Managing Your Career During COVID-19

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

By Roshan Paul

By now, we’ve all heard the sound bytes of COVID-19’s impact on our work. As organisations, we all need to save cash, invest in future programming, adapt to digital, care for our colleagues’ mental health, and be better communicators. Easy peasy. At the same time, we’ve also all heard that the economic recession will be deep and prolonged, perhaps until the end of 2021, which will dramatically affect jobs and careers in every sector, including the social impact one.

So What Is A Professional In The Sector To Do?

Start by considering the macro environment post-crisis. There are people who believe that the international order will be changed profoundly, others who are fever-dreaming about a post-capitalist, climate-friendly new world order with universal basic income, and others still who think that not much will change apart from an acceleration of what was already happening.

“You need to operate with the assumption that whatever you believe may happen could be wrong.”

But, as any political scientist knows about looking into crystal balls, you’re almost certainly going to be wrong. So even though it’s essential to consider where this is all going, you need to operate with the assumption that whatever you believe may happen could be wrong.

This brings me to the first of my four trends and tips for fellow social sector professionals who are wondering how the pandemic and subsequent recession will affect their work and careers.

1. Social Sector Skills Will Be More Widely Applicable Than Ever

Because we’re used to being wrong, right? That’s what our monitoring and evaluation (M&E) data tells us. (Just kidding; any data showing our programme doesn’t work is obviously an outlier.) But for those of us who can’t smugly claim to be data-driven, here are some quintessential social sector skills that might help us thrive in the new world:

  • Problem-solving: Each of us has already taken responsibility for making the world a better place. That quixotic sensibility and optimism will be needed in a world where tens of millions have slid back into poverty, are facing increasing domestic violence, or finding out that the government programmes they relied on are now broke. No time like the present to work out your innovation muscles.
  • Replicating what works: At our best, the social sector is usually more open to replicating effective solutions without obsessing about creating a monopoly or claiming market share. Once we’ve innovated solutions, we will need to replicate them quickly at every level of society.
  • System thinking: Most social problems are interconnected. That’s why so many nonprofits that begin by running a low-income school end up also working on healthcare and livelihoods and gender. Our current crisis is an amalgamation of system-change problems, across business and government, and at the most macro scale imaginable. The social sector will need to step up and show that we’ve been ahead of this game already.

For many in the sector, these are skills that we’ve built over time. But if you need a touch-up, you can consider taking an online course, picking a mentor’s brain, or holding teach-ins at your organisation (for instance, have your fundraising lead run a session on pitching, or your M&E lead teach the whole organisation when to see data as an outlier and when to see it as evidence). This is a great time to broaden your organisation’s collective skill set.

2. The Private Sector This Way Comes

The second trend, already underway, will accelerate: Expect the private sector to play a much greater role in driving impact. The last two seismic global shocks were 9/11 and the 2008 recession. Both led to an increased demand for careers in social impact, with myriad people questioning what they were doing with their lives.

“Expect social businesses to rise from the ashes of failed nonprofits, but also expect traditional companies to play a role.”

If this crisis sparks the same soul-searching, the increased demand for impact-oriented jobs will meet a reduced supply of social sector jobs (at least for the next 2-3 years). These impact-questers who can’t find room in the traditional social sector will then join the ranks of millennials pushing their companies to be better corporate citizens and demanding their jobs have a larger purpose. As the private sector rebounds, this internal demand will push it to encroach into social sector territory. Expect social businesses to rise from the ashes of failed nonprofits, but also expect traditional companies to play a role (beyond CSR) as well.

question marks painted on the ground-careers
If you want to succeed in this time of crisis, there’s no harm in preparing for change. | Picture courtesy: Flickr

3. Pivot Yourself To help Your Organisation Survive

For the next 18 months, we know that our organisations will struggle. Being empathetic, most leaders of social sector organisations will avoid laying-off staff to a much greater extent than the private sector would. If you’re working for a nonprofit, that’s the good news; your cousin who works at that hotel or airline won’t be so lucky.

However, most organisations will have to change their strategy and programming while planning for resource scarcity. This is excruciatingly hard as it means balancing many equally important priorities. Chances are, your boss is having trouble sleeping.

online skill learning
You could take an online course on data visualisation and create better reports for demonstrating impact.

So here’s my first tip: This is a moment to ask not what the organisation will do for you, but what you can do for your organisation, regardless of whether this is part of your current role or not. Ask yourself:

  • What new skills can I learn that fills a gap in my organisation’s capacity? For example, perhaps you could take an online course on data visualisation and create better reports for demonstrating impact.
  • How might I leverage my networks to bring in funding? For example, I recently asked my landlord to waive a month’s rent if I promised to donate it to relief for migrant workers. (He said yes!) If I worked for an organisation on the frontlines of COVID-19, this could be immensely valuable.
  • What tasks can I take off my manager’s plate to help them focus more on getting us ready for the future rather than on fire-fighting for right now?

These are all ways in which you can make yourself a highly valued employee. Those who succeed in not being laid off will be the ones who show the willingness and ability to step up and/or pivot themselves in the direction the organisation will need to go.

4. Use Your Downtime Wisely

And what if you’re trying to find a job in the social sector right now? No matter whether you’ve been let go by your organisation or you’re finishing a master’s degree, you are confronting a world where, 92% of the organisations are either not hiring, or hiring very little.

In this scenario, you might consider a brain hack I call, ‘What Would Your Future Self Say?’ Imagine yourself one year from now and ask what your future self would advise your current self to do. And then simply do that.

To illustrate, assuming I was in this position, what ‘Future Roshan’ would say to ‘Current Roshan’ might go something like this:

“See your unemployed time as a gift to yourself and others. Research about creative people shows their periods of unemployment are often correlated with their greatest productivity. Therein lies your template, Current Roshan. You can e-volunteer with an organisation you care about or support that friend struggling to get her startup off the ground. Or get started on some of those back-burner ideas you have: Writing a blog series interviewing leaders you admire or building a new skill like playing the guitar or finally picking up yoga or starting an Instagram series on a topic close to your heart.”

Yes, it is easier said than done, but it will pay off in ways you can’t imagine yet. Whatever projects you decide on, remember that staying productive helps you build your CV, do things that make you happy, increase your self-confidence, and this may also pay some bills. And if you play your cards right, it may also lead you to your next job once hiring re-opens.

As I mentioned above, my crystal ball will likely malfunction, just like everyone else’s. But if you want to succeed in this time of crisis, there’s no harm in preparing for change—along with death and taxes, you can count on it too.

This article was originally published on India Development Review

About the author: 

Roshan Paul is the co-founder and CEO of Amani Institute, a global social enterprise dedicated to developing professionals who create social impact, both through innovative education programs as well as capacity building for organisations. Prior to Amani, he worked with Ashoka Changemakers for a decade around the world. He is the author of two books: ‘Such a Lot of World’, a novel, and ‘Your Work Begins at No’, a collection of essays on social impact education.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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