Mumbai: After her graduation, Rachna Dhingra, a business strategy graduate from the University of Michigan, took the predictable route: consulting.
She landed a gig with Accenture Ltd and was assigned to work with Dow Chemical Co., the global chemicals giant.
A dream start for a fresh grad? Dhingra didn’t think so.
Work passion: Rachna Dhingra (front) believes that quitting her job to work for an NGO was one of the best career decisions she ever made.
So, two years later, she gave it up and moved to India to work with the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, a non-governmental organization (NGO) fighting for the rights of survivors of the 1984 gas tragedy.
Ironically, the group’s agenda includes urging Dow Chemical to take responsibility for the 1984 gas leak at the plant run by Union Carbide Corp.; Dow has since bought Union Carbide.
Despite a lot of people insisting that Dhingra was making a mistake, she believes that quitting her job to work for an NGO was one of the best decisions she ever made. “To me, it has never been a sacrifice,” she says. “On the contrary, this job rewards me in ways that a regular job with a corporate could never have.”
Many other young graduates are finding the same. Non-profits are tapping talent from the private sector—often well-qualified individuals who want to enter more community service-oriented roles. They are also leaning on their business and strategic skills to run more professionally what has been a largely unorganized sector. The result has been higher salaries, hiring from overseas and at least one recruitment firm targeting the non-profit segment.
“The demand is definitely growing,” says Pari Jhaveri, executive director at Third Sector Partners, a headhunting firm in Mumbai that specializes in recruitments for not-for-profits and multilateral agencies.
Jhaveri’s organization has placed more than 120 top executives in the last three years and gets at least three enquiries each day. “India is being seen as a big platform for change, so there is a lot of action in the not-for-profit space,” she says.
Even the compensation packages have improved in many NGOs to help make it a viable career option.
While a first-class graduate with a master’s in social work can expect to start off with a package of around Rs25,000, experienced professionals can expect a lot more, though still not comparable with the corporate world.
But those in the non-profit sector say the intangible returns are priceless.
Chinmayi Arakali, a trained film-maker who currently uses her skills in producing social films for rural women, says: “The best thing about working with a not-for-profit is that you are contributing towards making a change in society, in people’s lives. And there’s nothing better than watching that change happen right in front of your eyes.”
Arakali works with IT for Change, a non-profit organization focusing on the use of information and communication technologies to bring about social change, and is currently involved with self-help groups in rural Karnataka. Her work as a project associate involves making motivational and educational films on health, legal rights, education and other topics that are of relevance to rural women. Arakali says she was always interested in developmental communication and her current role allows her to marry her skills to her social interests.
“One of the primary drivers for the growth in interest is that the non-profit industry itself has become more rigorous and professional. As a result, it increasingly provides the kind of challenge and environment that professionals are looking for,” says Jayakumar Christian, national director, World Vision India, which is part of a global organization that works with poor communities. This not-for-profit employs chartered accountants, former bankers and experts in IT.
The fastest growing segments within this space are microfinance, public health and environment.
“Many of the non-profits in these areas need functional specialists, so there is scope for people looking to move from the corporate sector to non-profits,” says Jhaveri. Third Sector Partners also provides a service called Gap Advisory to help professionals interested in switching over to non-profits.
Still, a career in non-profits is not for everybody. According to Dhingra, it’s important to identify your passion. “You must really believe in what you’re setting out to do,” she says.
It is also important to do your homework, says Jhaveri. “Review the organization and its work. Ensure that the organization is sustainable. Check if its structure is something that you’re comfortable with. And finally be realistic about your expectations.”
WEBSITES | NGO JOBS
This is a comprehensive site for job seekers and employers in the not-for- profit sector. Listing jobs from some of the well-known NGOs in India, including international development agencies, firms working in the area of corporate social responsibility, educational and research institutions, it works like any mainstream job site, but with exclusive focus on this niche sector.
This site has a section on non-profit jobs across the world, including India. For fresh graduates or young professionals who are looking at volunteering opportunities or internship programmes, options are many. Supported by sub-sections such as non-profit career fairs, fellowship offers and career centre, the site offers a range of information on career opportunities, human resources-related issues for job seekers and non-profit professionals.
This website, which is a favourite of companies that want to do their bit for the community, also offers good career options to those who want to make a difference while earning their bread and butter. The listing currently advertises eight in-house vacancies for mid-level executives across finance, human resources, marketing and engineering.