Last week two students claiming to be from IIT just landed at our office wanting to complete a college project on human trafficking. Among other things they also wanted to interact with survivors. While our team explained to them our protocols and send them back, what continues to surprise me is the sense of entitlement somepeople have when they come to a civil society organization and how offended they are when they are told that there are protocols that have to be followed.
This makes me reflect on how we view social work and those who have committed their lives to social change. A small but significant number in India who make financial donations believe that the beneficiary organization should feel extremely grateful for the support given, provide enough publicity and branding for receiving help and should also be beholden forever. This group of people in their overwhelming generosity conveniently forget that the organization that has taken the initiative to change that specific problem in the society is doing it on their behalf and that if anybody has to be grateful it should be the other way around.
This takes me to the next point on how a significant number of people view shelter homes. First of all, only a human being who is in difficult circumstances will land up in a shelter home whether it is for long or short duration. No doubt this person feels the need to belong, of being cared for and the assurance that not everybody in the world will cause harm. But does this person need to feel like a beggar dependent on the benevolence of others?
Mindful ‘giving’ is an alien concept to most givers. Many don’t even bother to seek information on what does the home require? It is like, I have to distribute food and fruits and I will just do that or I have to cut my birthday cake here and I will just do that. Maybe some of the logic for such acts is that the donor wants to be 100% sure what is given is going straight into the stomach of the beneficiary. The fear that cash given might be swindled by the organization might also be a reason for such actions.
No doubt such fears stem from repeated scandals that take place in the garb of running shelters but that is where each one of us are duty bound to make our own due diligence before we extend our support.
But this problem is not so one-sided as it is also a fact that many donors would use such homes to clear their black money to get rid of their guilt. Loose cash given is always a breeding ground for corrupt practices as the organization will be unable to show this amount in their books of accounts and temptations will lead to corrupt practices as unaccounted amount does not fall into the accountability framework.
While corruption is rampant everywhere and social organizations are no exception but unethical practices in the social sector can be easily curbed if we make social work more about dignity and justice rather than altruism.
In the West, volunteering for social work is about being accountable for the privileges you enjoy. The value system is ingrained through the schooling system and becomes more and more tangible as you go higher in the ladder of education. Working for a cause through a civil society organization increases your credit score. Taking a break from formal education and getting educated in the university of life by deeply engaging in a social cause even far away from home adds value to your future life perhaps even your career prospects. Employee Giving is matched robustly by the Employer. It is an eco-system that nurtures the giving side as a ‘duty’ and not as a ‘dole’!
In India you see some traces of such ‘duty’ in spiritual efforts that has a component of social work. The journey of salvation by serving others is a spiritual quest. This path is taken by many which ensures devotional dedication is translated to serving those in need. The scale and magnitude of dedicated volunteers using this method is perhaps humungous and sustainability of such methods is also 100% as there is a perceived sense of being in a win-win zone. The volunteer needs spiritual gratification and the organization wants to address a specific social concern. Both gain, there is no giver or taker! This business model which has worked for spiritual leaders has not extended to other civil society organizations who take up a social problem to change without any other baggage.
Bringing professionalism in social work has brought in good governance, transparency and accountability. Today social work has broadened its scope as development work and has also become a viable career option going beyond volunteering, but the fact remains that it is largely dependent on giving/grants/donations. This dependency is largely because the social sector is ‘not for profit’ and fills the gaps in state interventions for social/community transformation. In several areas, the social sector takes up those issues and provides services that the state does not find it as a priority.
While the social sector is not monolithic and the organizations big and small have their own versions of financial sustainability for their teams but what is universal about the sector is that each one involved wants to change somebody else’s life positively. The method, strategy and scale might be different. But the core concern that it is predominantly dependent on grants and donations means it executes all the attitude and perceptions that a ‘giver’ carries.
If the ‘giver’ suffers from a ‘savior syndrome’ then all that follows which includes the method, the process and the execution is tailor made to satisfy that end.
If the ‘giver’ recognizes the social problems around and acknowledges that he/she is unable to respond due to various commitments and liabilities and seeks to find people who are trying to change that social scenario and shares his/her own financial privileges to contribute to that change then it will automatically change the way the doer is executing the efforts on the ground.
If the ‘giver’ is seeking spiritual gratification and believes all his/her resources including material and human has to be committed to bring certain social change and that is the only way to enrich their soul then the way the person engages with the organization also changes as they believe it is in their personal best interest.
It is rare to find a sense of autonomy among the ‘dependent class’. These rare few gain their confidence from efforts that they have put on ground and the exposure they have to a wide range of givers which secures them with an understanding that there are significant number who genuinely want to change the existing anomalies in the society but are unable to physically commit to taking initiative and are willing to share what they have so that efforts to bring change remains unabated. These ‘rare few’ are constantly in search of these kind of givers and are able to build not only certain ethical standards in execution of work but also draw the lines on anything that may infringe either the dignity or social justice for those who are served.
Social change is an immense responsibility, social change agents have the enormous job of finding ways to cope with resistance, hostility, rejection, apathy and insecurity which is intrinsic to the vocation they have chosen; the larger world of givers, sympathizers, facilitators and moderators at the least should build an eco-system where change agents can function without ethical compromise.