Holly Onstenk started at CHY as a trainee in 2022 and is now an Associate Social Value Consultant. Holly is on the recently-formed steering group for Young Professionals in Social Value (YPSV), a cross-sector group that connects people under the age of 35 who care about social value and making a difference.
I didn’t know social value was a possible career path until I did my MA in Philosophy and discovered business ethics. I’d always had an interest in helping people and volunteering though. I thought at first I might want to go into nursing or teaching – my mum’s a nurse though and she talked me out of it!
By the time I graduated I knew I wanted to work in social value, so I talked to as many people as I could. There were two paths I could have followed – I could go into an in-house delivery role where I would be helping a company fulfil their social value requirements. Or I could go for the consultancy side and work with a number of companies, which was more of a strategic role to do with culture change. I chose consultancy because I knew I’d learn a lot very quickly in this job.
I had no real idea of what it would be like working in social value, and I definitely thought I knew a lot more than I did when I first started! Working at CHY I realised there was so much to learn. I think a lot of young people feel like that. You have such strong views about social value, but then you get into the sector and it’s a lot more complex than it first seems.
There can be a lot of jargon in this job. You go into meetings and there are people in there who have been on boards for twenty years and they’re talking in a really convoluted way. It can make you second guess yourself, although that’s getting easier as I get more confident in my own understanding.
It would be good to see the language we use to talk about social value change to be more accessible. We went to the Constructing Excellence conference recently and they had some young people speaking at the event in a much clearer way and that was so refreshing. It was the first time I’ve seen that. It shows how important it is that young people in the sector have a platform.
I got involved with the Young Professionals in Social Value group because there aren’t a lot of young people in social value, and those that are here aren’t always visible. When we go to events it’s rare to see someone the same age as me, and it’s very unusual to see speakers who are younger too.
Of course there are young people working in social value, but they’re often siloed away working within companies and not knowing anyone else who does the job they do. It can feel quite isolating.
As the sector grows, there will be more and more young people working in social value and they have so much to offer. You’re more willing to take risks when you’re younger, so you’re naturally more innovative. You think about things in a different way. You ask questions that might not be asked otherwise.
With Rob and Hannah, I feel very comfortable being able to say “why do we do it this way?” and - it doesn’t happen very often! - but sometimes they’ll say that’s a really good point and things will change. And that feels great.
I underestimated how creative it would be, which is quite unusual for a corporate job. You do need to be able to think creatively and strategically. You need to be able to speak to people. But being a nice person is really the main thing. You need to be able to think of how to help people. It still astonishes me that companies don’t think about that most of the time.
I love the fact that my job can make a difference to people. And it’s meaningful change as well. I used to do volunteering, working with young people, and it was really rewarding working with individuals. But in this job I see how I can make even more of a difference because I know what social value could do, the impact it could have. I understand the power organisations have to help if they’re just pointed in the right direction.
I can’t believe I’ve only been at CHY for a year. I started as a trainee and now I’m an associate social value consultant. And now they’re looking to recruit another Holly!
We’re always working on big projects together, so the next step for me will be developing the confidence to work on things more independently. And I’d like to try speaking at events too.
It’s always worth speaking to people who are already working in the industry. You’re often told to read things, but the reading that’s out there can be difficult. So reaching out to people, whether that’s through the Young Professionals in Social Value group or just a LinkedIn message is a good way to get started. If someone messaged me on LinkedIn I would be elated just to have a chat with them about their career, what they’re doing, and to compare experiences!
LinkedIn post (CHY):
A little over a year ago we were looking to hire our first trainee. Little did we know that @Holly Onstenk was about to knock on our door!
Holly is now a fully fledged Associate Social Value Consultant with us here at CHY and is doing incredible things (read her blog to find out more).
That means it’s time for us to hire again. Who will come and wow us this time? Maybe it’s you? Or someone you know who is passionate about working in social value?
More details and link to apply in the comments…
*insert blog link*