Investing in Social Sector Career & Finding Your Purpose

Having a clear roadmap and working for social issues can result in a successful career in the social sector

Investing in Social Sector Career & Finding Your Purpose
Investing in Social Sector Career & Finding Your Purpose
Anuradha Prasad - 28 June 2021

The future of work, post-pandemic, has two cornerstones: purpose and upskilling to maintain relevancy. Be it young or seasoned professionals, the need to find meaning in one’s work is at an all-time high. A career is no longer just the means to a financial end.

This quest for finding purpose in one’s work has led to a growing interest in the social sector as a potential career option. An ecosystem of about 3.2 million registered non-government organisations (NGOs), the sector had been at the forefront of crucial relief work since the start of the Covid crisis last year.

In recent years, we have seen that the development sector, historically absent from the mainstream consciousness, is being recognised by the general masses and the private sector alike. For example, according to the Great Place to Work survey, non-profits were ahead of the corporate sector on specific benchmarks like the quality of employee experience and work culture. These factors make a career in the social sector aspirational, apart from aligning with the rapidly changing social reality.

For professionals seeking to be part of India’s development story by finding solutions to critical social issues, having a clear road map for engagement in the sector can result in success. Interestingly, by not being restricted to a particular domain or theme, the social sector offers flexibility and space to a diverse workforce. As a result, it has room for experts and generalists alike. However, this does not mean that aspiring professionals can do away with preparedness or strategy before taking the plunge.

There are multiple ways to approach a career in the social sector, starting with knowledge investment. Unlike some other industries, this sector does not need any certification to be eligible to work, but an understanding of the context of a larger ecosystem is non-negotiable. Knowledge helps dispel some common misconceptions around development work. For instance, it is a popular misconception that real work or social change only happens on the ground level, with other functions viewed as unnecessary. While being on ground zero is the best form of learning in the sector, it is not the only way of engagement. A professional, by working in different functional areas like technology and people practices, can create social impact that anchors ground-level efforts to the broader purpose.

Another form of investment for a successful social sector professional is network-building. People are the centre of any social sector initiative or organisation. There are many formal learning programmes and fellowships available in India for early to mid-career professionals that can be helpful. Teach for India and Gandhi Fellowship are two such avenues, among others. For senior-level professionals, learning programmes like the Virtual Leadership Program, offered by India Leaders for the social sector, can be a good starting point for the sector.

Upskilling or investment in skill-based competencies is crucial to keep up with the dynamic nature of the sector, as well as carve a niche for oneself. One can approach this from two lenses: leveraging and honing skill sets or signing up for sector-specific skill-based learning programs, like systems and design thinking offered by DESTA (Developing Ecosystems for Systemic Transformation and Adaptation). Fellowships like the International Innovation Corps of the University of Chicago, give hands-on experience in the policy and advocacy space.

Having a mentor and investing in such a relationship, can go a long way in the social impact space. While having a mentor invested in your career is highly effective across industries, the importance of the same is more pronounced here. In a sector where the bottom line is not profit but people, it makes all the difference towards facilitating change for oneself and others. A mentor will help you to stay on the path of self-development while giving back to society. A mentoring relationship focuses on you, your growth, and your journey in this work.

Above all, the sector requires you to look inwards, determine your guiding values and examine why you gravitated to this work, to begin with. Authenticity should be the guiding principle in your social sector journey. As Adam Grant, psychologist, author, and Wharton professor puts it, "Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world."

The author is the CEO and Founder of India Leads for Social Sector (ILSS)

DISCLAIMER: Views expressed are the author’s own, and Outlook Money does not necessarily subscribe to them. Outlook Money shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.

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