Finding meaning in rights based work
When Rayan* stepped into college, he perhaps was like any other person on the precipice between adolescence and adulthood. But while dallying with new found freedoms and experiences, he inadvertently was going through a metamorphoses of sorts.
But let’s start with the obvious – what did Rayan plan to study at university? Like most young graduates with the Damocles sword of “What next?” hanging over him, Rayan felt growing up in the era of liberalization a job in the corporate sector was a pretty safe bet. But being interested in the liberal arts, and not particularly keen on taking the MBA route, he found himself in the unenviable (yet enviable!) position of having to choose from a limited pool of corporate sector job options. His affable nature and proclivity towards people made him believe that perhaps Human Resources would be a good place to start. So, his options in undergrad were IR or Industrial Relations (as it would mean a natural progression to HR) along with Economics and Sociology.
Certainty brings with it comfort. So, comfortable that he had pretty much figured out the way forward, Rayan went about the “business” of being in college. So, if you are wondering about the metamorphoses, well it happened – not out in the canteen or bonding with friends – but during mandatory classes. As his teachers went through the prescribed syllabi in Economics and IR , Rayan found that his interest was more than just piqued by what he heard and read. Having been exposed to the leftist movement courtesy his family connections, flashes of conversation over the virtues of socialism (heard during family get togethers) began to surface during classes. Listening to various economic theories, Rayan began to question the order of things. Was the socialist model of development perhaps fairer to the people? Was capitalism creating a system of want versus need? Wasn’t there an injustice to taking away land and livelihood in the promise of better economic security for all? As his interest grew, Rayan started to read more about economic models across the world. He took a keen interest in 21st century socialism and read about the pioneers of the same – Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Evo Morales of Bolivia. It was also a pretty common sight to see young college kids roaming around sporting tees imprinted with Che Guevera. It somehow seemed to elevate them from scholar to free thinker and rebel. Rayan was no different, but unlike many others he did find Che fascinating and made sure that“Motorcycle Diaries” was on his compulsory reading list!
Well, when Rayan graduated three years later his economic and social beliefs were crystallizing within. But still unsure about what this meant for him, he decided not to change his decision to pursue a career in Human Resources. But rather than opt for a Masters in Human Resources , he decided to do a Masters program in Social Work, with a specialization in Human Resources. Call it the long hand of fate or just his gut egging him on, this decision turned out to be a pretty significant one!
Well those who are in the know are aware that a good part of any robust Social Work program is practical learning. So, Rayan as part of his hands on learning found himself doing weekly and monthly stints at various organizations – in their Human Resources department, of course. Maybe due to his continued reading on socialism or mandatory classes on social work ideologies, Rayan just could not shake off the feeling that he needed to be focused on something a lot more different than Human Resources. When he attended classes on community issues, sustainability, livelihood and human rights he developed clarity in his thinking and was able to develop more clear cut points of view on socialism and models of development. When his classmates working in non profits that dealt with child rights and labour rights would talk about their experiences, it was not just lunch time conversation for him. He found that the more he heard, the less appealing his current specialization appeared.
He began to express an interest in interning at non profits particularly those dealing in rights based work. Any good institution worth its salt will always make an effort to fulfill partially if not fully the desires of its students – especially when those desires are driven by conviction of one’s beliefs. So, even though Rayan had to continue in the specialization he had opted for when joining the programme, his lucky break came when he was allowed to intern for one entire semester at a rights based organization. Rayan says that those 3 months were not just about fulfilling an academic interest. It determined what would literally be the path that his professional life was to take. Working in close sync with the founders of the organization, Rayan witnessed first hand the workings of the child rights machinery in the country where he lives. Here was a chance to do something beyond feeling empathy for the many children that get caught in conflict situations or are endangered not because of war or famine, but due to a systemic failure. Thanks to this particular stint, the corporate world which had long lost its appeal for Rayan, had now definitely lost its hold on him. Rayan felt that for the first time he had clarity of purpose and knew for sure there was no way he would be able to sit behind a desk dealing with employee grievances and payroll issues!
Well, Rayan has been working in the non profit sector for almost 9 years. He has not deviated from his beliefs and his stint with the rights based organization has made him certain that there is a lot that he can achieve there. After graduating with a Masters in Social Work, Rayan went to work for a state sponsored organization focused on rescue and rehabilitation of children in danger. Here he had to co-ordinate with project partners entrusted by the government with rescue, raids and rehabilitation. After a while, Rayan moved to a global organization working at eradicating hunger. Here he says he worked with some of the brightest and most inspiring people – women who were elected representatives at the grassroots level. Responsible for helping them with strategy and execution, Rayan says that despite the lack of opportunities – economic and social – these women faced, they were probably more progressive and open in their thinking as compared to their educated and privileged counterparts. Most of us know that sometimes the best life lessons are learnt by just interacting with ordinary people struggling with day to day challenges of life. And in Rayan’s case it was no different. He says watching these women challenge social norms, particularly those imposed by patriarchy was inspiring. Their daily battles were not just of educating their children, managing a home and work outside the house, but fighting for the right to better nutrition for their children, better health care facilities, more decision making power at home and preventing their young daughters from being married off.
Rayan is now currently working with a global not for profit organization in the child rights space, managing their project partners. If you were to ask him what he thought of his first career decision he most likely would laugh and say he was “clueless” at that time. Rayan with his Che shirts probably did not realize when he was just a regular college goer that a cowering child and a woman demanding an egg for her two children would be part of his normal work day. He probably thought then non profit work was about being altruistic or charitable or just looking “cool” in front of friends and family. But if you probe deeper he will say that perhaps the best thing he did was to not fight the metamorphoses that took place in him. Most young people know that trying to figure out what to do for a living is always a tug between the head and the heart. But Rayan, who is carefully crafting a long term career in non profit work, says that when the heart knows what it wants, its best not to fight it. So, perhaps its probably better that the next time your heart tells you something different from your head, it’s worth listening to it – you never know where it may lead.
And, lastly what does Rayan have to say to anyone contemplating a career in the non profit sector? Well, he says, stick to your beliefs (his socialist beliefs have not diminished), do what you are passionate about, think for yourself (its fine to have your own viewpoint) and learn from the people around you (like the visionary women Rayan was priveleged to work with)
* Name and some other details have been changed to protect personal identity
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