demystifying the new social development approach in the current scenario

A lot many discussions that I have with people who do not share the same positive feelings about the social sector end up with examples like "Well, I have seen people drawing hefty salaries even in NGOs" or "How do you explain the glamorous events that these NGOs conduct".

I feel questions like these arise from an uninformed and biased perception of the social sector. Plus when it comes to talking about perceptions, especially in a country like ours, well you have multitudes of them. I will try and give my 2 cents here - on why we should not look at the social sector like a holy cow and put it on a pedestal so high that it is not able to serve the very purpose for which it exists.

"Serving the poor and needy" has been a recurring theme of goodness since times immemorial and gained prominence during the freedom struggle. Once we gained independence and Jawaharlal Nehru took over as the Prime Minister, the focus was on uplifting the masses. Please note that I am saying the focus was on uplifting the masses - where the efforts have lead us to is a totally difference topic. This continued with "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan" (maybe because the concept of urban poverty had not yet set in) and "Garibi Hatao".

Now, let us realize that there was always a Upper Class, Middle Class and Poor Class. The sizes of these classes have varied over last 60 odd years - in relative as well as absolute terms. Upper Class was the Industrialists and IAS officers (and the likes). Middle class was composed of the rest of the government machinery and a small number employed by the private sector. Then you had the poor. Until as recently as 10-15 years, people associated with the poor's cause could only be wearing kurta-pyjamas and sarees. They were expected to relinquish most of the material comforts because "how else can you serve the poor better without being poor yourself". This was also the time where under the garb of doing good, many NGOs and individuals, ground their own axes.

To summarise, this period of social work/development was driven by compassion (actual or superficial), pity (which prevented us from being objective and from noticing stark truths), and the need to do good at any cost - even at the cost of the beneficiary :-). Like mother's love which is oblivious to a child's shortcomings, social workers were not ready to accept the fact that sometimes hard decisions need to be taken.

i. Finances were mostly in the form of donations. This made the social workers more answerable to the donors and less answerable or unanswerable to the target audience.

ii. Social work was taken up always as a passion and rarely as a career. This again, sometimes, clouded the judgement of social workers.

iii. Any kind of overhead costs were seen as a waste of expenditure - this did not necessarily translate into lean organizations. It rather meant less achievements.

What is happening now? With average age of the upper middle class dropping down and the absolute size of this class increasing, we have young people who are able to divert their thoughts towards social issues and think objectively about them. The new approach is characterised by the following changes.

i. An enterprise-based approach as opposed to a charity-based approach makes more sense now.

ii. It makes sense to make the target group stakeholders in the effort. This way they are not only accountable they have the right to demand too.

iii. It is also about inducing a sense of self-esteem in both the target audience and the people working in this field.

And in this approach, false appearances of the old kind are not considered that important. Now we need to don business-suits to get funding instead of courting industrialists for that once-a-year cheque. In this objective approach, people are not looking at forsaking the good part of life. They say "While living my own life, I can help other people live theirs. It is not my appearance that is important, but my ideas."

And that is why getting paid highly is not a reason good enough to suspect a person working in the social enterprise of double standards and hypocrisy.


  1. Hi Aishwarya,

    My name is Vijaya & I was checking out Rang De website's Hyderabad chapter and saw the link for your blog there. Sorry to use your personal blog for this inquiry, but I don't see any borrower profiles from AP on the Rang De website.are there any?


  2. Vijaya,

    I am sure there are borrowers from AP. Can you please let me know your email id. Mine is aishmishra@gmail.com