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NGOs gain traction as career option

May appear to be a scene out of a corporate house, but it's in fact the India headquarters of a global civil society organisations

M Saraswathy  |  Mumbai 

Suited individuals are stepping out of a strategy meeting only for a half an hour break before their next video conference with the top management abroad.

This may appear to be a scene out of a house, but it's in fact the India headquarters of a global civil society organisations.

Today, it is not just the 'jhola' (cotton sling bag) carrying bearded middle-aged individuals who are joining civil society organisations. Human resource experts said that this segment is now seeing a lot of talent willing to join 'meaningful' roles, even with a pay cut.

G Ananthapadmanabhan, Chief Executive, Amnesty International, India said, "In an aspirational era exploding with diverse career opportunities and choices, more youngsters today are seeking opportunities where they can earn and build a career, one where they can balance work-life priorities, where they feel that they matter and can make a difference." He added that these individuals proactively and consciously, choose to shun the rat-race and make for a more holistic life with a career in non-profit organizations.

Experts point that the reason for executives to join was also due to the fact that the sector has moved beyond just collecting donations to advocacy and specialised services. This, according to them, involves a lot of strategy and planning, and executives can offer valuable insights.

Chandrashekhar Ponda, General Manager - HR & Business Support, Child Rights and You (CRY) said that today, civil society and the sector has so evolved that it offers people the opportunity to become involved in a cause after their own heart.

“More and young professionals – having achieved early success in their corporate careers – experience the urge to do more. They are seeking to do something meaningful with their lives – a purpose, or a means to give back to society,” he added. Ponda said that a decade ago this might have been constrained to merely financially supporting their favourite charity. But today, they have more opportunity to take a more ‘hands-on’ approach.

Human resource consultants also agree. Jyorden T Misra founder member and Managing Director, Spearhead InterSearch explained that there is more visibility, stability and diversity in sector space than ever before. “It is not just driven or dominated by government or public sector supported/sponsored establishments, but has a far more inclusive character which cuts across the Public-Private spectrum,” he said.

Misra informed that professionals from the corporate sector across functions such as finance, legal, HR and business have made successful transitions into this sector. “For professionals with backgrounds in profiteering organizations the only difference being that the Return on Investments (RoI) is measured here, not in Rupee or $ terms, but on the value of ‘social impact’,” he said.

Executives are also ready to take a pay-cut to follow their passion. Ananthapadmanabhan said that salaries will never be on par with the for-profit sector and that is not the aim. “Overall compensation structures and benefits packages in the non-profit sector, particularly in international NGOs, are beginning to mirror industry standard practices practised in the for-profit sector. This is reflected not just with regard to compensation and benefits, but in the broader area of HR practices as well,” he said.

Industry players opined that the most important differentiators in favour of the today are probably the flexible working hours and a say in decision making. Ponda said that there is usually a more egalitarian salary structure because of the nature of work they do. He added that the difference in an NGO between the mid-level employees and upper management is many times less than in a corporate.

But the situation is changing, as Misra added that in well established, large and securely funded organizations, remuneration is more or less comparable with corporates. He further said that in smaller and lesser known organizations, the salary packages have definitely improved but still there’s a gap. This would be closer to the third quartile of the corporate compensation structure.

While attrition is an issue which even civil society organisations have to face, HR experts said that the rate of attrition was in single digits and comparatively lower than corporate jobs. Ananthapadmanabhan admitted that attrition is something that have to deal with just as much as companies in the corporate sector.

“It is not a given that employees will remain loyal to an organization simply because they are involved in a great cause,” he said, adding that people in the NGO sector will vote with their feet just as much in a corporate firm, if they are not treated fairly and properly.

While young workers are ready to join NGOs, Ponda said that it is not always easy for an individual who is used to the corporate world to acclimatise themselves with working in the sector.

“While most NGOs have a work culture and professionalism to rival any leading corporate entity, the sheer paucity of resources leads to individuals having to take on more work and more responsibility while working for an NGO. People also tend to have difficulties with the time is takes for results to be visible,” he said.

As more opportunities have emerged, HR officials said that there have been active movements in this sector. With more executives coming in, they expect not just salary structures to improve, but areas like talent development and career growth to also be integrated within small NGOs as well.

First Published: Wed, May 01 2013. 19:01 IST