MBA, but not for profit
A chance conversation I was having revealed that two to three ISB - Hyderabad alumni directly join the social sector every year. I explored further and found more MBA graduates from other B-schools such as IIFM Bhopal and Said - Oxford who are involved in the industry of giving back.I dived in to speak to them, explore their motivation, a day-in-life-at-work, social sector as a career option, and more. When it comes to work in the social sector, the obvious question is what the differences are in the nature of work vis-à-vis the corporate sector. Mrinalini Shastry, an ISB alumnus who has been involved in the social sector for over five years says, “The work is very varied just as it is in the corporate sector. A person has to find his or her niche in this sector. However, even though the same skills are utilised on the job, the context of the work is very different and this is a very important difference.” Abhishek Gupta, head of Hole-in-the-Wall Education Ltd puts it very simply when he says, “I didn’t want work to be ‘work’. I work in this sector because of selfish reasons. It makes me happy. It is not a selfless job in my opinion and a typical day in the social sector is pretty much like a typical day in the corporate sector. I attend meetings, spend time strategizing, planning, co-ordinating activities and implementing them”. He puts forth an interesting point when he adds, “An important difference is that the business objective has to be long-term when it comes to work in this sector. Impact assessment becomes different and the effectiveness of an employee cannot be gauged by way of profits”. If work in this sector is similar to that in the corporate roles and MBAs engaged in social work identify hugely with it, then why is it that most MBAs do not even consider it as an area in which they may take up a career? Dhruv Lakra, an alumnus of Oxford’s Said Business School who worked at Dasra, a prominent international non-profit organization, and has decided for a career in social work sheds light, “Work in this sector requires strong motivation. In India people quite simply don’t give back! Salaries in this sector are at a higher level in other countries because of the high number of donors abroad. The perception that Indians have as regards social work is of an old school and needs to be changed.” He goes on to say, “Security in India is an over-rated concept. People have a flawed idea of going about their professional life. They desire to make a lot of money in their initial years as a working professional and then get into work which really interests them. Apart from this, MBA courses in India do not really expose a person to the idea of work in this sector. Indian MBA graduates tend to focus on the remuneration that is on offer. They usually don’t even get to know of the responsibility, power and sheer kick that work in the social sector brings about!” MBA graduates do tend to attach a lot of importance to any job’s remuneration. ISB alumni involved in social work agree that they have taken up to a 40 percent reduction in compensation compared to their peers who are working in corporate roles. Mayura Balasubramanian, a Project Support Officer at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says, “It is completely dependent on an individual’s choice and a tradeoff is made in the case of salary”. “This is not a jholawallah sector. Money is only a function of what you need. There are lots of opportunities in this field. Development deals with life,” adds Mrinalini. Various issues need to be considered before venturing into a relatively unexplored sector. Alumni advise that a person spend some time at an NGO or similar organisation before plunging into a career related to the social sector. As regards how difficult it is to move between the corporate and social sectors, alumni are of the view that this depends on the work done while in the social sector. While it is true that the job profile and daily operations do not differ as such across the social sector and other sectors, there does exist the possibility of a person getting ‘branded’ as one who has worked in the social sector. One of them put it quite succinctly on being asked about opportunities after having engaged in social work, “There’s always consulting anyway!” Alumni are at a consensus that there is a need for MBA graduates in the social sector. They feel that earlier this sector was much less organised than what it is now and even organisations dealing with social work are realising that there do exist certain important roles for MBA graduates. On being asked whether she thinks that this sector would become popular in the near future, Mrinalini says simply, “Processes will increase in this sector. MBAs like that”. “MBAs need to be made aware of the fact that the social sector is a wonderful space for them to make use of their skill sets. Earlier NGOs would do a poor job of utilising donors’ money. Things have changed now and MBAs need to know this” stresses Dhruv Lakra. The social sector is an area of work that is given more importance in countries other than India. MBA curriculums at world renowned institutes such as Harvard Business School, Stanford University and Oxford’s Said Business School are characterised by a certain flexibility that is missing at most Indian business schools. Students at most Indian schools do have the option of availing of certain electives which are on offer so as to sensitise themselves to the field of social work and indeed to gain knowledge and exposure in case they desire to opt for social work as a career. The Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai has recently started a program on social entrepreneurship. However, this institute does not offer a general MBA course which could be linked with this program. A few Indian Institutes of Management have activity-based courses where they have to implement their learnings in a real-world social problem. Other B-schools try to sensitize by way of compulsory social work. However, all these initiatives exist more from a sensitisation point of view rather than a not-for-profit career. “It is extremely important that MBA graduates in India do not step into work in the social sector with a chip on their shoulder and they need to have a human approach towards work. Work in this field is as professional and systematic as it is in other domains of professional life. It is in fact more challenging. I strongly feel that there is a need for MBA programs in India which are flexible and have social work related electives embedded in their curriculum. The social sector in India is an excellent field for MBAs to put their skill sets to good use” concludes Dhruv Lakra. Not too different from corporate "The main difference between the social and corporate sector is the light in which people and products are seen. In the social sector, people are studied and products are put together whereas in the corporate sector it works the other way. The perspective and horizon of thinking that the social sector provides cannot be matched by the corporate sector. In the corporate sector, everything is compartmentalised whereas in this sector, there lies the freedom to open one’s mind and also imbibe a holistic understanding of how operations work. A person in the social sector would know how Unilever’s operation works but not the other way round. The engine behind this sector is people. As far as switching from this sector goes, the gap with the corporate sector is dwindling. Reason being, corporates are realizing the need to study people in order to be successful. “Kuch bhi bana do, bikega!” does not work anymore. There does exist a compromise as far as compensation goes. This has more to do with our congenital understanding of money and with time, as the appreciation for work develops, it ceases to be a factor. I’m positive that more MBAs will opt for this sector in the coming years. The Indian middle class has obtained a certain kind of economic security as a result of regular salary increments. Youngsters these days are willing to experiment so as to find their niche. As far as money goes, it wouldn’t hurt to note that you do end up saving more in the rural areas. MBA programs in India should require students to go out into India’s villages and apply their concepts there." as told by Rajeev Gupta, Associate Vice President at BASICS, Jaipur and an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal.
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