Be The Change You Want To See Or See The Change You Don’t Want To See

A guide to getting started on social work

This piece is inspired by an Instagram post I saw, it was an awareness post on Manual Scavenging. People get into the drains manually, cleaning up the sludge mostly by hand or with rudimentary tools, and are neck-deep in shit, for lack of a better world, the smell and conditions are unimaginable, and the health impact is lethal. In spite of the advance in technology and laws banning manual scavenging, this practice is prevalent to this day in India

While people expressed solidarity for the scavengers and wondered how they could help, most people were clueless about what could be done.

It was a moment of Dejavu for me, I realized I experienced this too many times, something would come up, there would be an endless discussion by eloquent speakers, and nothing would change on the ground

It is easy in a country of our size to get lost and confused in the problems of politics, and how the government needs to pull up their socks, how they are not doing enough, but tougher to turn the spotlight on ourselves and ask what we have done

If all the talk could solve the Social problems this country faces, then we would have been rid of our social challenges long ago. Our conversion funnel from talk to action is extremely narrow

I thought maybe this was a global problem, with the surge in internet activism ( This is essential and is the first step, but it becomes pointless if this is the only step), so I looked up and searched for a metric to measure this.

That is when I came across the World Giving Index, which measures the charitable intent of 95% of the World’s population.

It asked 3 simple questions.

In the last month

  • Have you helped a stranger or someone you didn’t know who needed help?
  • Donated money to a charity
  • Volunteered at an Organization

India ranked 124 of the 140 countries surveyed in 2018, so maybe it was not a global problem as much as an Indian problem

I did some probing of my own, to understand what my friends understood by charity/giving. As soon as I brought up the topic the assumption was that I was asking for money. (My current role in the Social sector might have created the bias ) But when we see the survey we realize 2 out of the 3 questions can be affirmative without a monetary contribution.

There is also an assumption that only large-scale companies and people who are millionaires and billionaires need to engage in philanthropy. This mindset puts us behind several countries when it comes to Charitable giving, it also fails to leverage the power of our population. Small and consistent giving makes a lot more difference than no giving and waiting for Big corporates to amplify their CSR attempts

Moving Beyond CSR

While funds play a critical role to create a large-scale social impact they are not the only way to make a difference.

Often we feel helpless when we see people struggling because we have not equipped ourselves with the tools to deal with such problems. Empathy is like a muscle, you might have it to begin with, but you flex and build it in the long run to create more impact.

Investing in Social change is like investing in the stock market. Long-term returns usually trump short-term gains/efforts, and you cannot go behind every cause, you have to pick and choose akin to how you pick and choose your stocks.

So how do you start with choosing what matters to you when so many areas seem like they need help?

1-List your causes

Simple, I call it the irk factor. List down all the things that irk you. You can make the list specific to the social sector( Your boss micromanaging you is a legit thing to put down on the irk list, but there might not be a lot of people working to change that, you might need to start something of your own there)

For me public trashing was high on my irk list, I could feel my blood pressure go up whenever people threw trash on the ground, I have had some lovely conversations with such people, neither of us is going to forget each other for a long time

2-Research and Pick your Cause

Once you have your irk list, start researching each of these areas. See what resonates with your values, where you think you will be able to contribute your time and make a difference. This is like stock-picking before you start investing. So be thorough at this point to gain maximum returns in the future. It does not matter what stage of life you are in whether or not you are earning at the moment, this list is like a vision sheet.

Now pick your top 3 causes from the Irk list and start working on them. The first thing to start is research, read up about all the organizations that are working in the cause area, the social sector has been around for a long time so most often there are several organizations that are already working on the causes you care about, and working with them might help achieve scale faster and will help you stay focussed unless the cause you are working on is how to not let your boss get away with micromanagement

3-Focus on Scale

One of the first things that happened to me when I started working on the causes I am passionate about was, I felt overwhelmed, it hit me like a ton of bricks, I thought of myself as self-aware and cognizant of the suffering around, but the scale of suffering was MASSIVE and I was unprepared. I was mopping around for a few days, thinking how did it matter when the pace of problems was 5x of the pace of solutions, but before I pushed myself into an existential crisis, I realized that I had not seen the benefits of scale. It was like a Nube entering stock markets, buying stocks on day one and seeing it plummet the next day, and thinking her grandmother was right when she said stock markets were as good as gambling. The scale takes time and effort so be patient and consistent

4-Read up about the Bears and Bulls of the Giving world

Like a smart investor look at the philanthropy patterns of top donors ( Nandan Nilekani, Azim Premji, Ratan Tata, Bill and Melinda Gates, etc) Philanthropists have turned the game of charity from obligation to strategy. There is a lot to watch and learn.

Talk to people who are doing work at a grassroots level. Not all of us want to run away with your money, the irony is, a lot of us have run away from personal money, leaving high-paying jobs for the call of the sector. Understand how programs are getting implemented, see if you can get involved as a volunteer or through donations. If you have questions of how your money gets translated to impact ask them those questions instead of assuming it vanishes into thin air.

Stick Around

And finally, stick around and stay. Watch your babies grow, like stocks they will give you dividends and returns, there will also be dips and blows but stick around like a true investor.

Some quick things you can do if you want to get into action mode

· Volunteer at an NGO near you

· Look up causes you care about, and make a monthly donation

· Start a Fundraiser if you see there are no organizations working for the cause you care about

· Speak to Friends and Family to raise awareness

· Choose someone you know who can benefit directly (Your Maid’s children/People near you who are need of help and channel your funds to them for their education/other expenses)

You act on things that irk you and do something about it or you let it get to you and feel overwhelmed. Be the change you want to see or see the change you don’t want to see

PS: All views are personal.DM me if you want to get started on any of the quick action steps and need sources/references

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