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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Call of Society

The Economic Times reports that "Now, corporate pros joining NGOs". It reports that percentage of people switching to social sector has doubled to 3% in last one year. The reasons being mentioned for this switch range from job satisfaction to a fulfilling lifestyle. Interesting thing is that people who are making the switch are well-qualified individuals from Ivy league engineering colleges and B-schools. Also, the switch to social sector is not confined to experienced people who have made their riches and now want to contribute their bit to social cause. Even freshly minted MBAs and other professionals are taking a shot at social sector. Here is the full story:
Young and the mid-aged pros in the corporate sector are quitting their high paying jobs and joining the NGOs. It’s a trend that has caught up in a big way in the last three to four years. In fact, the percentage of people switching over to the social sector has doubled to 3% in the last one year, according to head-hunters. The reasons for this are varied, ranging from job satisfaction to a fulfilling lifestyle.

Says Ronesh Puri, MD, Executive Access, “We receive calls from professionals who want to do something different and contribute to the society in their own way.” So who are the faces of this enterprising bunch?

Meet Shankar Venkateswaran, executive director, American India Foundation. After a BTech from IIT Madras, followed by a two year stint with Brooke Bond India, he got into IIM-C. A compulsory course in Indian Social System there got him interested in the social sector.

It came in handy when he finally joined in 1995 as chief executive in Partners in Change, a leading NGO promoted by Action Aid that deals with CSR. This was after working for 12 years in A. F. Ferguson from 1982 to 1994. He says, “Working in the social sector needs personal motivation. Pay packages are pathetic here, so you need to have that passion to work.”

While for Arun Grover, director, Jan Shikshan Sansthan Prayas, an initiative by Prayas, it was 25 years of professional life that made her yearn for self-fulfilment. She left Sidbi as deputy GM to finally join Prayas after doing a bit of social work in her neighbourhood.

There was still 15 years of service left. She says, “At this age and 25 years of professional life, you need something more than money. A feeling that you did something substantial and what better than working for the society.” Also a break from a mobile life, close to the family gave her immense satisfaction.

Joining them are the young entry level executives from the corporate sector for reasons similar to these. Nidhi Arora quit GE India in 2004 after a short stint of four and a half months, as financial management programme trainee to be one of the founders of Dhriiti, (an organisation that organises entrepreneurship and leadership programmes across rural and urban India).

An MBA from XIM, Bhubaneshwar, the young founder says, “At GE, I got a package of Rs 5.5 lakh per annum while here I get Rs 15,000 per month, a much less amount. I had realised pretty early in my career that money was not something I cared for. I wanted to be happy about what I do. Hence there was no point in wasting time.”

Romira Chatterjee, secretary, Seed, a one and a half year old Delhi based NGO, is no exception. She left Tata Power as a management trainee to join Youthreach, an NGO against social and ecological injustices to the poor in 2004 to finally join Seed.
My questions: why this sudden urge to quit corporate life and join social sector? What is the trigger? Is the corporate life becoming boring for a small percentage of professionals? Or has the corporate sector become one big rat race? Is corporate sector lacking in motivational factors for its professionals? Is this an individual phenomena based on individual conscience or is it a corporate phenomena where the system has become such that professionals are looking outward for job satisfaction and meaning in life?

My take: Corporate sector is increasingly taking the shape of Bollywood, where mainstream cinema and parallel cinema co-exists. Just as in Bollywood, glamourous Aishwarya Rai and Mallika Sehrawat co-exist with muse of intellectuals like Nandita Das and Konkana Sen Sharma, so do corporate inclined professionals co-exist with socially inclined professionals.

In near future, perhaps the trendy thing could be a marriage of corporate and social sectors with corporates increasingly becoming aware of their social surroundings and professionals increasingly questioning the meaning of their work and life.

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