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 social sector leaders in China at a faster pace, if we approach old problems through a new frame.
Our approach is to develop the potential of a user-centered platform that offers a mix of scalable content and personal, connective experiences. We widen the frame to go beyond traditional organization-to-organization (B2B) models of professional training and knowledge transfer to directly meet mission-driven professionals where they are and help them get where they want to go (B2C/C2B).
To address the gaps in the information and connection market, That Spark is testing a package of initial products that form a new kind of online/offline learning space. These breathe life into our purpose to connect, inspire, and engage China’s changemakers.
Project-based learning experiences combine personal leadership development with sector-specific knowledge and competencies. Peers accompany each other on the learning journey, with experienced coaches to help guide the way, as we focus on three areas:
Original content, shared through audio and video, uncovers how everyday people in China are doing remarkable work and amplifies local voices. We speak with a wide range of players in the social sector and beyond and share their insights, questions, successes and challenges with our learners.
A knowledge hub breaks down the barriers of language and place and allows That Spark to bring global resources to our learners in their home language. Users tell us what content they want translated, and also support the effort by offering translation support or correcting translation errors.
Why these products?
Our product design is informed by theory and 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.
A big trend in China now is the growing knowledge economy, where the drive toward self-improvement and on-demand entertainment has created many new platforms that deliver curated content, often featuring lessons from experts across a variety of industries.
We want to see how this knowledge economy can support the development of changemakers' self-efficacy, motivation, and effectiveness.
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: