The youth of today are gradually changing how a job is defined. The younger workforce in India is beginning to gravitate towards the social sector in an effort to find the ideal balance between a regular and a meaningful occupation.
But what is it like to work in the social sector? To bring you the answer as well as insider advice if you want to pursue a job in the field, we at Edugraph had a conversation with Tanisha Guin. Read on to learn more…
About Tanisha Guin
Tanisha Guin started out as a grassroots-level changemaker and then carved her path to becoming a CSR leader at a mid-management level. In her 7-year-long journey, she has worked with underserved learners across the length & breadth of the country with NGOs, CSR programmes, and government bodies/agencies alike. As a Social Impact Consultant, she has had a lot of people–young and old–come to her and exhibit great curiosity to learn about work opportunities in the social sector either to drive positive social change or to give back to society. She speaks to us about her experience in the field.
Social Sector: Bringing About Positive Change
Most people starts out with a career plan in mind. Let’s say this is plan A. In case plan A fails, a pragmatic person will also have a plan B. While the times are slowly changing, for a majority, humanities is still a far plan C. The subjects in the stream, such as Political Science, Home Science, Sociology, and others, are often looked upon as less important subjects, especially in school.
Speaking about this, Tanisha says, “This notion begins early on in school where a handful of subjects like Maths, Science, and English are considered the ones that could make you successful in life. This would have been true when we were in the Industrial Age and the focus was on manufacturing. However, times have changed and currently, we are in the Information Age, where there is a shift in focus from manufacturing to services. This idealogy needs to change.”
Tanisha goes on to suggest the following steps to bring about such a change:
- The first step to challenge this ideology should be done in schools where teachers emphasise these subjects equally and allow a student to choose Humanities without judgment.
- The second step is for schools to conduct seminars & guest lectures to spread awareness of the possible career options that are available to a Humanities student. Schools should also prioritise involving parents in the process. This will make the parents more aware. As a result, the dialogues around pursuing Humanities will gradually evolve. A lot of prestigious mainstream career paths like the IAS, IPS, IFS, and IRS can be pursued with excellent knowledge in subjects like Economics, Political Science, History, Sociology, etc.
- The third step would be for Humanities colleges to dive deeper into the career opportunities available and follow suit (as the schools) to make their students aware, offer internship opportunities, or host inter-college competitions that are focused on careers in this sector.
Social Sector: The career choice of today's youth
“In the last few years, there has been a lot of dialogue around choosing one’s passion over ‘peer pressure’,” says Tanisha. “This process has allowed young folks to become better aware of their interests, and carve out a career path to nurture those interests. Due to this, we see a lot of people keenly explore careers in the social sector. Besides, a wide range of highly accredited fellowships like the Teach for India, SBI Youth for India, Gandhi Fellowship, and multiple other fellowships hosted by Government Departments, non-profits & foundations alike has made this a more accessible career choice.”
So, should you pursue a career in the social sector? Check for yourself:
- Are you passionate about making a career out of the Humanities?
- Do you see yourself as a creative individual who does not fit in the conventional segregation of Maths & Science enthusiasts?
- Do you want to become a changemaker (for eg: bring innovation in the way students learn, design public policy, build social enterprises, or work in good governance)?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions - then the social sector is definitely for you. The next order of business is to understand how you should go about it.
Social Sector: Steps to build a profile to work in this field
Here Tanisha is able to give up some expert insights. She says, “Since a career in the social sector has yet not become mainstream, you are free to carve your own path to stay relevant & stand out in this sector, as long as you are honing your skills and constantly learning.”
Some of the things she encourages you to do are:
- When in college, be open to participating in cultural clubs. This will hone your leadership, networking & interpersonal skills.
- If you are not ready to commit a year or two for a fellowship, it would be best to start interning/volunteering with non-profit/Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) organisations to understand the nature of work. This will allow you to come to a pragmatic decision of whether or not to make a career in the social sector.
- After you graduate, you can consider enrolling yourself in a fellowship. Fellowships are usually for a year or two. They allow you to work on individual projects, more like a hands-on project, in most instances as a leader. Working as a fellow gives you enough opportunities to work with grassroots-level leaders and also be mentored along the journey. It is known to be a very immersive learning process.
- After the completion of your fellowship, you can appear for the placements that are offered by the host/partner organisations (similar to campus placements). Alternatively, you can also apply for mid-management level roles in non-profits/foundations.
- Other than that, if you aspire to take your fellowship project one step ahead to build a social enterprise, there are organisations that offer funding opportunities too.
- A solid on-ground fellowship also gives you better leverage when applying for a Master’s degree abroad.
Tanisha with the children at rural Rajasthan where she taught and mentored Tanisha Guin
Social Sector: Must-have Skills
Problem-solving: Since social change is at the crux, you are expected to come with a mindset of seeing challenges not as mere hurdles but as opportunities for change. Therefore, as a changemaker, it is imperative for you to be solution-oriented.
Critical thinking: It is often observed that young changemakers with great zeal tend to take decisions driven by emotions. While, yes, emotions are necessary when working towards systems change, what actually sets you up for success is striking the right balance between thinking emotionally and having a pragmatic approach, which is where critical thinking plays an important role.
Resilience in thought & action: In the social sector, at times, passion is given more importance than other important skills. Yes, passion is the first step but what will hold your passion accountable is resilience, in thought & practice. Working in the social sector can be extremely challenging and there will be multiple instances where your patience will be tested. It is then that your ‘resilience’ will have your back.
Being Empathetic but practicing it with compassion: As a social impact professional, empathy is second nature, but at times empathy can be a double-edged sword. At the end of the day, we are working with people, their nuances & rigid social structures. Solely empathic thinking will not sail your boat, it is when there is compassion in your approach that you will be able to make decisions that are for the greater good.
Relationship building: Irrespective of your profile or designation, when working in the social sector, working with stakeholders is going to occupy a large chunk of your time. Be open to forging healthy relationships with not just the people you directly work with but grassroots leaders & people across verticals.
Adaptive leadership: In the business of doing good, a lot of your thoughts, strategies and practises might go for a toss. What might have worked before, might miserably fail now. Be flexible with your leadership styles based on the changing nature of your work, teammates & coworkers.
Stress management: Passion fueled by empathy can sometimes be the easiest way to burn out. Give yourself enough breaks & time to reset in between. Bringing systems change is a long-term and gradual process. Be kind to yourself.
Assertiveness: Being assertive will enable you to say Yes to the more important things. On the other hand, sometimes it is better to say No so that you can redirect yourself to goals that are better aligned with your & your organisation’s future plans
Fundraising: The social sector is always in need of more resources and funds. While it is not important to know the nitty-gritty of fundraising, it does make a difference if you know the basics and familiarise yourself with the process and its ins & outs.
Writing & documentation: Working on the ground can be messy and haphazard in unforeseeable ways & situations. People working on the ground might not have the right skills to do accurate documentation. Documenting the work done, maintaining progress reports and doing it with good language and expression makes a huge difference in the smooth functioning of operations and acquiring of resources & funds.
Social Sector: Career Opportunities
Speaking about careers, Tanisha adds, “The social sector is widespread with various branches under its hood. Considering the diversity of the social sector, I would say the most popular job opportunities are in public policy, impact consulting, fundraising & operations.”
Here are some of the opportunities that, according to Tanisha, dominate the space:
- Government & Public Services
- Entrepreneurship & Social Enterprise
- Think Tanks
- Sustainability and the Environment
- Livelihood & Skill Development
- Women’s Empowerment
- Corporate Social Responsibility wing of a Corporate Company
- Human Rights and Public Interest Law
- International Development
- Social Impact Consulting
Considering the list of opportunities given above, it is clear that a job in the social sector could be either in the profit industry or in the non-profit sector. How do these two compare with each other?
Social Sector: Switching from a profit industry to a non-profit space
According to Tanisha, “If you are in a service-based role in a for-profit industry, for eg: IT, Finance, HR, etc., and are keen on changing the industry whilst keeping your core work intact, then you can do so by joining non-profits, foundations, CSR operations or consulting organisations. However, if you want to switch your core job to a more impact-oriented profile, then opting for at least a year-long (on-site) fellowship will give you hands-on experience of working in the social sector.
“When switching industries, it is best to keep track of the skills that are transferable. For eg: The transferable skills for a salesperson will be his interpersonal & negotiation skills which will help him build good relationships with stakeholders on the ground & donors. Being aware of your transferable skills will allow you to play on your strengths and make the most of them instead of being bogged down by the skills you’re yet to acquire.
“With more & more people realising the urgency of progressive development, climate change & empowerment of marginalised populations, social sector jobs are only going to multiply.”
To everyone keen on joining the impacted workforce, pull up your socks & be ready to network with existing professionals, participate in meetups or events or attend webinars & workshops to get a theoretical understanding of the nuances of this sector before you make a switch. For those who want to pursue/are pursuing Humanities, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty early on, do everything that you feel is necessary to make an informed decision.