How to Turn Your Diverse Skill Set into an Impact Career

  Arielle Sandor wrote this on
November 18, 2015 | 1 Comment

Duma Works talks to Liliosa Mbirimi from Samasource about what it takes to be an impact operations manager

If you are thinking about transitioning from a corporate career to the impact space, or trying to figure out what it takes to break into operations at an impact-oriented organization, this is an excellent read.

This week, we decided to tell the story of what it takes to build a meaningful career as an Impact Operations Manager. To do this, we interviewed Liliosa Mbirimi, the Impact Operations Manager at Samasource, an organization that has managed to impact over 6,500 directly and up to 27,000 dependents lives transformed.


Tell me a little bit about your work at Samasource.

Sama Group is a non-profit organization seeking to level the playing field between the rich and the poor. We do this by helping underprivileged women and youth through impact sourcing. We get projects from clients in Silicon Valley, break down the work into smaller tasks and send it to call centers. Those centers recruit people to carry out these tasks and complete the project on behalf of our clients.

To measure our impact, we look at the breadth and depth of our intervention, how many people we are reaching out to, and our ability to change their lives.

Duma Works talks to Liliosa Mbirimi from Samasource about what it takes to be an impact operations manager

My job is more on the side of operationalizing impact as opposed to measurement of impact. I look at our potential value adds – how much more can we do to create an impact. I look at what to add to programs to make them better, build skills, and build life dependencies.

I am working on a financial literacy program right now. People don’t know how to budget money or save, so we are helping them understand money better and develop better money habits.

Tell us about yourself and your career path so far.

I have been working at Samasource since January 2015. My career path has been a roller coaster. I started out in the call center industry as sales agent. Then, I moved into management fairly quickly. I became a customer experience specialist, so I began working on customer relationship management with clients and so on.

One of the things I did as a customer experience specialist was to look at gaps in the customer service process and come up with trainings to breach those gaps. That is how I got into training.

Then, I worked at Cambridge Africa for soft skills and BPO training. At that time, I looked at myself as an Human Resource professional, since I handled trainings as well as other Human Resource responsibilities – like compliance, for example.
From Cambridge, I moved to Fones Direct Ltd. as a Training and Development Manager.

I remember I had people look at my CV and ask me – “Who are you, really?” For my job, I needed to be in HR, Business Development, Customer Relations Management, Sales, and more, so I can imagine how some people got confused.
This Impact Operations role was perfect for my experience and the diverse person I am.

How did you get started on the Human Resources path?

Initially, I started doing marketing, but then branched into HR in university.

How has this HR background helped you in your role as Impact Operation Manager at Samasource?

Doing HR was extremely helpful to find what workers need. In my position, one thing we look at in impact is if our partner centers are complying with statutory laws. Are our workers being paid minimum wage, working in the right conditions, and so forth.

Actually, just before we spoke, I was doing content development for leadership training. With that, we are standardizing the on-boarding process for workers in our Partner centers to help chart their career from the onset. For all this, having a background in HR is very useful.

Duma Works talks to Liliosa Mbirimi from Samasource about what it takes to be an impact operations manager

Image courtesy of cfi-blog.org

It takes a lot to develop programs for people. I do a lot of work through interviews – focus groups, brainstorming sessions, career guidance with workers. We are working on programs that help workers figure out their next career steps. My background in HR helped me understand how to conduct those sessions and interview.

What would you say your major day to day activities are?

I can’t really structure what I do – It’s a paint canvas, and everyday, I throw paint on and start organizing.

Like I said, I am involved in creating Holistic worker services trainings, and working with client organizations. I look at gaps in processes with partners, and in the lives of our workers to come up with programs.

Every other day, I have meetings with potential partners. I can’t do this job on my own and I always need more partners who can aid in our programs.

For example, I was talking to a potential partner yesterday, we are trying to facilitate land and home ownership for the less privileged. In a couple of years, our workers should be able to own their own land or homes.

What is the skill you need for this job that you can’t live without?

It’s not one particular skill, but let me say that the biggest thing someone would need for this job is an understanding of people. You need to understand the psychology of a person, what their needs are, how to engage them in behavioral change. It’s important to have a deep understanding of a person as an individual – not just a stereotype. And you should be able to know how they would react to different situations.

What are your biggest challenges with your role in this field?

Well, you asked me what my day looked like…(laughs)

This role is very ambiguous and abstract. There is a lot going on at the same time and different times.
Coming from a structured environment, you like working with certain frameworks and environment. For this job, you have to be all over the place. I need to try to balance that.

And then there is the pressure to always be evolving. When I look at my role, I look at the female, for example. You look at yourself in the mirror one day and think – I could do with a little eyeshadow, a little mascara etc. You get the perfect look, but the next day, you find another thing you can improve.

That improvement is constant and it happens so fast. I have to be constantly thinking of new things and evolving. Eventually, everything you put in place becomes redundant and you have to figure out how to improve yourself and the organization.

What skills did you have to learn when you took this job?

Because I am in the impact space, there is a lot of monitoring and evaluation that takes place. At Samasource, we look at survey and data analysis. I didn’t quite know how to do that before. I’m still learning about that now. It’s pretty new to me. That is actually the only formal and structured bit of this role – doing survey and follow ups, analyzing data, and charting follow up.

Duma Works talks to Liliosa Mbirimi from Samasource about what it takes to be an impact operations manager

How has this job improved your professional skill set?

I’m pretty new at this so there is a lot of stuff I’m learning – check back in 2 months. One of the things would be business development on a larger scale. When I did sales earlier on, it was cold calling. It wasn’t direct sales – just telemarketing. So getting to sit with someone in their office, chasing them, getting them to settle and commit…It’s taught me a lot of patience. Before, everything happened in a span of 10 minutes. Now you need to go to 1st meeting, then 2nd, then 3rd.

And my analytical skills have definitely become better based on surveys and data analysis. But like I said, this is something that I’m still learning as we go along.

What would be the next logical career step for you based on your experience in this position?

As an impact department, we are pretty small but are cross-functional. Our roles are combined with other things like partnership development, but the heart of our organization is impact. For myself, I would think moving to a totally independent department, like Impact Services/Impact Programs, and having that department be stand-alone at our organization.

What advice do you have for job seekers about how to apply for a role in your field?

My advice would be to be open minded. With my role, you need to wear different hats – you can’t just call yourself a People or Progams Manager or a Trainer or a Sales Manager. You are all those things in one.

So, if you would like to be in this kind of role, you probably need to set foot in many different departments or professional areas beforehand. All those experiences become very relevant when it comes to being an Impact Operations Manager at a Non-Profit. It’s a little different than being an Operations Manager. As Operations Manager, you are running specific things. But with Impact Operations, it’s always different things.

My advice would be to try to experience everything – every duty or role thrown your way will come in handy at some point in time.


 Key takeaways –

Having a career with diverse experiences is a great potential asset. Make sure you collect achievements from all your career experiences and frame them. There is a difference between having a variety of experiences on your CV and understanding how they can all link together to make you a remarkable, and unique job candidate.

Impact Operations Management is a field composed of many different things – business development, monitoring and evaluation of impact, partnership development, training creation and implementation. When you are pitching yourself for this type of position, keep these things in mind. It is great if you have all these skills, and if you don’t make sure to hone in on one or two to demonstrate your value to the company you would like to join. Then start learning the other ones!

I hope you find this interview helpful, and if you have any follow-on questions, please let us know! If you follow our blog, we will keep you up to date with interviews like these, other career advice, and job opportunities.

Fabulous week to you all!


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