By Gaurav Shah, Founder of Indian School of Development and Management (ISDM):
The past eight to 12 months have given me a fabulous opportunity to interact with a lot of young and bright individuals. Some of these individuals are pursuing different streams in some of the best colleges in the country, while the others are working as fellows and staff members in the many social fellowship programmes being offered today. I was able to interact, especially with those who have applied to ISDM’s one year post-graduate programme in development leadership.
I realised that a lot of these interactions featured a common question from the participants on why they should really consider working in the development sector. Clearly, it was hinted that it would be akin to a sacrifice if they were to do so!
At times, answering questions like this would feel like sales efforts to convince people to join this sector. Therefore, I decided to flip the format in these discussions. I would start by asking people why they wanted to work (if at all) in the development sector. The answers were diverse, interesting and very enlightening.
India is ranked 131 on the Human Development Index. Out of 118 countries on the Global Hunger Index, India occupies the 97th position. In 2016, India was ranked 76 out of the 168 countries in the Corruption Perception Index. In the same year, the Global Nutrition Report placed India at the 114th position (out of 132 countries) in stunting among children below five years of age.
There is no doubt that our country needs its brightest minds to solve these very complex problems. However, this call to action to its citizens is true for the millions of other people. It does not answer why that person should be you.
Working in this sector requires patience, the ability to deal with immense ambiguities, complexities and the mindset to observe and seek long-term changes. Most importantly, if people want to last in this space and actually create sustainable changes, the reasons for doing so need to be more personal and internal!
“I have got so much in life, I should give it back to society as well.” This may seem to be a reason which is good enough for pursuing work in this sector. For many, it even lays the foundations of being a good person – at least, you don’t have the sense of entitlement that a lot of people live with!
While this reason can suffice from a philanthropic or charitable standpoint (since it’s the easiest and most non-invasive form of giving back), this logic may fail in the face of the adversities and challenges of working full-time in this sector. At some point, people tend to fall back on the realisation that the ‘Ovarian Lottery‘, which allowed them to be born in favourable circumstances, isn’t their fault really. And hence, there is nothing they should feel guilty about!
The term ‘giving back’ has a certain inherent hierarchy – one that is between the giver and the receiver. As with most things in this world, the giver always seems to be bigger than the receiver! This is the attitude that most funding and aid agencies harbour towards implementation organisations.
If this is the reason why one wants to work in this sector, then, at some point or the other this will only lead to personal arrogance. The question one needs to ask is whether the people at the receiving end of our efforts reached out to us individually for help. Or was it our personal choice to do something for them?
Based on my experience, the one reason why should keep working in this sector is that it does something for you as an individual. It gives you the satisfaction or the sense of happiness that you were struggling to find elsewhere. There’s no doubt that this reason is a selfish one – and has much to do with benefiting yourself rather than others. In fact, this is eerily similar to Adam Smith’s concept of ‘self-interest’ (when taken in a different context).
Given the magnitude of the social issues which our country is facing, we definitely need bright, passionate and empathetic individuals to understand these problems and devote themselves to solving them.
Ultimately, look into yourself to understand the reasons why you are working here. This will go a long way in ensuring longevity, effectiveness and personal happiness.