A chance at doing something worthwhile

Date : Aug 28 , 2020 | Alumni

ILSS alumnus Harish Doraiswamy writes about his search for new direction, journey into the social sector and finding the right opportunity.

A year and a half ago I was employed at a leading global education company, doing reasonably well by most standards. Deep inside, however, I was bored with what I was doing and racked with the sense that what I was doing was inconsequential. I felt that I had several good years still ahead of me and that I should not waste them doing something I just did not enjoy or relate to anymore. So, I decided to put in my papers and serve out my notice period. That was the easy part.

In search of new direction

The difficult part was to figure out what to do with the next chapter of my life. All I knew was that I wanted to step into a new territory and do something more exciting. That’s when I came across an article in the ET on ILSS. This piqued my interest and I soon discovered that someone I knew had gone through the program as well.  While contributing some of my time to the social sector had crossed my mind before, for the first time I began contemplating a future career in the social sector. Some friends and well-wishers I spoke to advised me to consider the downsides carefully – from significantly lower income, to having to make a fresh start in my career, the slow nature of change in the sector, the lack of defined processes in non-profit organisations, dealing with the long shadow of the government, etc. Others suggested that this could be the last opportunity to do something worthwhile with my life! All of this meant that while the social sector was in consideration, I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to head that way. So, the ILSS program seemed just right for a person at the fork, wanting a sense of what lay ahead if one was to venture onto this path.

The learning journey with ILSS

As things turned out, I quit my job a year ago and tumbled straight into the ILSS Leadership Program. It was, unquestionably, the best 9-day experience that I could have imagined. The content was new and stimulating, the speakers were inspiring (some of the sessions made our hair stand on its end), breakout sessions were invigorating and what was revealed about the issues, challenges, the scale and complexity of India made our usual corporate problems seem small and trivial. What Anu Prasad and her remarkable team at ILSS have managed to create is something that provides a great overview of the possibilities of the social sector without getting into the weeds, giving a taste of what could come without sugar-coating the future. The program energized me, filled me with a greater sense of purpose and imbued me with the belief that I could play a small role in solving these big problems. It also introduced me to a set of inspirational course mates and a larger network of corporate crossovers.

What I was not prepared for, however, was how invested the ILSS team would be in my social sector journey after the course. The team does a fabulous job of curating a whole range of social sector employment opportunities for those interested in making the switch. In addition to the efforts of the folks at ILSS, I also tried reaching out to people in the sector on my own. In doing so, I realized that people in the non-profit sector are generous with their time and advise. Despite everything, the right opportunities took time to come by and, in retrospect, I should have been more prepared for it.

Presently, I am serving a full-time contract with Central Square Foundation working on EdTech in government schools, which is a deep interest area for me. Further, I also serve on the boards of two other non-profits.

Key learnings so far

The journey thus far has been quite humbling and a great learning experience. I have had to adjust to several new realities and this is still very much a work-in-process. Some of my key learnings in the first few months of my journey have been:

  1. Managing large scale of operations: The scale of a pilot ed-tech project in a single state in the government school sector is close to the size of an entire business catering to private schools. It takes getting used to.
  2. Being patient and persistent: As a non-profit one may be offering one’s services for free; but getting the government to agree to avail of those services remains quite difficult. Patience and persistence are great assets and I know I have much work to do on both.
  3. The need to be a self-starter: Given that many of the enabling structures of large or even mid-sized corporates are not to be found in non-profits, the sector demands insane levels of individual commitment and passion to drive things forward. The momentum has got to be all self-generated.
  4. The importance of spending quality time learning about communities one works with: There is no substitute for field experience. Having entered the sector late in my career, it might be a bit late to make up for it. The next best thing is to learn from those that have great insights from the field. However young such people may be, it is likely that they may know more about how something might work on the ground. I need to keep reminding myself to be humbler to be more effective. 

It has been only a few months for me working in the social sector and I would be lying if I said that it has been all smooth sailing. I know that I need to commit to the sector fully without a Plan B in order for my work to create any meaningful impact over time. I am getting there!

Harish Doraiswamy is a former corporate sector professional with over 30 years of experience across multiple industries and functions. Harish has been associated with the Education Sector for more than a decade and his last assignment was as Vice-President at Pearson India.
Harish is now associated with Central Square Foundation in work that seeks to assist and advise State Governments in making the most appropriate, evidence-based choices and most effective use of Education Technology interventions in order to improve learning outcome.
Harish is an alumnus of IIT Madras and IIM Calcutta.

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