Thursday, 25 July 2013

Social Workers in the Corporate World - Clash of Cultures?

A recent article in Business Line stated that if the Companies Bill is to be passed in the winter session of Parliament, nearly 8500 Companies in India will come under the compulsory CSR spend category. This translates into roughly 60,000 jobs for CSR Professionals. It is also anticipated that this will be a bonanza for Social Work professionals and professionals from the NGO sector.

The article also speculated that Companies in their eagerness to comply with the many CSR related provisions, may poach jobs from leading NGOs. While rejoicing at the prospect of new opportunities for many of my Social Work colleagues, I also wonder what challenges that this opportunity may throw up. The first thing that comes to my mind is the perceived clash of cultures and the transition that the Professional Social Workers have to make to the so called Corporate Culture.

Till recently and even now in some Companies, CSR functions are handled by Corporate Communications team. Therefore these “CSR professionals” mostly have a Communications, Marketing, PR background - and not Social Work background. Recently, some MNCs started recruiting “Specialists” or “Subject Matter Experts” - in the field of education, environment and community development. Indian companies too followed suit and this created a trend and a wave of migration already started from many large NGOs to the Corporate Sector. Going by the Business Line report, this “migration” will increase or even be forced when Corporates and Head Hunting firms spread their nets to NGO /non-profit sector.

Interestingly, during the late '90s, few young professionals from corporate world made a dramatic shift to the NGO sector. It was indeed dramatic because: those days you either worked with a NGO or with a Corporate. Nobody will even think of crossing each other's domains. It was also logical as you could very well argue: Corporates Make Profits and Non-profits -do not make any..(silly)– so it's a no brainer actually – the twain shall never meet ..scenario. Many hailed this move from the Corproate to the Non-Profit sector, rightly so. However some went overboard and also said that with this shift, NGOs will function “more professional” and actually prescribed this as a panacea to all ailing NGOs!

So, when professionals from Corporate world made a successful transition into the NGO sector – why can't the Social Work Professionals do the same? Will eye brows be raised when a qualified Social Worker walks in with confidence in the hallow corridors of Corporate power? I think, the answer lies in the initial perception of Corporates being more professional and NGOs as not being professional and lacking in management systems etc.

I am sure the debates will continue on this perceived shift /transition and resultant clash of cultures.
Eventually, clarity will emerge. The nay sayers or those who decried NGOs for their lack of professionalism and systems, will have nowhere to hide when you point out to them that the Companies Act itself came about because of some rather shocking or shall we say “unprofessional behaviour” of some highly acclaimed Corporates.

The irony is now NGOs pilloried for not having any Governance are going to contribute in a large scale to the growth and development of Governance and Professionalism in Corporates!


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Rediscover the Joys of Reading

In this fast paced, wired world, is there still space for good old reading? Reading for the sheer joy of it. Do children love to read as much as they love to chat and post on facebook? To answer these questions, we have to move out of our comfort zone and take a peep into rural India. In places where children are deprived of their basic right to read.

In India, even in the remotest corner you can find a school, but that's the end of the story. There may be students, but no teachers. There may be classrooms, but no benches. Children in these schools have never come across good books that they can read and cherish. Even text books are not available to these kids.

In my earlier days when I worked in a non-formal education project, I have seen the thirst for knowledge among the kids of very poor families. They may not know how to read, but still they adore the pictures, they could relate to them and when the teacher narrates the stories from the book, she is a heaven sent blessing to the children. Whenever I used to visit the NFE centres in the fishing hamlets, I used to take Tamil books, comics, translated stories of Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens and leave it with the learners. The books became very popular that the adult learners in our centres started to fight with their kids to get hold of them!

I often marvelled at this thirst for knowlege, and wondered how we could ever quench this thirst.Recently, I came across an initiative with a very challenging title: "A Book in Every Child's Hand" now that is a gigantic vision, given the staggering size of India. However, when I heard Rohini Nilekani speak at the TEDx Gateway Mumbai 2012  partnered by Franklin Templeton Investments, I was inspired to note that in this day and age there are still few souls who want Every Child to enjoy the joys and experience the thrill of the winged words.

 "A Book in Every Child's Hand" has succeeded to a great extent in putting several million books in the hands of children who otherwise would never have the opportunity. The books are translated into most of the Indian languages. By putting the books on the open platform of Creative Commons, the organizers have literally opened up the flood gates of "Creative Collaboration" so much so that many of the Indian language books were translated into French, Spanish, German and other foreign languages! This highlights the universal appeal of this project.

You can listen to the inspiring story of putting books in the tender hands of every child and opening up a new world of hope and joy at this link: Rohini Nilekani. I am going to start digging out my books, fill up my backpack and visit the schools that I work with. I am sure you'd like to join as well. Believe me, the joy and satisfaction you get when a child comes in contact with her first book is unparalleled.