Help me explore careers in social justice and manage my hypocrisy
October 8, 2008 6:25 AM   Subscribe

By day I work as a content strategist for big corporations, and by night I write essays on social justice issues for independent media.

Over the past year, much to my surprise and delight, my essays have been well received by others, forwarded to policy makers, and commented on in traditional media. Recently, I’ve started channelling my weekend passion for street photography into photo essays for social change, too.

I’d like to spend more of my time promoting social justice, and have considered heading back to university to study law or social work. However as an introvert (Myers-Briggs INFJ) who avoids conflict, I fear that my personality might not be suited to law. Also, despite the emotional appeal of counselling others, I don’t feel comfortable with the immense responsibility, and the salary for social workers in Australia is incredibly low.

Ditto the salaries on offer from non-profits -- I recently left the corporate world and started a low-paying content role with a global non-profit, but an unexpected health and financial scare gave me a reality check.

I realised that as a single woman in my early thirties, I must maintain at least a moderate income and maintain my employability in order to support my future and myself. (I live within my means, but wasn’t able to save on the non-profit salary, or replace my emergency savings.)

What other social justice careers are there aside from law and social work? How might I combine my existing writing and project management skills with a career in social justice that allows me to fully support myself? And until I make a career change, how can I deal with the hypocrisy *cringe* I feel about simultaneously promoting corporate greed while championing social change?
posted by elke to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oops! First ever question, apologies for the poor formatting.
posted by elke at 6:39 AM on October 8, 2008

Have you looked at working for some of the really big guns? Amnesty, ACLU, etc?

Or, if you're trilingual (I think three is the requirement), how about the UN? Or subsidiary/related orgs such as UNICEF or WHO?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:43 AM on October 8, 2008

What about copywriting for fundraising and other NFP marketing efforts?
posted by girlpublisher at 6:50 AM on October 8, 2008

Other than law and social work, I can think of two career paths that might be up your alley: writing and public relations. It's frankly tough to make a good living as a progressive freelance writer, but public relations is a different story.

Project management skills and writing are critical requirements, and planning strategies is a huge part of the job. You can either do it full-time (yes, the jobs exist) or try consulting on the side as a transition. I've done both, and found both rewarding. As an introvert, you might balk at this suggestion -- but believe it or not, a great deal of public relations work involving tactical and strategic planning. Plus, it would enable you to use your skills as a writer and an advocate in a way that's consistent with your values.

As for the "hypocrisy" portion of the question, consider this. It's rare to find moral absolutes in a complex world. There is plenty to do for worldwide social justice, and it's better for you to meet your own needs through a career and then give a little extra to the cause than it would be you *deny* yourself what you need, which would make you feel insecure about your future.

It's counterproductive to beat yourself up over not being completely 100 percent morally pure, because no one is, and to think along those lines trades off with actually doing the work. Every moment you spend fretting about it is a moment you could have spent writing another essay, or making a career transition if that's what you feel you need to do. Good luck.
posted by jeffmshaw at 6:57 AM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

My Dad is involved in social justice stuff in Melbourne, previously with Centacare and now Catholic Social Services Victoria, which as I understand it is sort of an umbrella lobbying group for social service charities. Feel free to memail me if you'd like me to put you in touch with him, I'm sure he'd be able to give you some advice.
posted by jacalata at 7:13 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

A whole bunch of people I know who do social justice stuff work in the world of public policy - specifically, health policy. Some of them work for nonprofits that serve homeless people with HIV; some of them work or have worked for the department of public health, figuring out ways to lower barriers to care for the poor/homeless/living with HIV. My favorite person (reader, I married her) has done HIV policy for years and is now working for an organization dedicated to reforming drug-related prison sentencing, and ending the war on drugs.

The Goldman School of Public Policy has a decent website. The people I know who do this kind of work are not fighty-confrontational, but they don't back down, either. They all seem to go to a lot of meetings, which they complain about, but in that way that says they really kind of like it.
posted by rtha at 9:08 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about public service careers in the government? That has been my choice of balancing public service and social responsibility.

Also, nonprofit consulting (at least in the US) is a lucrative, yet refreshing and responsible career.
posted by waylaid at 1:39 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

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