NEW DELHI: “Jobs in the social sector – also known as the not-for-profit or development sector, comprising non-governmental organisations (NGOs), intermediaries, specialist firms and microfinance institutions among others – were once perceived as a one-way street.” Economic Times Report says.
According to the report, It meant trading financial prosperity for a life of doing good at a salary that would be at best, modest by corporate sector standards. Retaining that pool of talent was hardly a problem. That’s changing, says Anupama Kalra, executive director at United Way, a US based funding organisation for NGOs.
Finding people is a challenge even within the sector as those with relevant experience demand multiples of their salary. For example, a programme officer with 2-3 years’ experience who manages small NGO projects and makes around Rs 15,000-16,000 a month, could hope to get Rs 30,000 elsewhere. “That’s the jump they’re expecting – 30% to 50% and sometimes even 100%,” says Kalra.
Not surprisingly, those with brand building, marketing and fundraising experience are in high demand. So are programme managers who handle project planning, people in community development, social impact assessment and social auditing roles. “NGOs are transitioning from philanthropy to a sustainable approach. Their talent needs are going to be different,” says Pari Jhaveri, founder, Third Sector Partners, an executive search firm that works exclusively on social sector positions.
More social sector jobs, she adds, will come up in the health, education and skills development domains in the immediate term. Urban issues such as planning, water and sanitation, housing, climate change, civil rights, youth and employability could follow suit.
It’s a script that has played out in practically every business – unprecedented growth throwing up a shortage of skilled and experienced professionals. Quite naturally, career and salary expectations have risen faster than most NGOs have been able to cope with. The last official estimate by the government in 2009 pegged the NGO population in India at around 3.3 million.
“It’s not that our work hasn’t grown. It’s more a question of how can we be effective and strategic in what we do,” says Sonali Khan, executive director, Breakthrough, an organisation that uses mainstream and social media tools to influence global issues around human rights. It employs a 20-member core team in India, drawn from industry, but gets its work done largely through independent and part-time consultants.
This is a structure that NGOs find best to follow – keeping overheads low through a lean administrative and execution team. Sustaining this approach may be difficult in the future as the sector professionalises, and requires skills that are more business-like in nature.
It’s already a crossover career choice for mid and senior corporate professionals who bring strategic skills at the leadership level. There’s also a new bogey in town – CSR departments and corporate foundations, which are growing in numbers and size. “CSR has come up as an option for development sector professionals,” says Meenu Bhambani, head CSR at MphasiS. It’s not hard to see why. CSR roles combine the best of both worlds.
There’s better compensation – anywhere between a 50% and 100% jump in salary – and a chance to move up the career ladder with a more comfortable pace of work. Recent corporate and philanthropic foundations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dell Foundation, Azim Premji Foundation, Bharti and Wadhwani Foundation have much larger staffing needs. More jobs will come up in the health, education and skills development domains.
Urban issues will follow suit Bharti Foundation, for instance, works on education accessibility through schools. It now has around 1,400 people in teaching roles, up from 1,200 last year.
“Our field staff is primarily from NGO backgrounds as they have to execute the projects,” says CEO Vijay Chadda. The foundation also employs around 150 people in regular functions like finance, administration and training, and others to run and manage projects – regional managers, heads of programmes, curriculum design, partnerships, and so on.
Confronted with multiple pressures, the ability of the sector to present itself as an attractive talent destination is under serious question. “The social sector doesn’t market itself,” says Third Sector Partners’ Jhaveri. Salaries remain the biggest hindrance for those coming from other industries. Jhaveri says people in executive positions have often settled for up to a third of their corporate sector salary to join here. However, such cases are becoming the exception with rising demand for talent at other levels, says Sunil Goel, director, Global-Hunt, a Delhi-based executive search firm. In fact, Goel says a 15% to 25% increase in salary is normal for critical roles and could even be higher in some cases. “Of course NGOs won’t pay ‘hounding money’ to get someone at any price,” he adds.
Apart from the sector’s reluctance to engage in marketing its employment proposition, there is the peculiar problem of funding. While on one hand there are more funding options than before, large donors have been demanding convincing proof of better utilisation and measurement of impact. “Most NGOs don’t know the best way to raise funds in a professional manner. The recent direct marketing and tele-calling approach taken by some has upset the industry,” says Jhaveri. Getting rid of its profligate legacy and attracting talent will take time, she says.