Charting a Course to Mission-Oriented Management: Nadia Gomes (BCom ’00)
When Nadia Gomes talks about the work she does, there’s no question that it resonates with her deeply. A division director in the strategy unit of an international human rights foundation, Gomes’s path to a career in the social impact space started when she was still an undergraduate.
“I initially chose marketing as my focus because I felt it was a more people-oriented angle,” she says. “Coincidentally, the roles that I ended up taking after I graduated were both marketing with non-profits.”
Her first gig took her to Hong Kong on an internship at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which later became a full-time job. As a marketing coordinator, she recognized that there was something particular about the mission-driven work that appealed to her.
“We worked on communications and events to help strengthen ties between the Canada and Hong Kong business communities, and as a non-profit, we were really focused on the achievement of those goals of building community and relationships first and foremost,” she recalls. “I found that focus on ‘mission first’ was something that resonated with me.”
After returning to Toronto in 2002, she took a job as the first-ever marketing officer, and eventual relationship manager, for what ultimately became Rotman Commerce Career Services. In that role, she continued honing her focus on building relationships – this time with employers – to market the program and its students to industries. In large part, the role focused on market research that required her to build relationships in order to understand what employers were seeking in new graduates and how the commerce program could instill those skills in its students.
“Once again,” Gomes reflects, “I was in a marketing role that was focused on something beyond profit generation.”
These first two jobs proved to be critical to Gomes in helping her realize that her interest in marketing transcended its functional aspects. What had resonated with her was in fact working for something focused on a mission, and a broader social impact. She began to recognize that she wanted to work in a space that allowed her to achieve something that contributed to greater change in the world.
This realization led her to apply to the MBA program at the Yale School of Management, which has a strong reputation in the social impact, non-profit, and public sector arenas – a move that launched her career in earnest in the social impact space.
With an MBA under her belt, Gomes began looking for a job that would allow her to combine the analytic and leadership skills she had gained with the capacity to make change at a societal level.
“I considered jobs in the public sector, in microfinance, in philanthropy, in economic development,” she says, “and the role that I ended up taking was with a social impact consulting firm.”
There, she connected with clients from across the social impact space – non-profits as well as private foundation and corporate social responsibility programs – to help them devise and execute strategic plans. During her seven-year tenure, Gomes brought her expertise in organizational development and strategy to a breadth of social impact organizations, including funders and grantees, helping them to build organizational capacity.
“If you can help an organization build its capacity, then it becomes better at executing its mission,” she explains. “That was a specific perspective that I brought in as a commerce and MBA grad – that expertise in organizational development and strategy.”
Currently, Gomes works in an in-house strategy team with an international philanthropic foundation that focuses on human rights and justice issues around the world. As part of the strategy unit, she helps the foundation’s on-the-ground advocacy and grant-making teams with the strategic planning and evaluation that allows them to achieve their goals. As Gomes sees it, the value she brings to the organization lies in her ability to view a project from an objective perspective and to draw examples from across the field.
“Something that’s common in the social impact space is that you have these brilliant people who know their fields inside and out,” she says. “The complementary perspective I have as a non-subject matter expert brings objectivity to assumptions, helps the subject experts think outside the box, and brings in models from other fields that they might not have thought of. I’m that third-party person that asks: ‘is this strategy a sound one?’”
According to Gomes, there’s a lot of career potential for business students in the social impact space.
“Today business education isn’t just business education,” she observes. “It’s management education and it’s organizational development education and every sector, regardless of whether or not it’s the corporate sector, needs to build strong organizations and platforms for good strategy.”
As a commerce grad who has built a successful career in the social impact arena, Gomes encourages business educators to help students realize that there are options in that space.
“It would be great to see more dialogue with students about what they want from their jobs, and to see them recognize that some of the priorities that they thought would have to be relegated to volunteer opportunities are actually things they could do through full-time work and could still make very good use of their commerce or MBA education,” she says.
For someone who has done just that, Gomes finds great satisfaction in being able to contribute to organizations whose missions align with her own values.
“I like to think that’s the through-line to my career,” she says happily. “I support people who do amazing work and help to increase their impact.”