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Home > Media Room > SCC in News

Preparing for the Grassroots

India Today, 3 April 2009

An eight-hour gruelling selection process that assesses your perseverance, critical thinking ability, capacity to survive an adverse working environment and a knack for innovation among other things-this hardly sounds like a typical entry path to the development sector.

After all, social service has traditionally been viewed as a recluse for people who have nowhere else to go or for those who have too much to spare and know little about how to use it. Not any longer.

To begin with, young, committed and skilled professionals who are perfectly qualified for the 'mainstream' à la finance, IT and law are instead headed for a BA social work or resource mobilisation programme.

The stereotypes have already changed and so have the expectations and the aspirations. It is evident from the 2000 applications that Shaheen Mistry, founder of Akanksha foundation and the Teach for India project, received for a 100 positions that are awaiting suitors for a two-year fellowship.

This will train the next generation teachers in the age group of 21-37 to go out to schools operating for low income children. "These young professionals that hail from all walks of life will learn about leadership skills and in the process bring about revolutionary change in the government teaching setup," says Mistry, who agrees that all the applicants who were interviewed for the position were committed to the notion of wanting to make a difference. This was not going to be a sabbatical but a critical portion of their chosen career paths.

Working in the development sector has come to mean a win-win situation for everyone involved. Ask K. Sriram who left a sales and marketing job at a multinational to work in Akanksha Foundation five and a half years ago.

A bit of volunteering with his MNC job got him hooked to this sector. "The experience was so powerful that it made me reconsider my career choices and take it up full time," says Sriram.

There is a lot of disillusionment with the corporate sector. "The idea of sucking up to bosses and the culture of corporate snobbery does not appeal to a lot of people today," adds Sriram. Of course, the salary gaps that exist between the voluntary sector and the corporate sector are a reality that one learns to live with.

To be able to enter the voluntary sector you could either get trained in social work or development work. There are bachelors' and masters' programmes in social work.

You could also acquire a general degree in the support functions such as finance, human resources, administration and public relations. A majority of people working in the public sphere and trained in courses such as social work, development studies and teaching find ready acceptance in the this sector.

"We have a lot of young people coming to the NGO-right from those who are from an affluent background to those who can barely make ends meet. You need to be on your toes, smart, and motivated; someone who can constantly problem solve on a day-to-day basis," says Sriram.
For the core areas, some amount of expertise is required in the field in which the organisation is operating. At Akanksha, recruits should be able to practice innovative teaching because it does not follow the blackboard model and it is important that children are kept engaged on a minute by minute basis.

You could join as a part and earn up to Rs 5,000 per month-working for 2.5-3 hours daily. On the other hand, a full time teacher could earn Rs 15,000 per month working six to seven hours per day.

An organization such as Varhad that works with prisoners and their families in the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra . Workers have to frequently visit prisons, police stations, courts and other government agencies on a routine basis. For this, both regular and temporary staff are roped in.

"The most important thing for these workers is to have knowledge of the criminal justice system and the legal system," says founder Ravinder Vaidya who is himself an MA in Social Work with specialization in Criminology and Correctional Administration from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

New recruits are trained in the theoretical and legal aspects with field exposures. They accompany trained workers during their trips to police stations, courts and so on as also when they undertake work with the families of prisoners.

Since funding is such a critical portion of a not for profit organisation, you could also specialise in this with a resource mobilisation programme. At S.P. Jain, you could do a four-month certificate in resource mobilisation programme and learn the fundamentals of strategy, budgeting, implementation, communication skills, among other things.

"The course is highly practical with students expected to apply what they learn in the classroom in a series of work related projects and assignments," says Shaoli Chakravarty, programme coordinator.

For aspirants who wish to make the jump from a corporate sector to the third sector, there is also a rural management programme. "This programme provides varied openings from corporate world to the social sectors such as agri-input and food related companies, banks with interests in rural finance-microfinance, MFIs, UN and bilateral agencies (like JBIC, DFID), research and consultancy firms (for social and livelihood sector) and NGOs," says Niraj Kumar, Associate Professor, Rural Management, Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneshwar.

He agrees that CSR will result in more professional management of NGOs and the demand for trained professionals will go up. Some of the FMCGs and other companies with interest in rural market (like, ITC, HUL, Tata teleservices) also look for the students with such profile.
There is also the non formal route to training. Delhi based NGO, Sanjivani that has been working in the field of mental health since 1976 inducts volunteers aged 21 years and upwards for a training programme that takes four to six months. Candidates are screened for sensitivity, their ability to understand a problem, empathy and a nonjudgmental nature.

They are taught how to respond to a client at the entry level, how to deal with him or her behind the desk and over the phone. This is followed by sessions on perception, communication and responding, information on mental illness, alcoholism, suicides and the technicalities of counselling.

On the other side of the spectrum is the corporate sector vehemently refurbishing its CSR initiatives. Organisations such as Wipro, Infosys, Tata among others are known for their commitment towards all round development because it makes more and more business sense to do so.

Says Arun Seth, Chairman, BT India, "Good management of CSR issues doesn't just benefit our stakeholders and the planet, it is good for business," and hence a £22.3 million global investment.

A career in CSR need not be restricted to the risk management or regulatory compliance end of sustainability. Professionals in this field can look right across the business spectrum for opportunities.

To quote a few: project managers are required to manage CSR programmes and manage relations with NGOs, public relations executives are required to build reputations on the basis of CSR initiatives, product developers are now in heavy demand from customers for greener and more sustainable offerings, sales executives are required to ensure that the organisation grows from strength to strength and their CSR initiatives remains sustainable.

To be able to perform in the sector, apart from the hard skills, one also needs a lot of commitment. "The sector has a high attrition rate primarily because most people who enter the sector do so without fully appreciating the various dynamics that are at play in the kind of work we do," says Baladevan R, Senior Associate, Centre for Civil Society (CCS).

At CCS's School Choice Campaign, for instance, in the middle of planning for a seminar, you could be required to stop midway and send personalized letters to a few thousand people on announcement of elections.

"It is only a strong commitment that can allow for one to change hats in a jiffy, adapt to the changing situation and play the part well," adds Baladevan. Commitment also helps people bridge the gap between ideology and pragmatism.

Read the story in India Today

 

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