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Portal Exclusive: Millennials opting for a career with a purpose

Posted on Monday, May 20, 2019

Social development sector is slowly becoming a preferred career choice with millennials to help them contribute towards the betterment of society, writes Gaurav Shah

The youth of today look at careers fairly differently from how we used to approach them and differently from how our parents’ generation viewed them. Considerations like security, tenure, steady income, no breaks in the career as an indication of reliability etc. have now become boring and passe. Complexity, excitement, travel, variety, innovation and increasingly purpose are becoming the current buzzwords defining aspirational careers for the younger generation. Unlike earlier generations, millennials want to see a change in the world around them and have the willingness to take on the responsibility and challenge of changing things themselves. They want their career to provide them with an opportunity to constructively contribute to the betterment of society. Millennials define ‘rewards’ in ways which are beyond a unidimensional monetary lens only, they want a ‘purpose’. A purpose that motivates them to go to work every day. Thereby, the social development sector is slowly becoming a preferred career choice with millennials.  
In the last 10-15 years, the social sector has evolved significantly breaking a lot of the existing myths surrounding it. Careers here involve working on highly complex issues of social change (patriarchy, honour killing, LGBTQ rights, gender etc.), human rights (child labor and trafficking, women’s trafficking etc.), financial inclusion and security (access to affordable finance, livelihoods etc.), environment (climate change, deforestation, water etc.) and strengthening government infrastructure (health, education etc.) and have moved beyond the more colloquial understanding of ‘social work’ (blood donation, clothes collection, scholarships etc.). It offers remarkable opportunities for full time careers (rather than just volunteering and contractual opportunities) with a variety of different career paths (Social Work, Public Policy, Research, Development Management and Leadership (Strategy, Partnerships, Organisation Building, Communications, Advocacy etc) with a highly diverse set of organisations beyond the more recognized local NGO (CSR, Foundations, Funding Agencies, Development Sector Consulting Organisations, Think Tanks, Research Agencies, Impact Investment Firms, Social Enterprises, Domestic and International NGOs etc.). In addition to this, people building careers in this sector can hope for very decent pay scales to help them lead financial sustainable, meaningful rewarding lives. 
As per Mettl’s Salary and Employment Report (2018), an average engineering graduate earns Rs 4.7 lakh per annum which is not very different from what we would expect a fresh graduate from a good college preparing students to work in the social development sector. The average fresher salary would range from Rs 2.5 lakh to 6 lakh with students from the better colleges falling on the higher end of this spectrum. Even average salaries of architects, lawyers, accountants would probably not be very different and could even be lower than this.
Youth are exploring many different kinds of opportunities and channels to enter the social sector. At the risk of oversimplification, fellowships and educational programmes are two of the most important routes taken by them. Thousands are applying for development sector fellowships to get a flavor of working on the ground and hone their skills for the challenging environment. Prominent ones being Gandhi Fellowship Program, LAMP Fellowship, SBI Youth for India Fellowship, Teach for India (75,000 people have applied to the Fellowship since 2009), India Fellow Social Leadership program (In the last three years the number of applications they have received increased from 1331 to 1836 to 2302. This), etc. The increasing number of applicants in these fellowships is proof of a much larger trend of the young moving towards careers in the sector. 
While most fellowships offer a wonderfully rich ground experience, they struggle to provide a more holistic view of the sector and a deeper understanding of the ideas of development and ways of approaching social change. This is where some of the new age academic programmes combining theory with practice and focusing on getting social sector leaders and professionals to come and teach really help in creating more practical, grounded and meaningful learning experiences. The sector is increasingly focusing on preparing development leadership and management professionals who have the ability to envision and facilitate sustainable and scalable social change based on a deeper understanding of development and of themselves, the ability to analyse social issues from a systems thinking lens and build world class social purpose organisations grounded in the values of equity, justice, fairness and the principle of collaboration. The Indian social sector is maturing, it is increasingly getting professionalized and there is a huge need for professional development management and leadership talent. Development Leadership & Management programmes are extremely interesting first steps in developing these conscious, responsible and professional leaders who aim to bring change in the society.
While an increasing number of professionals are opting for a social sector career, looking to add more meaning and purpose to their lives, they also have to understand that the journey would not be smooth and easy. This sector works on the most complex issues facing society today and thereby while the goodness of heart/passion may be a necessary condition, it’s no longer a sufficient condition for successful careers (Defined by the ability to bring about social change) in the social sector. We need to prepare ourselves professionally and approach our work by synergising the power and energy of Head, Heart and Hand. The world, now more than ever before, is looking upto these millennials to help clean up the mess we have created!
(The author is founder and dean, ISDM (Indian School of Development Management))


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