Enabling Worker Mobility in the Social Purpose Economy

Are we asking the right questions about the future of work?

Why It Matters

Cross-organizational and cross-sector mobility is slowly becoming mainstream in the social purpose economy. In a sector that already struggles to attract and retain the best and brightest talent, ensuring portability of worker rights, benefits, credentials, and intellectual property is of huge consequence.

It’s encouraging to see that better questions are being asked not just about the future of work, but about the future of workers.

Within these discussions about automation, a risk of a 2019 recession, and a changing economy, there have been discussions about the portability of rights and benefits from gig to gig for workers of all industries.

There are parallels and insights that are relevant to the social purpose economy.

The social purpose economy lacks smooth internal lateral mobility. Moves that do happen across nonprofit organizations or sectors are often at a gradual pace.

This lack of opportunity leads to a poor retention and up-skilling of talent in a sector that already struggles to attract the brightest minds.

Low salaries, little to no benefits, and lack of a savings scheme mean that financial insecurity is a constant for sector workers.

Ontario Nonprofit Network’s Decent Work campaign, supported by the Atkinson Foundation and Canada’s Department for Women and Gender Equality, is a bright spot in a sector famous for its immobility.

Part of ONN’s advocacy work has led to the development of a sector-wide pension plan that allows employees to take their plan with them as they move to different nonprofit workplaces, provided that the subsequent organization has signed on to the common plan, called OPTrust Select.



In order for this plan to be successful, it will require coordination across organizations so that the plan can be owned by the worker and ported to each organization.

This model of worker as a free agent — one with agency — is being experimented with elsewhere.

Future of Work, and of Workers. Photo by Corey Agopian on Future of Good

Talent Cloud is a platform being developed for project-based work within the Government of Canada. It addresses the issue of contract workers within government who often move between departments, and it attempts to answer to issues that arise when economies are volatile.

“In the digital age, the world is experiencing the biggest restructuring of the labour market since the industrial revolution,” says Lauren Hunter, chief architect of Talent Cloud.

Automation of many professions, including white-collar professions, is on the rise, along with the continued shift toward temporary and contract work.

We are witnessing a renegotiation of the social contract between employers and employees,” Hunter notes, “and with it, the potential erosion of the social safety net that supports healthy, economically stable societies.”


What to watch

Social purpose organizations work toward the betterment of those healthy, economically stable societies, but precocity in their workers’ employment contracts is at cross-purposes with their organizational mandates.

This is the great contradiction of the sector.

A model such as Talent Cloud offers compelling new insights into portability for the sector. The tool would provide workers with a digitally verifiable certified online portfolio they can take from project to project, thus lessening the burden of continually providing proof of education, references, and security clearances.

It also recognizes non-degree learning and soft skills that can be vouched for by previous managers. As workers travel in asymmetrical career paths and respond to pockets of opportunity, their credentials and experience go with them.

Imagine someone working in food security. She may spend her career between an NGO, academia, and policy, cross-pollinating those organizations with ideas and, ideally, advancing work on the issue.

While she does that, she could port her pension plan, intellectual property, networks, and have the value of her up-skilling work recognized across organizations via blockchain-verified credentials.

What if this made its way into the nonprofit world?