A month ago, 38-year-old Vipula Sharma quit her job as chief relationship officer of SBI Capital Markets Ltd, Bangalore, and joined Small Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund (S3IDF) as its chief executive officer (CEO). In her new role at S3IDF, Sharma will be helping the grant-based non-profit become a sustainable “social merchant bank”.
S3IDF provides technical, business and financial know-how to infrastructure service providers and/or their poor customers.
Two months ago, 52-year-old Sanjiv Chatrath joined Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) as chief operating officer (COO). Chatrath, a chartered accountant, had been working in Indonesia for 16 years in the financial services sector. He was senior vice-president, small and medium enterprises, PT Bank Danamon Indonesia Tbk—a leading private sector bank in Indonesia. “A long-held belief that I could contribute to the social sector and the sector, too, needs the expertise of corporate executives” is how Chatrath explains this mid-career switch.
Work-life balance: Salaam Bombay Foundation chief operating officer Seema Sood. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar
A year back, Chatrath had joined a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Impact India Foundation in Thane, near Mumbai; it works with tribals and rural people. By the end of the year, he was sure about his decision to switch sectors, and was ready for a larger role. At PHFI, Chatrath is involved in large capacity-building exercises—overseeing finance, information, human resources and building campuses, among other things.
This is not a new trend, but more high-profile executives are now making the transition. The numbers have seen a significant rise in the last few years, say hiring managers. Third Sector Partners, a headhunting firm engaged in senior-level search, placed around 30 senior managers in the social sector in 2006-07, 40 in 2007-08—and has already placed 10 senior executives so far this year.
Like Sharma and Chatrath, Seema Sood, former head of project management at Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd, joined the Salaam Bombay Foundation (SBF) as COO in December. Sood was tired of working long and erratic hours, and was looking for an opening that would allow her to do meaningful work while ensuring a work-life balance.
Two other corporate-weary friends of Sood’s have followed suit. Chandan Shanbhag, who was earlier with Percept Advertising, has joined as conference manager of the 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health at SBF, while a former business development executive at GoFish Entertainment, Nishi Arora, has joined its communications department. “Another friend is the process of coming on board,” says Sood.
Those who made the switch much earlier include Ujwal Thakar, former banker and current CEO of Pratham, an NGO that works in the area of primary education, and former advertising professional Sashwati Banerjee—executive director of Sesame Workshop India, which seeks to create innovative, alternative educational content for children in 120 countries.
A former brand manager at Hindustan Unilever Ltd, Reshma Anand now heads Earthy Goods. Earthy Goods, a part of the Institute for Financial Management and Research Trust Network and supported by ICICI Bank, functions like a holding company, investing in sectors such as dairy, rural BPO, crafts, food, health care and energy. Former McKinsey and Co. consultants Ashok Alexander, Aparajita Ramakrishnan and Alkesh Wadhwani work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Lekha Sapra, director of human resources at Population Services International India (PSI), says it has become relatively easier to attract talent now. “Earlier, we would get, at best, two or three candidates for the position of, say, a chief financial officer, or COO. But, now, we easily get (expressions of) interest from 5-10 candidates for the same post,” says Sapra.
A new opening: Public Health Foundation of India chief operating officer Sanjiv Chatrath, a chartered accountant, worked for 16 years in the financial services sector in Indonesia. Photo: Ramesh Pathania / Mint
She adds that PSI has hired middle- and senior-management executives from companies such as Tata Teleservices Ltd, Wipro Ltd, Birla Sun Life, Canon India Pvt. Ltd, Pfizer Ltd, Eli Lilly & Co. (India) Pvt. Ltd, Marico Ltd, Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd and Henkel India Ltd.
Paying for talent
With management skills becoming critical to an NGO’s sustainability and competitive advantage, non-profits are seeking top talent and are ready to pay for it. “It is not shameful anymore to negotiate for salary in the social sector,” says Sapra. “NGOs and donors acknowledge the fact that employees have to meet the needs and aspirations of their families, too.”
The reasons for hiring talent from the corporate sector vary: from achieving organizational differentiation in a cluttered marketplace, good marketing and fund-raising abilities and excellent operational capacities to timely delivery of programmes. “For creating value, you need the best of human knowledge, along with a compassionate mindset,” says Crispino Lobo, managing trustee, Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), and executive director, Sampada Trust, an informal outreach programme of WOTR. WOTR is a non-profit involved in water conservation.
Experts say the growing professionalism among NGOs, decent salary packages and the satisfaction of working for the marginalized are leading to an increasing number of business leaders choosing the social sector as a career option. They expect the trend to catch on, with increased movement of talent from the corporate to the social sector, and vice-versa.
Pari Jhaveri, principal, Third Sector Partners, says: “Corporatization of NGOs, growing private sector interest and increased corporate social responsibility (CSR) spending have made the switch smoother for these executives.”
Agrees Chatrath, “My role is very similar to that of an operational manager in a corporate. My deliverables here include getting all PHFI educational campuses up and running, receiving approvals from the Union government for the projects, recruitment, and making sure that all internal systems are aligned with PHFI’s expansion plans.”
“Though my new job is not as cut-throat as a corporate one, my performance is going to be evaluated against strong key result areas. I am expected to use my expertise in raising and managing funds, strategizing and project execution,” says Sharma.
Having the right people on board also makes a big difference when a non-profit is pitching for funds. Leadership in the sector plays a very important role in attracting companies and other sources for funding, observe experts.
“Demonstration of participatory leadership is a significant factor in our consideration set,” says Unmesh Brahme, senior vice-president, corporate sustainability, HSBC Ltd. “We would also look at the composition of the NGO board to arrive at a fair assessment of the organization’s performance capabilities and ability to deliver results.”
Agrees Sushil Singh, head, CSR implementation, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd: “Due diligence is very important on the part of corporates and to see if the NGO has strong office- bearers.” The tractor maker recently won the Businessworld Ficci-SEDF CSR Award 2007.
Performance matters: Small Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund CEO Vipula Sharma says that though her new job is not as cut-throat as a corporate one, her performance is going to be evaluated against strong key result areas. Sharma was earlier chief relationship officer with SBI Capital Markets, Bangalore. Photo: Hemant Mishra / Mint
Not a cushy job
Executives warn potential recruits not to confuse positions in the social sector with cushy jobs. “Raising funds is not easy, especially when there are so many NGOs competing for the same pie,” says Sood, adding that “not all programmes attract funds easily”.
Also, patience is an essential requirement since systemic changes take time. “People skills, therefore, are critical to succeed in this sector,” says Chatrath.
Rising compensation levels
“Even though salaries in NGOs cannot match corporate pay packets, compensation levels are decent,” says E. Balaji, who heads Ma Foi Management Consultants Ltd, a search firm that places, on average, 15 senior executives in the development sector in a year. “Also, these executives are at a stage where money is not a priority. The gratification lies in the work profile,” adds Balaji.
Average salary for senior executives ranges from Rs12 lakh to Rs30 lakh a year, depending on the size of the NGO and its annual spends/budget. For CXO roles (equivalent to country head) in international NGOs or those affiliated to international not-for-profits, executives could take home anything between Rs25 lakh and Rs45 lakh a year. Their counterparts in Indian NGOs can draw salaries in the range of Rs20 lakh to Rs30 lakh.
“Both large and small NGOs are keen to hire top talent,” says Priyanka Mazumdar, vice-president, Third Sector Partners.
Small- and mid-sized non-profits that don’t have the funds to match the salaries of their bigger rivals depend on a multi-pronged strategy, which includes building talent within the organization, strong career development initiatives and performance appraisal systems.
For instance, WOTR appraises employees twice a year, rewarding and recognizing?performers.?It also shares profits (fees generated from a training programme) with staff and has a loyalty programme rewarding employees who have served a minimum of 10 years with a lump sum amount paid on the basis of employee grades.
In addition, NGOs are also looking at variable pay as a means of driving a performance-oriented culture. PSI is considering introducing a balanced scorecard and variable pay. Developed by Robert Kaplan and David Norton in the 1990s, the balanced scorecard is a framework which aligns business activities to the vision and strategy of the organization, and monitors the performance of the organization against strategic goals.
Experts say the coming years will see a growing convergence between the social and corporate sectors. The reason: Good firms cater to the customer,?the?best ones cater to the community. “As forward-looking organizations work towards becoming better,??we will see this trend,” says Brahme.