CRY: Learning with a different shade of colour
What prompted your decision to join the developmental sector after working extensively within a corporate framework of HR management? What were some of the key challenges you encountered during this transition?
For me, college was the starting point where I was exposed to realities different to my own. Working on college projects with marginalized stakeholders, I realized the extent of poverty that people lived in. This left a lasting image with me. After finishing my MBA in 1989, I worked in the corporate sector till 1994. But somewhere down the line I simply got a little tired of doing what I was doing. The thought of having huge sets of people around me who are not doing well struck me. It became a matter of where I wished to invest my energies. I decided if I am to work tirelessly day and night, why not do it to make some difference. This led me to relocate to Mumbai. But up until that point, the idea for working on a social developmental cause was still very nascent and I had no idea what exactly did I want to do; it was a vague idea at best. All I knew was that I had certain people management skills and that I wished to use them to contribute towards the social development. My limited knowledge of the development sector and NGOs was not of great help either. However, around the same time, CRY was starting its HR function, and I believed it was a perfect fit for me.
Probably the biggest challenge I encountered was getting used to the difference in allocation of resources within both the sectors. I had to quickly learn to make strategic choices with a stronger focus on how to use the minimum required resources to achieve results. There were also significant cultural changes. The place was one that was motivated by a very different set of goals and ideals than my previous workplaces. The people who were a part of the organization were motivated by its mission; with the financial aspect not becoming a major factor. This is almost in contrast to the corporate world, where every small step boils down to the economics of it. But in hindsight, I think I needed to learn that, in order to offer my perspectives and adapt to the changing culture.
How has the journey of working in the development sector and setting up a robust HR framework within CRY been?
The biggest source of satisfaction for any individual is when their efforts and hard work pays off and is appreciated by peers. The HR framework that we fostered at CRY has built in some practices which one would rarely find in the corporate way of functioning. Aspects like performance management are discussion driven rather being a totally number intensive process. My biggest learning from the journey has been to understand that it is possible to take a set of values and create a set of policies that reflect what the values truly stand for. We have been able to integrate concepts like justice and equality in our compensation and evaluation systems. Jobs and roles are assigned in a way that creates a fair and just culture. The focus has also been to bring in people with the similar values. Even compensations within the organization are done on the basis of alignment with the values and mission of CRY rather than looking at fixed hierarchal compensations. The initial resistance that I experienced by introducing newer practices helped me understand the different motivational aspects of people. But when the rationale of such practices was explained, the adoption was easier and more natural. It becomes necessary for HR to build a consensus of its practices with the various stakeholders that such policies would affect.
Since corporations and developmental organizations have different goals and objectives, one might assume that both the sectors, has its own different sets of people management skills? What are your views regarding the same? Is there a possible gain that a cross-learning within the two sectors can create?
The level of formalization and management of resources within the developmental sector has increased over the last few years. Initially, it was difficult for me to even find theoretical models to base company policies and structures on. I ended up using prevalent management models from the corporate sector. Finding people who had experience in the development sector to lead such processes was extremely tough. But I think we can say that the approach to HR has evolved. Across the board, there has been a realization that one cannot just depend on people to deliver results simply because they believe in a cause and feel passionate about it. This is irrespective of sectors. It requires investing in job enrichment, personal growth, competency building skills, expanding knowledge; all of this is at the fore now. The role of HR has evolved to support institutional needs to a much larger extent today. Hence, much like the corporate sector, incentives are offered to people to do their best, but these incentives are more of creating learning and development opportunities and are hardly financial in nature. CRY started collaborating with corporate organizations way back in 1991 when such collaborations were rare and unheard of. In terms of HR practices, I think there has been some great exchange between the two sectors.
How effective are CSR policies in ensuring meaningful and sustainable empowerment in India? Do you think the young workforce looks up to ethical CSR initiatives while making career choices?
From the global perspective, the realization and awareness to join a socially aware organization is more prevalent in the developed world, and I am doubtful of the fact that a majority of young people in India consider such aspects before making career choices. However, one cannot deny the increasing social awareness among our workforce and the increasing pressure that people have started putting on organizations to shift to better, socially aware operational models, and even though most of these concerns focus exclusively on environment related issues, the movement has been a positive one. But currently, the results of implementing CSR policies have been rather mixed to give a final verdict on it. The priorities of the workforce are yet to mature to assess such relevancy.
In your opinion, is the millennial generation today more socially responsible than their preceding generation? How would you suggest this social conscience be developed and nurtured?
I think the current generation of millennial feel differently about economic and social disparity than their predecessors, and they are very slowly, but surely waking up to the realities that we exist in. In my opinion, institutions play a bigger role in this discourse than they realize. As I can attest in my personal journey, a conscious effort was undertaken by my school, and then college, to create a social conscience which enabled me to take several important decisions. I was taught the concept of state, responsibility, and society by discussing it liberally, and was encouraged to form my opinions, even if my peers didn’t talk about it. Today, unfortunately, the reverse is happening. The general debate and discourse in the society are not liberal at all, and extremely strong allegiances exist to one ideology. The only way to work around this challenge, and ensure that the younger generation understands the point of view of different and competing sectors is to create and nurture a discussion in a liberal manner. Although this is a tough task, I believe the role that educational institutes and teachers will play in this process can greatly simplify and expedite it.