The turnover rate among professionals working in China’s social impact sector is over 50%, and most young professionals who join the sector report that they are not likely to stay due to a lack of professional development opportunities.
And yet China needs more social workers, more nonprofits, more social enterprises than ever if it is to meet the needs of vulnerable populations and harness the power of its growing philanthropic capital.
We believe that we can help grow more leaders, at a faster pace, if staff development is approached with a relentless focus on what actually helps these professionals do their jobs better.
Our courses are fully learner-centered and focused on utilization. Each has the objective of improving performance outcomes at work.
The course content and practice assignments ask learners and teams to graduate from a project mindset ("What can I do?") to adopt a product mindset ("What is needed to solve this problem?").
We aim to help learners develop into leaders, and give them the systematic knowledge, tools, processes, and community to support them to make that transition.
Why That Spark?
We partner with leading foundations and growth-stage organizations to deliver a solution that helps each professional, from new joiners to middle managers and even leaders, to be able to grow and develop as effective changemakers.
Our customers love learning with us because our courses and optional coaching are:
We started That Spark after our founders were working as grant managers for a corporate foundation. We managed funding to more than 30 nonprofits in China, and all of them told us that the lack of talent was one of the biggest challenges they faced.
Leaders and managers told us that their staff lacked knowledge, experience, and skills. This talent gap was the key reason why they were unable to meet the new growth opportunities that were becoming available as greater resources than ever were flowing into the sector.
The original idea for our company was based on two key insights:
First, that of all the pain points we hear from changemakers (low salary, unclear career path, low status in society, among others), the pain of a lack of confidence in knowing how to make the change they want to see, or how to take that next step, is probably the least discussed, least appreciated pain of all.
Second, we reflected that our team has also, many times, felt a similar pain, but with one critical difference—when we have questions, we easily turn to the world of ideas, published content, podcasts, case studies, blogs, libraries, etc. in the easily searchable, easily findable English-language world.
The same opportunities to ask and find are not yet as widely available to those with lower English proficiency and limited access to the global web. Finding useful, relevant tools and resources in Chinese on China’s Internet is harder than it should be, as you can see in the video below.
In this example we first search for ‘theory of change’ (a framework for explaining how your organization’s work connects to the change you want to see) in Chinese, on Baidu, the country’s top search engine.
A few scrolls down the first page show that we find few relevant resources, and nothing that would support us to create a theory of change for our organization. We then search in Google, in Chinese, just to be sure. Again, few helpful results.
Finally, we search in English and find seemingly endless pages of relevant content from a wide range of resources.
Providing access to tools, resources, and a general access to global knowledge is a first and important step, but creating pathways for changemakers to utilize that knowledge into effective practice is what we believe will lead to better outcomes.
As That Sparks builds new partnerships and develops product lines, we will always hold learners at the center of our approach. We will:
Building the confidence to take that next step
Our research with professionals in the social impact sector has focused on uncovering a deeper understanding of the issues at the core of the talent gap.
In work with dozens of local organizations over a decade, and in interviews and surveys with changemakers in China at every level, from new joiners to organization leaders, we have heard very similar pains expressed over and over.
One in particular led to an 'aha' moment: a significant and common pain is the lack of confidence in one's own ability to know how to make good decisions and execute effectively, or, simply, knowing the right thing to do and knowing how to do it well.
The expressed lack of confidence in having the knowledge, skills, and abilities to utilize resources and create meaningful impact doesn't seem to get better as a professional moves into higher positions. In fact, it seems to increase with each new development milestone reached. Each step forward brings them further into uncharted territory. And because the sector as a whole is so new, there are few others that have taken a similar path to turn to for help or guidance.
Through this insight we have begun to frame the problem space much more widely, considering it as, among other things, a challenge of self-efficacy, defined as a personal judgement of how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations.
A changemaker with a high self-efficacy in their work would be confident in their own ability to: