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Earlier this year I had the pleasure of joining a variety of leaders in CSR for a roundtable luncheon. Aman Singh chaired the conversation and people from Edelman, Best Buy, Humana, Boeing and Northern Trust discussed some of the CSR issues our companies face today.

But this blog is not about the roundtable. It’s about the question Singh asked at the end of our lunch: What advice would I give to aspiring students and professionals who want to work in CSR?

Here’s what I said:

I believe students should not focus so much on getting the right job in CSR right away; rather they should focus on getting diverse experiences that will serve them well should they go into business later.

It’s these diverse experiences that bring fresh perspective and will help exponentially in defining and driving CSR, sustainability and corporate citizenship in the future.

My answer stems from personal experience.

After college, I joined the Peace Corps and worked on providing water, sanitation and heath care in Ghana.

Then, it didn’t seem like living without electricity, bathing in river water, and building schools and rain catchment systems would lead to much of a career in business.

But today as a senior manager for sustainability communications at PepsiCo, I work with partners like water.org and recently attended World Water Week in Stockholm, where PepsiCo launched a report on positive water impact with The Nature Conservancy. I believe coming to a job via a less traveled route, and having learned about important global issues makes one more effective within their company.

There are lots of people in politics, media and business who have benefited from the perspectives only a service program can provide.

In fact, one of my favorite quotes is from Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix who was a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 80’s in Swaziland. He said:

Once you’ve hitchhiked across Africa with 10 bucks in your pocket, starting a business doesn’t seem too intimidating.

While I am most familiar with Peace Corps, there are many other service programs like Teach for America and Americorps that provide the same depth of realistic perspective. I am a believer in service, but there are other options too – work for an NGO, travel, teach — just get out there so you can bring something new to the discussion.

— By Daniel Pellegrom