How NGOs work, and how to be a part of one, has remained a mystery for far too long. These social organisations are in dire need of great talent in all spheres. Volunteering or working full time is a good way to start. I will try to sum up my learnings from the 120 days which I devoted to an NGO in Madhya Pradesh, working full time. If you are able to relate to any five of these points positively, I strongly suggest you consider working in the social sector, at least for some time.
Till 2015, I always dreamt of working in the social sector and helping people who are not so privileged. I used to take small steps and initiatives, but those were not commitments. Then what should one do?
NGOs are like startups, in that they have huge aspirations and motivations, and plugging in the right amount of knowledge, dedication, and people helps them achieve it. They might not be able to pay you like your corporate job does, but they will challenge you, and yes, a sense of satisfaction comes as a part of the deal.
Working with a social organisation at the grass roots level will demand certain adaptations.
Facilities and things which were once necessities will become luxuries. Mosquito bites and lizards will not scare you enough to jump out of bed because you will be too tired after a long, hectic day in a village. A phone call from your mother which you might have avoided in the past will feel like a comforting hug.
Adaptation can be tough sometimes and may take time, but it will all be worth it in the end.
I personally have little faith in donations and have always felt it should come with either volunteering or a helping hand in building financially sustainable models. The organisation I work with falls on similar lines and works towards educating and training groups of women to make them self- sustainable.
The charm of this model is that there is little scope of bad debts unlike in the case of microfinances from microfinance institutions and banks. Self-sustainability is the key.
Personally, these 120 days gave me enough of those long pauses where I would be struggling to cope and would be fighting battles in my head. For an introvert like me, it was extremely stressful. I have seen what have possibly been my lowest points, during this period. When you are alone, introspecting, and you don’t get your answers – or you are still trying to tie together the why, what, and how – it can drain you till the last drop. A lot of times you might reach a tipping point when you will feel like you’ve had enough, and sometimes there will be people who will have your back and keep you going.
I must admit that the most beautiful places that I have visited in my entire life till now have either been a part of a trek/hike to hills or distant places, or were locations for my field work. When you travel to that remote, isolated village in a bus which is making all kinds of noise on typical Indian roads, only to reach a place with a splendid view, silence, and peace – it makes you feel good in a way nothing else does.
Places where the river water is clear enough to see the fishes inside, where time doesn’t run as fast as in our concrete jungles, where people have the patience to listen to your point, where they are always ready to offer you the classic and tastiest in regional cuisine!
The interesting part of my life is that there is no ‘typical’ day. Some days you just sit in the office with multiple meetings/discussions over the course of the day, and some days are filled with a lot of aggressive readings and preparing/reviewing training and development modules which become the base for various governmental and non-governmental organisations. Some days are about audit visits to nearby villages and some weeks you are staying in the villages to meet, interact, create self-help groups (SHGs) and deliver training to various groups. Also, you meet some of the brightest people, who left far more comfortable lives to contribute to society.
Some days, it might look chaotic and unstructured whereas other days, it will make you feel happy about the lack of monotony in your life.
It is highly important to understand that a good percentage of NGOs will not be paying a salary equivalent to corporate jobs, with perhaps the exception of bigger organisations and full/semi-government bodies. When you are entering this sector, you should research and then decide upon the importance of income during this period. Nevertheless, if you can manage with fewer earnings, the experience, and the possible impact your work can create, should balance it.
Yes, the smallest of the things can make you smile. Making someone else happy, or bringing more knowledge and learning to someone else’s life, can be an experience worth cherishing. When you get to hear the success stories of people you met and worked with, it will make you feel proud of your own work and efforts.
The last but possibly one of the most important aspects – since we all take non-conventional decisions to find answers about our own lives, and connect the dots!
As someone has rightly said, the answer to your question lies on the other side of chaos. Such experiences will always allow you to explore and know yourself better.
A version of this article was originally published here.