Article: A mindset shift is a must to transit from the corporate to the social sector, says Anu Prasad of ILSS


A mindset shift is a must to transit from the corporate to the social sector, says Anu Prasad of ILSS

People passionate and committed should be encouraged to work in the social sector for the underserved and the marginalised. This sector is reshaping and redefining the society we all live in - that is nation-building, says Anu Prasad.
A mindset shift is a must to transit from the corporate to the social sector, says Anu Prasad of ILSS

Anu Prasad, CEO of India Leaders for Social Sector (ILSS), a Delhi-based non-profit that works to strengthen the leadership talent pool in the social sector, sheds light on challenges and solutions faced by the social sector in India. Prasad believes that social sector leaders must possess empathy, compassion, focus, grit, self-reflection, coherence with one’s own values, resilience, courage, patience and optimism.

Having experience in diverse fields including finance and administration and academia, what inspired you to pursue a career in the social sector, and how did you get started in this field?

I started engaging with the work in the development sector when I was heading the Young India Fellowship at Ashoka University. As a part of the year-long fellowship journey, my students were required to intern for nine months with organisations of their choice. I noticed that most of these millennials were seeking opportunities in social sector organisations instead of corporate setups. They were applying for opportunities to intern with policy think tanks, social purpose organisations, social enterprises, foundations, grassroots community-based organisations, low-income schools, impact investing, research organisations, etc. As a part of this experiential learning module, they would take on specific problems/challenges to work on and submit a report. As I reviewed their work, my interest only grew. I saw the opportunities that existed to create a substantial impact in the world. This shifting of the lens from critiquing the problem to being a part of the solution made it very difficult to turn my back on the call to action I was experiencing. As I started engaging more meaningfully by volunteering and mentoring young non-profit start-ups, I realised that this was the sector I wanted to contribute to in the next phase of my career. I have made many career shifts and transitions but I am now here to stay. I have found my Ikigai.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the social sector in India today, and how are you working to address them?

The biggest challenge I see in the social sector today is the chronic underfunding of nonprogrammatic costs, for organisational capacity building. Funding is mainly for direct programmatic expenses, and none or very little for building both reserves or for indirect costs of administration and support functions. This severely limits an organisation's ability to invest in their leadership and teams and thereby in their ability to grow.

There have recently been some very encouraging signals from the funding community that is addressing this concern.

The GROW Fund helmed by EdelGive and a few other enlightened donors has addressed this by funding the capabilities, resilience and future readiness of 100 grassroots organisations.

The Bridgespan's “Pay What it Takes” initiative, urges funders to support foundational capabilities and build financial resilience thereby strengthening the ability of the non-profit to create impact.

Bridgespan also came up with another report a few years back about the lack of leadership in the social sector. Its 2017 research report showcased the need for a leadership bench across organisations in the development sector. Interacting with over 250 leaders from across the sector, it showed that 97% of respondents stated that leadership development is vital to their organisations’ success. At ILSS, we’re trying to solve both these problems by advocating and building strong capacity-building programs like the fundraising program, which aims to equip leaders with the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively and strategically fundraise. We are also, through our flagship leadership program, bringing senior leaders into the sector. Thereby creating opportunities for leaders across India to contribute more meaningfully to the social impact space.

How corporate leadership upskilling can be a game changer for the development of the social sector?

Senior corporate talent brings a new perspective on looking at things. Corporate leaders come with a vital process and system orientation. They have worked and managed teams at scale, and understand technology. They come in with experience in finance, human resources, and innovation, which is very valuable to the development sector leadership bench to have access to and to be able to use to grow organisations. The main challenge is that many corporate sector leaders come in with different orientations. They have a very quarter-on-quarter approach to their work. There are, of course, hierarchies of leadership in the corporate sector, and profit is the end motive. However, if we realign them - help them unlearn and relearn the vision of the development sector, and build a mindset of humility to learn and work with patience, they'll soon realise that the sector works for impact and scale and not profit. We often find that 70-80 per cent of their skills are transferable. There is only a mindset shift that we want them to have about the sector they would now be working in.

What do you think are the most important qualities for a leader in the social sector to possess, and how do you cultivate those qualities in yourself and your team?

The most essential qualities for a leader in the social sector are empathy, compassion, focus, grit, self-reflection, coherence with one’s own values, resilience, courage, patience and optimism. One works on the front lines of the most demanding situations.

My team and I are continuous learners. We spend time on self-reflection, feedback and empower each other to take ownership. We have through the process of self-reflection and leadership development within the team, understood the values we hold true for ourselves which keeps us pushing forward even when the going gets tough.

What do you see as the future of the social sector, and how do you think it will evolve over the next few years?

In terms of the future of the social sector, this is my wish and hope, and the signs are optimistic that we have more enlightened philanthropy - which not only funds programs but also funds organisational capacity and leadership. I also hope we have a platform for non-profits to come together where we share, learn from each other, exchange information, and convene. I also hope to see more collaborations and many more organisations creating scale-based impact. At this point, only a few non-profit organisations have a budget of a hundred crore, but can we see them at a thousand crore or even more - by having more reach and scale, hence creating more impact? And, as an optimist, I see the sector's future moving the needle on all our human development indicators.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in the social sector, or who is interested in pursuing a career in this field?

The social sector is an enterprising, overwhelming, and exciting place to be. I strongly encourage people passionate and committed to serving the underserved and the marginalised to work in the social sector. As it is the best place to work, it is reshaping and redefining the society we all live in - that is nation-building. I also recommend that you study, learn, have conversations, and be a continuous learner. Equip yourself by understanding, immerse yourself in a field experience, volunteer in grassroots organisations, and understand the pulse of the work. Start with finding a cause you feel passionate about and understand the reason in-depth. What are the challenges, where is it rooted out from, and then find solutions to how we can solve them?

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Topics: Leadership

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