Working in the social sector can be both fulfilling and rewarding. We are often confounded with a range of issues in society, be it quality and accessibility in education, public health, sustainable livelihoods, preserving our commons, policy-making and implementation. Solutions to these issues are often complex and challenging.
But today, there are motivated individuals who are committed to work in the social sector and make the world a better place for us. Whether it is volunteerism or full-fledged careers in the sector, there are many opportunities out there. Nowadays, many organisations also offer interesting fellowship opportunities, which are usually for a year or two, give flexibility of work to the fellow, good remuneration as well as exposure to the sector.
There are many organisations which are constantly engaging with social problems, be it in the area of operations, programme implementation or advocacy. They are generally known as non-governmental organisations (NGO) and may exist in various forms – as societies, trusts, foundations, cooperatives, community-based organisations, unions and even social enterprises.
With the recent directive to dedicate 2% of profits as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, many corporates are also actively involved in the social sector. There are also academic institutions and well-funded think-tanks that are focused on research towards tackling social problems. Lastly, governments also forge key collaborations with institutions and NGOs on utilisation of funds and the delivery of public goods and services.
The organised social sector requires a range of professionals to effectively implement and manage their activities, which includes community work, campaigning, advocacy and social action, policy development, research, education and capacity development, supervisory and managerial functions. This sector, like government or private sectors, also has its own career trajectories, opportunities and challenges. A career in social sector is driven by a curious combination of passion and commitment to a social cause, the right kind of qualification, skills, knowledge and experience. As with other professional domains of work, the social sector has also evolved in specialist areas in terms of human resource requirements. Broadly, the sector needs:
Project management/administration functionaries: for effective project implementation and direction, direct community engagement, technical advice, coordination with donor agency/local government, budget and project reports.
Data analysis and management: ability to understand and analyse data, create powerful infographics and translate the findings into low-cost actions or interventions that demonstrate results is much sought-after.
Technical manpower: professionals who can contribute towards water/ sanitation/ Hygiene (WASH), public health, legal reform, housing and infrastructure development, finance, gender studies, communication and engagement, training researchers who can conduct surveys, design and administer questionnaires, supervise research projects from planning to completion are required at think-tanks, consultancies, universities and funding agencies.
In the last few decades, the social sector has emerged as one of the most demanding career avenues in India. A person holding a bachelor or master’s degree (such as MA in Development/Development Management; MA in Social Work; MA in Education) is generally considered a professional development practitioner. Such programmes provide students the right mix of theory and practice and prepare them for long careers in the social sector. The sector also offers unique advantage to individuals who would like to work for the betterment of their own communities or locality. They can engage with government programmes or join an NGO and contribute.
Depending on the experience level, a number of opportunities are also available in international donor or funding agencies for those with a three to five-year track record of work in a reputed developmental organisation.
The Corporate Social Responsibility divisions of corporates is another fast-growing employment avenue. In an in-depth study of CSR spending by 250 leading corporate houses in India, the NGO Box found that in 2015-16, all 250 companies had spent a certain amount from the CSR budget. In fact, the top 10 companies together spent Rs 3,350 crore on CSR activities, way above their prescribed CSR spend of Rs 3,064 crore.
The thematic areas of CSR investments are: urban slum development, rural development projects, PM’s Relief Fund, rural sports, environmental sustainability, art and culture, women’s empowerment and inclusive development, education and skills, poverty alleviation, healthcare and WASH, etc. It is apparent that a degree in Development is opening up new avenues for millions of Indian youth.
Some of the typical designations enjoyed by development professionals in different sectors are:
Government: director, research officer/researcher, welfare/development officer (like Child/ Youth/ Women/ Labour etc.), community development officer, urban planner, etc.
NGO sector: project director/programme director, programme officer, programme coordinator/assistant, project officer, community mobiliser, programme manager, block/district/state/zonal/regional coordinator, monitoring and evaluation officer, research officer/researcher, fund raiser, supervisor, resource mobiliser, training coordinator, consultant, counsellor, etc.
Corporate sector: manager (CSR/HR/Personnel/Welfare, etc.), executive trainee, community development officer, social development officer, rural development officer, etc.
Salaries in this sector may vary with qualification, experience and also the domain of engagement. A fresher with a required degree may earn anything between Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 per month in an NGO, with steady increase on performance. For people with some experience, the salary for management professionals in the sector could be in the range of Rs 7 to 10 lakh per annum. Many corporates offer their CSR executives starting salary of Rs 35,000/40,000 per month. Similar is the case with people who join large government programmes such as NRLM, NREGA, etc.
The social sector is surely better organised today, with clear goals and objectives, and has excellent career prospects. While compensation may not match jobs in the corporate sector, this sector holds the magic combination of quality work, job satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment. For many, this is an ideal mix of passion and profession.
(The writer is Head of Placement Services at Azim Premji University)