Is There Common Ground Between the Corporate and Impact Sectors?


The corporate sector and the impact sector are both part of the larger ecosystem of Life. There are certain activities that the corporate sector can do that the impact sector simply cannot and vice-a-versa. In the final analysis, both the corporate and social sectors are not mutually exclusive. A corporation cannot sustain itself if it subtracts value from or fails to add value to society. Likewise, society cannot progress without a healthy corporate sector. Both the corporate and social sectors require some unique and some common qualities although in the case of the latter these get applied very differently.

In terms of personal qualities, logical thinking, speed and being business like (or astute) are preconditions for success in the corporate sector. The impact sector, on the other hand, favors people who are more intuitive, compassionate and sport qualities of patience, tolerance and inclusivity. However, there is common ground too. Both sectors require passion, drive, integrity and focus. Bill Gates has time and again gone on record saying that unquestionable integrity is the overwhelming but silent quality responsible for his success.

In terms of professional qualities, in the corporate sector, it is expected that a person will have significant analytical capabilities. It’s not that analytical capabilities are not required in the impact sector; it’s just that relative to the corporate sector, people are expected to display greater empathetic qualities. Corporate sector is about understanding the profit zone; social sector is about understanding the social impact zone. Most corporations, if not all, are saddled with a quarterly mind-set whereas the impact sector expects one to assume longer-term horizons. Therefore, it isn’t without accident that the term patient capital has been defined. Corporations and managers are eventually driven by understanding of markets and stock market valuations whereas social sector success is driven by measurement of positive impact(s) on society, human well-being and the environment. Fund raising in the corporate sector is often in anticipation of projects whereas in the social sector it more often than not is linked to defined projects.

Whether it is the corporate or the impact sector, both require a certain set of common professional skills and qualities. In both, one needs to be accountable, and be able to perform and deliver results. The acumen for strategy; problem solving and risk taking are pervasive except that they have different contexts.

It must be emphasized that both sets of qualities are not either or. In other words, a person can imbibe and exhibit both qualities. There are any number of examples of people who have worn both hats. From the time of J.R.D. Tata (an eminent Indian industrialist) to now, several entrepreneurs have straddled back and forth from the corporate to the social sector successfully. Philip Mervis, from the Boston College Center of Corporate Citizenship, is a champion of creating intersections between corporations and society and advocates consciousness-raising experiences as part of executive leadership development. A grounding in liberal arts can be a good and common starting point.

Shakti retired from IBM in Aug ’17 and is a cross-over to the Impact sector. He can be reached at


4 thoughts on “Is There Common Ground Between the Corporate and Impact Sectors?

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  1. I believe the main characteristics like honesty, trustworthiness, humility etc are relevant in both areas and are the foundation for success in either one. Good people will make Corporate and Impact better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very well said Shakti. Corporations must embrace their social responsibility and not-for-profit must work with for-profit agencies to better serve their goals.

    Liked by 1 person

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