If you're just out of undergraduate college and looking to work in the non-profit space, this career guide might be just what you need.
It’s difficult to be a young person in India, looking to join the social impact space. You think about it for a long time, and after much thought, you decide that this is what you want to do. Your peers, parents, even your neighbours, try to dissuade you. You argue, reason, and finally ignore them all. The greater challenge though, is when you start looking for that first job in the sector.
Over the past five years, we have spoken to more than 200 young people who wanted to create social impact but were confused. If you are between 0-3 years out of undergraduate college and looking to explore the non-profit space, this guide might help.
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Types of organisations in the social impact space
There are four main types of organisations in the space. You might move among these during your career.
1. On-the-ground practitioners
- Non-profits, such as Pratham and SEWA
- Government bodies such as NITI Aayog, state governments, ministers’ offices
2. Funding organisations
- Large foundations or impact investors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Omidyar Network, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Tata Trusts, Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives,
- smaller Indian foundations and family offices such as ATE Chandra Foundation,
- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) functions at companies
3. Intermediaries and ecosystem-focused organisations
- Consulting/advisory firms, such as Dalberg, BCG Social Impact, Samagra
- Knowledge and capacity-building organisations including Sattva, Dasra, N/Core
4. Think tanks and academia
- Research and advocacy, such as IDInsight, Centre for Policy Research, Association for Democratic Reforms
- Academic research organisations, such as the Centre For Early Childhood Development and Research at Jamia Millia Islamia
You can also classify organisations by their focus areas. Many will likely focus on one theme like education, healthcare, environmental sustainability, or women’s rights—which informs their theory of change—while others have overlapping themes.
However, in the early stages of your career, if you are working close to the ground, the focus area matters less than the approach of the organisation.
Defining your role
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The roles available to you will vary on the organisation, but here is a (non-exhaustive) list generally available to young people:
- Execution focused, which includes managing a programme or team
- Fundraising/donor management/partnerships
- Research and analysis
In our opinion, the role should not be of primary importance at the initial stages of your career. Social sector organisations are usually talent-crunched, and your role could easily evolve or may even be finalised six months after you join, by which time you might learn what you’re passionate about, and the organisation will understand where your skills lie.
At the point of joining, instead of focusing on the role, we suggest you consider the following factors:
Seek opportunities that take you close to the field and provide first-hand insights. This is the time when you will develop your point of view, and understanding of the sector and the communities you intend to serve.
Your reporting manager will influence your learning and the impact you will create. If you’re lucky, a manager who will give you flexibility and trust you to take the lead on initiatives, will help with your growth.
In the case of smaller organisations, seek opportunities to engage with the founder/s; meet them during your exploration phase if you can.
The organisation’s values must align with your own. This could mean ensuring that the goal of the organisation is impact, not fundraising, or prominence in the sector.
Think about where you see yourself at the end of your time at the organisation. Ideally, you should have acquired the skills, the confidence, and the networks to have a clearer understanding of what drives change, the tools to question and test it, and the ability to articulate it. Here, execution roles have an advantage in that they can help prepare you more holistically to start or lead organisations, in both the social impact and corporate spaces.
Additional points to bear in mind
1. Is money important?
Beyond a minimum floor, not at this stage of your career (as long as you have no financial obligations or commitments). Differences between salaries offered by organisations at the entry-level end up being almost negligible in the long-term, especially if you are planning to pursue a master’s degree in the future.
While you should negotiate to meet your expenses, experience, and learning should be a priority. In our understanding, INR 25,000-30,000 a month should suffice as a minimum, based on your city.
2. What timelines should I follow?
Commit to an organisation for a minimum of two years. It takes six months to get used to the work and to build enough trust to get work that you would like to do. You will then need at least a year to contribute meaningfully to the organisation, and at least another six months to create processes or build projects that sustain after you leave.
3. How do I make my master’s degree application stand out?
Think about what made your exposure and impact unique. Did other people in the sector do the same thing, or were you able to do something distinct?
As a final piece of advice: don’t panic!
At the initial stages of your career, no mistakes are permanent. Take it one day at a time, try not to get frustrated when things don’t go according to your plan, and savour the days when you go home feeling like your work made a difference.
This article was originally published on India Development Review Online.
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