Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg are synonymous with the cause of education for the girl child and climate change, respectively. With a following which transcends borders, they are at par with world leaders when it comes to advocating a better world for future generations. That being said, with the COVID-19 pandemic, non-profits gained a heightened visibility in international mainstream discourse. You’ve probably never thought about the numbers, but there are more than 10 million non-profits and non-governmental organisations worldwide! To quote a John Hopkins University study, “If nonprofits were a country, they would have the fifth largest economy in the world.”
Non-profit organisations, social sector and social purpose organisations, all fall under the umbrella of civil society across the world, including in India. Speaking about the primary functions of civil society, Anuradha Prasad, CEO & Founder, India Leaders for Social Sector, says, “Advocating for equal rights in social, political and economic spheres for the marginalised communities, and working with the state for accelerating access and delivery of services like education, health and livelihoods are two primary functions of civil society, at a macro level.”
Same Intent, Different Contexts
Prasad highlights how the social sector, across the world, primarily solves local problems, with issues being unique to the terrain. For instance, the scarcity of clean drinking water is a grave concern in India and Bangladesh, but not in Scandinavian countries. “A country’s economic, political and social growth determines how civil society will shape up and respond. In essence, the social sector in developed and politically stable countries looks different from that in developing countries or countries facing political instability and violence. Pandemics and climate change transcend this division, with the former being much graver for countries already facing governance and resource crisis.” Against this backdrop, it is easier to draw parallels between the workings of the social sector in India and the world.
Decoding India’s Social Sector
Notably, civil society experiences across the globe have shaped the Indian social sector uniquely. So what is unique about India’s social sector? Prasad says, “India’s complexity lies in its religious, political, ethnic, social, and cultural diversity. Additionally, with a swirling diversity of 150 languages, defining India’s non-profit sector is difficult, as no single underlying theme or pattern can characterise the sector’s development.” She adds that diversity and attention to changing contexts multiply the challenges of reaching marginalised people. “There is no better place than India for studying the challenges faced by non-profits in trying to grow while stretched thin for resources. The length and breadth of India’s social sector makes it a unique and challenging landscape, with the three million registered organisations of this sector employing about seven million people,” explains Prasad.
- History That Shaped The Sector
Like the rest of the world, India’s social sector evolved from a charity and faith-driven endeavour to a more strategic one, collaborating with the government and the private sector to address social issues and create a far-reaching impact. Prasad notes, “India’s civil society has emerged from widespread people’s movements even before independence. Gandhi led the freedom struggle through crowdfunding and philanthropic support.”
- The Compliance Framework
India’s compliance structure governing the sector makes it unique. The government checks and balances from time to time regulate the industry – precisely the funding source. “The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act are two main legal frameworks where the sector’s funding is monitored. India is the first country in the world to mandate CSR spendings as part of the corporate law framework. In the US, talks to tax the wealthy to redistribute wealth and increase spending for the public good have increased. Still, India’s CSR laws are one-of-a-kind codified rules where corporates have to contribute a percentage of their profit to social causes,” says Prasad.
Careers In The Social Sector: Scope And Opportunity
In the USA, Canada, and most Nordic countries, a social worker is a licensed professional accredited by the government or an industry body and is periodically tested and certified. In the UK, social workers are employed by government agencies to do casework. With government’s support, social workers hold primary responsibility and work with displaced children, adoption and foster care services and substance abuse. “There is no formal recognition and certification of social workers in India yet. Like adoption and prisoner rehabilitation, most of these problems rest with the Indian government,” says Prasad.
India has a dynamic framework in which social sector professionals operate. Over the last decade, the social sector has witnessed a paradigm shift. The sector is now accommodative in terms of opportunities, open to accepting talent from varied backgrounds, with different hopes, aspirations, skill sets and visions of change, and has opportunities for professionals ranging from strategy to program management, M&E, communications, and fundraising.
Since the Indian social sector doesn’t limit itself to hiring professional social workers only, there’s enormous scope for people from varied industries and disciplines entering the sector. “The depth of experience gained by working in India due to the diverse set of issues and challenges can be leveraged by development professionals to carve out a career in the international development sector. Moreover, no other sector (corporate or otherwise) can offer this range and complexity of work with the additional opportunity to help improve the lives of the underserved in society,” concludes Prasad.
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