One of the reasons for me to enter the social sector industry was to swerve from the madness of the corporate race. When everybody around me was out to prove that they were the best, their associations desirable, and their reasons for existence much better than that of others, I wanted to break that cycle of race. I wanted to self select into something nobler, beyond the ordinary, outside the mundane. I prided myself in choosing to teach, to take a pay cut just so that I could do ‘social good’. It took me a while to see that I too was in the race, on my ego trip. But only on a slightly different track.

Having spent ~7 years in the sector, the presence of race in this sector is jarring too. Here too, education from prestigious institutions matters. The fact that I have degrees from 2 premier institutes buys me a seat at many tables. Here too corporate experience matters. I have seen senior corporate executives who have made the shift into the social sector dismiss ideas and people on the basis of their language, communication style, and the sheer lack of corporate jargon. I have seen them get impatient with novice social workers and chase meetings with richer philanthropists (no matter how old or young they are into this industry). After all, at the end of the day, the funding for your social service/product matters the most. I am yet to see a social program curriculum expert gain the same importance as the young techie who wants to fund a 1000 schools.

On an ideological level ‘design for scale' is everything. So many younger and newer organizations are chasing scale for their social solutions. The idea in itself is powerful. But what’s painful to see are those innovations that are fundamentally designed to solve particular localised social problems also chasing scale that often leads to wasted resources and builds fatigue. Smaller deeper initiatives such as working with one set of stakeholders (school/community/geography etc) is not enough for some reason. More schools, more communities, more geographies — it’s all in the chase.

Maybe the social sector in India is at the stage of metamorphosis. It is turning undergoing a silent Renaissance for its own good. Maybe we need grand larger than life projects only. Why dedicate 100 of your best people to improve the conditions for only 10,000 people when you can leverage the same talent to affect 10 crore stakeholders? Doesn’t it make a better economic sense! It definitely has better ROTI (Return On Time Invested). Maybe the sector is ready for high levels of efficiency — solutions designed at scale for population level impact.



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