By Gaurav Shah, Founder of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM):
A ‘professional’ is someone who is part of a profession. So, what really is a ‘profession’ – and why are some areas of work defined as ‘professions’ (lawyer, doctor, etc.) and others as ‘vocations’ (cobbler, carpenter, among others)?
Technically a ‘profession’ is an area of work which fulfils some of the following requirements:
1. It requires a fairly formal, time-taking and (typically) tough process of preparation (generally academic).
2. It is bound by a code of ethics created and enforced by people within the profession.
3. Knowledge building and subsequent innovation is done by people within the profession for the profession itself – and not by people from outside the profession.
Being part of a profession becomes aspirational, because it has a certain exclusivity to it – much like the social clubs and groups we engage with. I am part of a club because I am really good at something (music, theatre, rock climbing, etc.) – and that differentiates me from the others who are not part of the club. Not many would aspire to join a club that anyone can join!
This is one of the big reasons why bright young individuals don’t want to enter the realm of teaching. Teaching is one of the most complex professions which demands a unique combination of educational perspective, understanding of curriculum and pedagogy, subject matter knowledge and a large amount of patience! Yet, the process and criteria for becoming a teacher is ridiculously low.
The same holds true if one wants to be a ‘social worker’. While the term has a technical definition, in the current context, it has become an all-encompassing term for any and everyone associated with social development or the social workspace.
Even though this profession is considered noble, people harbour a lot of pre-conceptions and assumptions about the profession. Stereotypes associated with social work can be particularly frustrating and hilarious at the same time. Here are some of the comments which people have made to me regarding the profession:
That’s as good as saying that my love for cars automatically makes me a good automobile engineer! Or if I love suing people, then I am a great lawyer!
Just like engineering and law, becoming a relevant social worker should include strong academic preparation in the fields of development studies, social work, public policy, development management and others. Each of these areas requires a lot of technical hardwork, if one wants to develop the relevant knowledge and skill-sets required to deliver sustainable social impact and progress for the nation.
One of the biggest challenges in the social sector is that it brings you face to face with the realities of life. A friend once told me that she couldn’t imagine working in the sector because it’s so disturbing.
It is this reality which will drive you to work harder than you ever have. This is because you can see that, at some level, your work is helping to improve the lives of the underserved and the underprivileged. Sleepless nights, crazy adventures, physical fatigue, friends unheard of in unseen places and immense satisfaction – you should expect all of this (and more) in the social space! At a personal level, the social sector has demanded more from me than the corporate space.
People everywhere have the same level of complexities, insecurities, strengths and failings.
In the corporate sector, if money is the prime motivator, you can build a fairly successful career by staying indifferent to your job. However, to stay in the social sector for a long time, a passion for social change and genuinely connecting with the people you are working with/for are necessary preconditions.
However, under no circumstance does this make one a saint. One should choose to work in this space only if they really want to work here and the work gives them happiness. Reasons like guilt (‘we have got so much, we must give back’) and social power (‘if I won’t do it, who will’) are useful but not necessarily sustainable reasons to work in this sector.
Just like anyone else, social workers also live in a social reality. Therefore, it is to be expected that they also have to deal with individual, family and social expectations, while having their own desires – and why shouldn’t they!
The choice of working on the toughest problems facing large sections of society is challenging enough. On top of that, why should a huge financial sacrifice be part of the initiation as well?
The complexity of issues that this sector faces is mindboggling. It really needs the brightest minds to come and work here. Therefore, we need to find ways of attracting the right talent, rather than trying hard to keep them away.
Many people have made a conscious choice of working in this sector for their personal reasons. This in turn reflects what they want to do and where they want to work. Hence, the choices of these people may not necessarily subscribe to the stereotypical notions mentioned above.
Just like we call people ‘banking sector professionals’ and ‘legal professionals’, can’t we just be called ‘development sector professionals’? It just has a much more pleasing and ‘professional’ ring to it!