Drink coffee, lots of it

Date : Jul 23 , 2019 | Featured,Opinion

Nine years since he crossed over to the social sector, Luis Miranda, who has been involved in setting up successful companies such as HDFC Bank and IDFC Private Equity, offers some valuable advice to corporate leaders exploring the development space.

I’ve recently been meeting a lot of people who want to cross over from the corporate side to the social sector. Some of them are ILSS alumni. And my first bit of advice to them is to meet a lot of people and understand their journeys and the opportunities in the sector. A lot of these meetings are at coffee shops, resulting in a lot of coffee drinking. And remember, this is the social sector. So, no five-star hotel coffee shops or bars; mainly CCD, the occasional Chaayos or someone’s home or office.  If you want to cross over, be prepared for some coffee, not Pinot Noir.

When I quit full-time work in 2010, I had no idea what I would do. But I was clear what I would not do – i.e. I would not do anything full time and I would not start something. People thought I would start an NGO and I was clear that the last thing India needs was yet another NGO. My wife was the one most worried about this transition and her retirement gift to me was a doormat that said ‘Beware of the Wife’!

I gradually got to know all the coffee and tea shops in Bandra. Here are a few lessons from my own experience and from various conversations over the past nine years:

  1. Keep an open mind. Do not go into a conversation expecting to walk out with a job offer. Today there are many corporate people looking to cross over and NGOs are meeting a lot of people. Many NGOs have been burned by recruiting corporate people, so they are sceptical.
  2. Be patient. Don’t be in a hurry. I am busier now than I have ever been, but the initial years were very chilled out. You may not find the dream job immediately. It takes time and many cups of coffee. Maybe the solution is to take up a couple of part-time assignments to figure out what works best for you.  
  3. Look at starting off as an unpaid volunteer. This is a great way for both sides to get to know each other. Look at taking on a short project with clear deliverables. I’ve seen some great transitions taking place this way at NGOs like SNEHA and CORO.
  4. Be realistic on compensation. Yes, you are giving up a lot in terms of compensation. But a low salary of Rs 2 lakh a month is a fortune for many NGOs. Of course, there are NGOs that will pay a lot more, but there are only a few of them and the competition for those positions is extremely high.
  5. Listen. Don’t oversell yourself. Most NGOs like humble people. If you do all the talking, you do not give the NGO any opportunity to tell you about themselves and it may hurt your chances to get a job there.
  6. Be ready to learn, not teach. Many of us super-smart, over-achieving people from the corporate world know exactly how to solve all the problems in the social sector. And the social sector folks hate that attitude. And more importantly, we do not really know all the answers. This is a different world and corporate solutions need not work in the social sector. Do not start preaching from Day 1. Or Day 2. Or Day 3. I have learnt so much from some amazing people in the social sector.
  7. Are you really ready for the transition? Are you just following a fad of crossing over? Are you really fed up of the corporate life? Are you really ready to give up a high pay check? Ask yourself these questions … many times.
  8. Sometimes the answers are in the most unexpected places. You will be surprised at how the journey can pan out. None of the organisations I am involved with, except for one, are organisations I knew of in 2010, when I quit working. There are so many interesting NGOs, think tanks, social enterprises out there and you need patience to find them.  I was recently talking to a former banker who was helping someone start a very interesting initiative. I advised her to drop all other conversations and work on this start-up because it would be her baby and the excitement of building it out could be a lot more interesting than working in an established NGO. Don’t think conventionally.

The past nine years have been fabulous. Today I chair two organisations – Centre for Civil Society  and CORO. I am also Founder Director of the Indian School of Public Policy and Managing Trustee of Collective Good Foundation. And I am on the boards of Educate Girls and SBI Foundation. I run a mentoring programme for Catholic youth called Take Charge. I am also advisor to Sunbird, 17000 Ft, Youth4Jobs, Operation Asha and Medha.

Life can end up being very crazy. Have patience and drink a lot of coffee.



Luis Miranda is Chairman of the Centre for Civil Society and CORO. He has been involved in setting up two highly successful companies—HDFC Bank and IDFC Private Equity—and is now involved with starting the Indian School of Public Policy. Luis spends his time, with his wife, connecting dots: using their networks to help the organisations they are connected with. He is on the board of Educate Girls and co-founded, Take Charge, a mentoring programme for Catholic youth in Mumbai. Luis is also Chairman of ManipalCigna Health Insurance. He is on the Advisory Board of the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at Chicago Booth. Luis received an MBA from the Booth School of Business at The University of Chicago and is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.

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