My mom works for a Government run school in Tamil Nadu. She once asked me to engage with the students of her school, who aren't very affluent, have fairly limited exposure, and motivate them. It wasn't a Steve Jobs' style "Stay Hungry Stay Foolish" speech. All I did was to go there and ask them what they wanted to do in life, what their dreams were and what ideas they wanted to pursue. Little did I realise no one had ever asked them that before! At the end of the session, some of them came up to me and asked for my autograph. That's when I realised the power of non-judgemental listening and appreciation.
Very quickly it struck me how impactful it will be for these students, with relatively lesser privilege, if a volunteer went up to them and asked the questions I did. I wanted to create a structure to connect college students with their neighbourhood government schools and thus began my NGO.
On a typical day@work, I may have to answer plenty of calls (plenty!) with my Zonal heads to oversee the status of the projects, which we run across 21 districts in India. I also reserve time every week to directly to talk to the volunteers on the ground and feel their pulse. We make it a point to continually come up with new ideas and strategies to stay relevant and deliver the maximum impact to our students. Finally, I also interview and recruit new volunteers for our NGO - currently, we have 500+ actively volunteering for us.
For those who ask "is there a structured way to take up social work as a career?", the answer is YES!. Bachelor of Social Work program is a 3-year course, which you can follow up with a Masters in Social Work, a 2-year program and MA in Development Studies, a 2-year course as well. Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA)'s Post Graduate Programme in Rural Management is a prestigious course in India. National University of Singapore's Social Sciences Dept is ranked number 1 in Asia, and they offer a Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours) in Social Work degree.
After graduating, you can choose to join an NGO - there are plenty of NGOs supporting a plethora of causes ranging from climate change to women empowerment to water & sanitation around the world. After the conducting of Corporate Social Responsibility('CSR') programmes was made mandatory for large Indian companies in 2013-14, many companies have created a dedicated team for CSR, and this has of late become a highly coveted and lucrative job for students with social work degrees.
According to me, to be successful in this sector, you need to have the following skills/ attributes:
1. Non-judgemental listening
2. Patience - we are dealing with people and emotions here and not machines!
3. Adaptability/ flexibility - you may be out there in the field without basic amenities one day, and the next day you may need to suit up to pitch to a corporate investor!
4. Persuasive articulation - The way you say something is just as important (if not more) as what you say!
Finally, don't jump into giving solutions - most people don't like it when you tell them what's good for them. They need you to be with them, listen to them, understand them, and work with them to improve their lives. If you want inspiration to take up social work, look no further than the book, Three Thousand Stitches: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives by Sudha MurtyBased on conversation in April 2019