Where My Sectors End and Yours Begin

puzzle pieces

Over the past few months, it’s been great to see excitement building for a type of leader who works across sectors to build and improve the systems and infrastructure to solve social problems. In some of my previous UnSectored posts, I call this leader a social infrapreneur and argue that we need to define, recognize, and support social infrapreneurs.

In a Harvard Business Review blog this summer, Lara Galinsky, the senior vice president of Echoing Green, argues that “Not Everyone Should be a Social Entrepreneur”. She writes, “social entrepreneurs alone cannot change the world,” because they need people, “across all sectors to turn their groundbreaking ideas into reality.” Last month, Martin Montero pointed me towards the blog, Ethics for Doing Good, on which author Benny Callaghan wrote a fake job posting for a “Systems Diplomat,” noting, “The world is seeking a team of curious, creative and humble diplomats to navigate complexity, choreograph systems and facilitate collaboration.”

People are talking and writing about the need for leaders who reach across sectors and systems. But when you say sector and I say sector, do we mean the same thing? And does it even matter? At the last UnSectored Talk, “Cross-sector leadership for change,” I mentioned this to help set the stage for our conversation. Some people define different sectors based the whether the institution is a nonprofit, for-profit, or part of government. Others use the term sector to describe different issues areas, such as education, health, and housing. There’s the tech sector, the philanthropy sector, the manufacturing sector, the energy sector, and the impact investing sector. I could go on and on.

The point of this is not to settle on the correct definition of sector.  “Sector” is a versatile word that can be used in different contexts with different people. But because of that,  we need to have a level of awareness that my definition of sector in a conversation might be different from yours.

What unites all of our uses of the word sector is the understanding that we are talking about a part of a whole, a piece of a system, and therefore acknowledging there’s a world outside of the one in which we are operating, or beyond the few sectors among which we are aiming to build bridges. The use of “sector” inherently acknowledges there is something else out there—and that we need to work outside our own spheres to change the whole. But it is important to understand where my sphere ends and yours begins.

I’m curious, what do you usually mean when you use the word sector? And when you found the UnSectored community, what type of sectors did you imagine needed to work together or at least better understand one another to create social change?

3 thoughts on “Where My Sectors End and Yours Begin

  1. This is a great point, Laura. I’m all for clarity in meaning and intent.

    In the course of my work, the term “sector” is used in multiple ways. At ProInspire, we are addressing social sector leadership needs by helping private sector professionals make a successful career transition into the social sector. Here, we use the term “sector” to distinguish the nature of organizations or institutions. At FHI 360, an international development NGO, one of our strategic goals is to transcend the traditional siloed approaches to development by providing solutions that integrate services within the realms of health, education, economic development, etc. In this context, “sector” refers to topical or disciplinary areas, or, if one prefers, to markets for different types of technical assistance and capacity building services.


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