Corporate Social Responsibility

My Journey from a volunteer to iVolunteer

Donning on documents, emails, long conversation on phone, skype calls, meetings and social media….

Contrast this in early 2009, when sitting in a computer lab involved in design, coding, debugging and testing.

It was in 2009 when I decided to quit my well paying corporate job as a software engineer, to take up something that I was very passionate about but could only devote time to over the weekends. Yes, I let my heart take over what my mind had to say and decided to take the plunge – work full time in the social sector. I was always interested in working on different social causes and particularly enjoyed working on issues related to under-privileged children.

More than three years after taking that life changing decision, I can say with a lot of confidence and satisfaction that I did the right thing. However, it was not an easy ride all along as I made the transition. For sure, there were bumps – some I had anticipated and others were like those pot holes that appear on Indian roads from nowhere. You run into them the first time but amazingly find your way around them with consummate ease the second time you go down the same road.

So, if you are also wondering , contemplating or just have some ideas around following your heart to take up something that you are passionate about then read on…. I am still learning everyday but happy to share what I have learnt thus far. This is my account of my journey with iVolunteer and the world of volunteering in general :

First and foremost – Social sector salaries are much lower than corporate sector. We all know that. Despite all the passion and real good intent, let me tell you when you find an amount one fourth of what you use to earn in the pay check it does bother you somewhere. There is no point taking a moral high ground or trying to tell the world and yourself that you are doing a lot of good to the society.  The fact is that it may bother you when you have to pay your bills. Insecurity is a legitimate human emotion and is surpassed only if you feel there is nothing to lose.  This is exactly how I approached my pay-cut. I just decided to have fun and let my passion take over everything else. Seeing a smile on a child’s face just because our volunteers could help them make a nice collage or seeing an illiterate mother feel proud that her daughter could read and write was worth a million. I mean it. I just hope that my million dollar moments become rare in my lifetime such that there are more haves and lesser have-nots in our society.

Second was a myth that got busted pretty soon – NGOs and social enterprises are no longer run by kurta-jhola clad men and women who are driven by their passion but may not have resources.  Initially, I was amazed to see and meet technically savvy, extremely resourceful seemingly business like people working in the social sector AND they were really really smart .  It almost felt like betrayal and then I soon realized that it was betrayal of my own perception, nothing more.  In fact, it is needed more so in social sector because the problems that we address are so diverse and we can make any meaningful impact only when a good idea or project can be scaled to a reasonable size. All of that requires meticulous planning, professional approach besides of course tremendous commitment just like any other corporate job.

Third – This was like any other new job. I had to learn and learn fast! It was a surprise to join an organization which had systems and processes in place, just like my corporate job. I never expected that I would be given a target and rated on that! Pretty soon, that vague idea of “doing something good” vanished and I realized that I have to learn quite a bit to do well at my new job. Passion alone would not compensate for pure skills needed for my role. For example, our first time volunteers were just like me. Stars in their eyes, lot of good intent but not sure of how they can contribute and even less understanding of the sensitivities involved when you work with lesser privileged sections of the society.  I was amazed to see and learn from my colleagues how to provide high-impact training to volunteers. Getting to understand their objectives, explaining the dos and don’ts and matching their skills to our partner NGO needs.  More importantly all of this was done in a very professional yet engaging way with fun for everyone involved all along.

Today after all these year I can say that I am satisfied and happy because I was very clear about my goals in life. And the journey continues……………..

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