Things To Know Before Considering A Career In The Development Sector


By Gaurav Shah, Founder & Director, ISDM (Indian School of Development Management)


The social sector views the world from a different lens — beyond profit and revenue generation. Over the last five to eight years, the sector has professionally evolved at a rapid pace. Driven by a meaningful purpose and well equipped with the desired skill sets to become the professional leaders and managers; Millennials, Bright and Passionate young minds are choosing development sector as their career above any other sector. But the decision of launching a career in the social sector needs to be very thoughtful and rational.


Working in the development sector definitely requires a combination of the Head (the ability to think), the Heart (the ability to empathise) and the Hand (the ability to do)


  • Unlike the corporate space, where a lot of people continue working for their whole lives without having any emotional connect with what they are doing, this is just impossible in the social sector.


  • While money can be the primary driver for work in the corporate space, it cannot be the main and continuing motivation to work in the social sector.


Having said that the development sector does not require you to ‘sacrifice’ your whole life, work pro-bono and have uncertain careers (contrary to the general outdated belief)


  • With the number of different kinds of organisations with varied strategies (Domestic and Internal NGOs, Social and Corporate Foundations, Social Enterprises, Social Consulting and Funding organisations etc.) who now contribute to this sector, different kind of people with different skill sets and aspirations have the opportunity to find their sweet spot within this sector. The stereotype of volunteer based or field based work as the only opportunity to engage with this sector is no longer true.


The sector offers amazing options for a meaningful, satisfying and financially sustainable career. But if luxury and opulence is what you want then this is not the sector for you.


  • The most enduring reason to work in the development sector is what it does for you


  • If improving the lives of the underserved and underprivileged is what gives you happiness, then the sector is for you


  • Should be based on your need to live in a society that is caring and compassionate; social justice, equality, liberty; not with the mindset that you are doing something great


  • Don’t do it out of a misplaced sense of power (Doing it will make me great), competence (I am so good, if not me then who?) or guilt (I have got so much, I must give back)


Just like any other sector, the development sector requires people with multiple skills and aspirations to play multiple roles.


  • Given the complexity of social issues (education, health, livelihoods, environment etc.), we need people who understand what development means and are able to approach it more systematically and not just through ‘common sense’ – it is not only about ‘doing good’; need for a professional approach that is particular to the development sector and grounded in the context of this sector


  • We will never go to a doctor or a lawyer who has not studied medicine or law but are mostly comfortable letting people who don’t understand development come and work on these issues using ‘common sense’


  • If you want to build meaningful and sustainable careers in the social sector, then invest your time in preparing yourself to work in this sector


  • There are a variety of different programmes depending on the kind of role you want to play in the sector – Development Management (for organisation building roles), MSW (for community based roles), Public Policy (policy related careers), Development Studies (academic, research related roles)


There are certain key requirements from people looking to work in the sector which will ensure better fitment and an alignment of expectations


  • Ability to deal with ambiguity – most of the work happens in open systems where we have very little control, have to learn to deal with emergence


  • Must be interested in people (in general) since people are the centre of all the work


  • Must have immense patience – Social change does not work on quarter to quarter basis. A sense of urgency has to be balanced by the sense of not doings things in a hurry for the sake of doing things since we are dealing with people’s lives


  • Critical thinking and Problem-solving ability – must be passionate about looking for solutions to complex problems and solving for scale


  • Must have belief and grounding in universal values like equality, social justice, fairness etc. – means are as important as the ends, how you do things plays an extremely important role in the work done in this sector



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