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Promoting the Public Service

Do you want to do something meaningful with your life? Use your talents to contribute to the social community? Choose from a wide variety of fields? If so, consider a career in the public service.

Public service means different things to different people. To some, it means working for a charity or other nonprofit organization. To others, it means working for government, helping run programs that benefit everyone. And others think of running for public office and becoming a mayor, senator or state representative.

"Public service is a broad concept, and we certainly in some ways over the years had trouble defining what we as a very small foundation were going to be contributing," says Lara Iglitzin. She's the executive director of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation in Seattle, Washington.

The Henry M. Jackson Foundation was created to continue the public service efforts of Senator Henry Jackson, who spent more than 40 years in public life.

"There was a sense at his passing that a lot of his work was unfinished and the people who worked for him were extraordinarily devoted to him," says Iglitzin. "So there was an agreement made at the funeral to begin a foundation with the leftover campaign war chest."

The foundation was created and additional money was raised. The idea was to continue work in the areas that Senator Jackson had focused on during his career -- human rights, the environment, international affairs education and public service.

"He exemplified a life in public service, and so that area was set up to try to encourage other people to serve," explains Iglitzin. "And over the years we've funded everything from helping more senior executives in the government have additional training, to helping younger people figure out a way into public service."

Iglitzin believes that people choose to work in public service because they want to do something meaningful in life.

"I remember my dad saying to me, 'You don't want to just sell apples, you want to do something that makes a difference in the world,"' says Iglitzin.

"I think by doing something in public service, you hold your head up differently, whatever the thing may be -- you're trying to fix something, or educate someone or make a difference in the world you live in."

Faye Wightman can relate to those words. She's president and CEO of a foundation that supports many different charities and projects.

"Many people that work in the not-for-profit sector, are there not because of a large salary or huge benefits, but because they want to feel that they're making a difference in some way in our community -- they do it for the social benefit that is created by that particular not for profit," says Wightman.

"For me personally, this is what is important and what motivates me. It isn't always about personal financial profit, but rather a broader 'social profit.' It’s what makes me feel good about the work I do."

Wightman says many nonprofit groups are starting to use the term "social profit" rather than "nonprofit." This is to emphasize the benefits they provide to society at large.

"We're the only sector that defines itself by what it isn't," says Wightman. "And the reality is that we do make a profit, it's just that any profit we make goes back into the community for social good. So what we're starting to call ourselves is the 'social profit sector.'"

Those in the for-profit community, meanwhile, are often seen as only being concerned about money. But that's starting to change.

"In the decade that I've been here, I think that I have seen a progressive shift towards a student body [with] much more social responsibility in them," says Steve James. He is executive director of a school of business university program.

"That's driven by the way globalization has occurred, the way the environment is," explains James.

"These concerns have steadily increased in their awareness over the last decade. So they still come in wanting to know how to run a business, but it's kept in check by a stronger community values system than I saw a decade ago."

At the same time as business students are becoming more concerned about the public welfare, students studying public administration are learning more about business.

"We've had significant interest from the Master of Public Administration students to come over here for courses in the pursuit of trying to pick up those private sector management skills and understandings that can be transferred back into the public sector," says James.

Nonprofit (or social profit) jobs don't pay as well as most private sector jobs. The same is generally true for jobs in politics and government. Average salaries are simply higher in the private sector. But public service careers offer rewards that can't be counted in dollars.

"I think that trying to engage in something that betters your community is ultimately going to be great for you, because you're going to feel good about what you do," says Iglitzin.

If you want to explore a public service career, it's easy to get started.

"Start volunteering for an organization,” suggests Wightman. "Start doing your homework in terms of what you are interested in and what you would be willing to give your time to. Is it the environment? Is it the arts? And what are the talents that you can bring to the table?"


Careers in Government
Contains lots of info on public sector organizations

Public Service Employees Network
Find out how to get government jobs

Partnership for Public Service
Check out a huge number of resources to build a public service career

National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration
Lists schools that offer degree programs in public administration, public policy and public affairs

Henry M. Jackson Foundation
Program areas include international affairs, the environment, human rights and public service

Stennis Center for Public Service
Dedicated to promoting the public service

Swearer Center for Public Servicer
Helps students at Brown University develop their skills as public leaders

MIT Public Service Center
Gives MIT students a chance to work on community service projects worldwide

Cornell University Public Service Center
Connects Cornell students, faculty and alumni with community organizations

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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.