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8 Tips By Sonal Kapoor, Founder Director Of Protsahan For A Career In The Social Sector

Posted: September 13, 2020

A chat with Sonal Kapoor, Founder-Director Protsahan India Foundation gave some great tips on what to expect when entering the non profit, social sector.

#WICA2020 gave me an opportunity to interact with Sonal Kapoor, the Founder Director of Protsahan India Foundation in a session around What to expect when entering the non profit sector. A candid chat and an insightful conversation with her left the audience awe-inspired.

A calling to the social sector

Many of us foster this feeling of giving back to society. Some of us also engage with various causes in whatever capacity we can, through social good campaigns and CSR initiatives.

Personally, the urge to be a part of the social sector came to me as a calling, after an almost thirteen-year long career in the corporate sector. I had already been volunteering whenever I could, yet when it came to taking a deep dive, I still remember that there were a lot of questions, and confusion in my mind. So while ideating on and moderating this very meaningful session with Sonal, one thought which continuously struck my mind was — how I wish I could have been a part of such a conversation when I was contemplating joining the sector.

A thoughtfully curated session on the 2nd day of Women in Corporate Allies event unpacked this sector and brought forward its nuances and modalities.

Here are a few tips and insights Sonal Kapoor gave, in a conversation where she shared everything about the landscape of the sector with extreme ease and connect, very helpful for anyone thinking of diving into the sector.

It’s not just NGOs

Beyond the blanket view.

Most of us, when we think of the non profit sector, imagine it to be just comprising NGOs. However, the sector is complex, multi-hued and quite heterogenous. It is not appropriate to view it with a blanket perspective of seeing only grassroots organizations.

Today, we have ample shades to it with a variety of categories ranging from social foundations, research organizations, international NGOs, social enterprises, thinktanks, as well as social consulting organizations. While a few of them work directly with the community, others may work with the government, and few others have come to exist to build upon the capabilities and efficiencies of the smaller grassroots organizations.

Find out where you fit in the social sector

This sector also needs people with a spectrum of skills.

Like any other sector, the non profit sector also requires people with varied skills and expertise to play multiple roles.

There is a need of people with skills and knowledge across functions of implementation, operations, technology, communications, fundraising, research and so on.

For people contemplating moving to the social sector from the corporate sector, there are many ways to apply themselves. A few examples include communications and networking, technology integration for scale, as well as writing and content creation. So understand your sweet spots and strengths, and decide which function in this sector makes sense to you.

You’re compassionate? Good. But there needs to be more

Passion and compassion is good to have, but hope and good thinking alone don’t solve the problems.

Passion for the cause is good but hope and good thinking alone will not solve the problem of impact. A basic sense of empathy and compassion is a requisite for any other sector as well.

Having an emotional connect is good, but at the end of the day, we are trying to solve the problem of impact and thus need an objective and logical lens to it. Hope and good intentions are not a strategy and cannot be a substitute for transparency, accountability, performance and the results.

Non profit sector v/s Corporate sector

While there are many similarities, there are some characteristic differences too.

The non profit sector shares data, processes and ideas more freely than the corporate sector, and that kind of has a multiplier effect for the greater good. Like the corporates, any well-grounded non profit organization also thrives on well-defined goals & mission, boards, management and different staffing hierarchies. The social issues that the non profit sector is trying to solve are complex, hence a systematic and professional approach which is grounded in the context is what works for the sector.

The scope for growth and leadership

The non profit sector, especially over the last decade, has witnessed a paradigm shift.

The non profit sector is now diverse in terms of opportunities, and open to accepting and providing opportunities to people with varied backgrounds, skill sets, aspirations and visions for change. The sector also works in a multidimensional team setup. While competency is needed, attitude is also an important aspect.

I loved it when Sonal shared: “If Greta Thunberg can make a difference at that age, nothing should stop an individual. Rarely will opportunities perfectly present themselves. Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.”

One can learn the skills if they know what they want to achieve and their reason for joining the sector.

Myths and misconceptions around the social sector

The jhola-chappal dressed people or the certainty of a ‘misuse of funds’ are a myth. Or at least, the exceptions.

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions associated with the sector in terms of how people dress up, how much they are paid, the way they conduct themselves, as well as the ethics. A few very common ones include the expectation to see anyone working in the sector in kurta pyjama or a jeans-Tshirt with a jhola or a chappal.

Similarly, the perception that people in the social sector are always looking for donations, or about organizations misusing the funds or about the remunerations being low.

There is an imminent need to break these stereotypes and view the social sector beyond the myths, and with objectivity. The sector also certainly doesn’t require one to sacrifice lives or have uncertain careers.

Need for committed volunteers in non profit work

Volunteer with a long term intent, or to learn something worthwhile. 

Volunteering can be a good window to the non profit ecosystem for anyone planning to join the sector. It can help an individual to understand the components as well as how the various stakeholders function in this setup.

The sector needs volunteers but there is a need for committed and dedicated volunteers and not people who want it as a checkpoint item in their resumes.

Plan for the long haul, don’t let your passion overtake you

Working in the social sector is like a marathon, not a sprint.

Often while being driven by the passion for the cause, it is easy to find oneself in a situation when one may experience burnout. One needs to look at the career goals and personal life at the big-picture level. Sacrificing your life goals with that sense of doing it for the ‘greater good’ may not help in long run.

The non profit sector is trying to solve some real and complex social issues around livelihoods, education, abuse, health, environment and more. It is full of challenges. And thus, it calls for more of us to be a part of it in our way. I do hope this discussion and pointers have helped you to come to a positive decision.

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Present - North India Lead - Education, Charter for Compassion, Co-Author - Escape Velocity, Writer & Social

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