bias and its negligent to not actively counteract that as an institution. It’s also a matter of personal accountability; one of the many people who handled our All-Innovate feedback could have stepped in and said that it was inappropriate.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
I know this doesn’t apply for every woman but I think it’s important to acknowledge what you’re up against and that its simply not fair. Its not an even playing field. As a recipient of these biases, knowing that they exist and filtering the world through them will help you to see your progress for what it really is. I am fascinated by the behavioural sciences so I would recommend looking into the scholarship on these biases in entrepreneurship to be as informed as possible. At times of professional discomfort it helps me to remember that I’m doing it for the benefit of women who will come later.
Any last words of advice?
At times of professional discomfort it helps me to remember that I’m doing it for the benefit of women who will come later.
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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