My Journey from the IIMs to the Development Sector – Part II

Over time, while working in the development sector, I started feeling the need to understand the development sector a little better from the inside. It almost felt like I was just swimming on the surface and engaging with things at a very superficial level. There were many questions which came to mind and differences between the corporate and development sector started becoming more and more obvious

What does ‘development’ really mean? what are the various ways of looking at it, what are the values underpinning development etc. Different people have their own take on ‘development’ and the elements it encompasses – economic, social, cultural, emotional, spiritual, moral, political – and that gives rise to a lot of debate, discussions and arguments to even begin to understand what the other person is really talking about.

Things weren’t as clear in terms of defining the ultimate goal or output (compared to profit or growth) and the way to achieve that. While most people agree that ‘good’ education’ is a key factor for social development, there are multiple viewpoints on what constitutes a ‘good’ education and thereby many different interventions for making that a reality. While output parameters for an intervention can be identified easily, chalking out a clearly defined theory of change which translates that into relevant outcome and impact parameters is by no means easy

I started realizing that this sector has a fairly different ethos, culture, identity compared to what I was used to. Humans are no longer looked upon as ‘resources’ (human resources, like physical resources) but as people who have agency. Financial incentives and perks are no longer the primary factors drivers for performance, there are deeper reasons for people to be working here (in higher proportion than in the corporate sector). Decision making and culture creation in social organizations needs to be based on values arising from this outlook on human beings (less hierarchical, more democratic, driving consensual decision making).

In this entire issue of defining and attaining outcomes, the process also becomes really important and therefore goal orientation needs to be supplemented with an insight into the appropriate and acceptable way of getting there. Given that we are dealing with people and lives, how do we engage and keep people involved at every stage of the work. We were once designing a capacity building programme for Government School Head teachers in one of the northern States in India. As a consultant, I had suggested that we should design the programme internally and roll it out to the government since it would give us the best chance of designing something first rate. The team lead told me that he was actually happy with a 50% programme developed out of a collaborative process since it would have a higher chance of acceptance rather than a 100% internally developed programme which would be a non-starter. It took me a while to accept the wisdom in this statement.

The problems themselves required a non-linear and multi factor problem solving thought process and approach (“Wicked Problems”). One needs to be able to take a systems thinking approach to define issues and evaluate solutions in this space. Simplistically, I can solve the issue of harmful effluents from my factory by disposing it in the nearby river (a common practice in the corporate space), but taking a more holistic systems approach will tell you that this is just unacceptable as a solution as it will create many more problems for the stakeholders around you!. Or, you work hard to solve the ‘quality of education’ issue in a village / block to suddenly realize that people with better education have higher/different aspirations and they start migrating out to cities for better life options. So working on one issue has given rise to another where cities are not equipped to deal with this influx and villages are dying out.

Since this sector directly deals with lives and deaths of people, is there a chronology to a social change intervention? What do we do first and what later? How can we look at social change more holistically rather than in a siloed sectoral manner. After all, an individual cannot be broken up differently into education, livelihood, healthcare etc. He/She is one whole person.

If you have any queries about ISDM or the opportunities in the development sector, share them here

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