Last month, I happened to meet an old friend and her mother in Mumbai. The conversation between us lasted for an hour, which majorly involved my friend’s mother trying hard to talk me out of running a social organization, coaxing me to think seriously about my future rather than wasting my time on work that wasn’t going to get me any benefits ( monetary of course).
The words, “future” and “benefits” made me realise the problem. Our society measures success in terms of monetary satisfaction. This often coerces young people to give up their dreams, depriving our country of possible social leaders. There are few who start young, follow their heart and start their own NGOs or social enterprises. But a major part of the youth fears the uncertainties that accompany such a profession and meekly follows the herd, often settling for something that they hadn’t truly wished to sign up for.
Walking the road less traveled is always the tougher option. But it is the same road that helps us discover what we wouldn’t have, had we not chosen it. Such discoveries are priceless.
Working with a student-run NGO like the Alexis Society has taught me that you need to constantly brave these insecurities and prepare yourself for uncertainties. It is an ungiving job, majorly because it doesn’t have materialistically much to offer. Young student-run social organizations assure certificates and letters of recommendations, but they do not assure any form of incentives. When I started a social initiative on prison reforms and prisoner’s rights in 2013, I was delighted to see a handful of students from across Pune joining us. Over a period of 6 months, we received 40 to 50 promising applications. Each application expressed the applicant’s willingness to contribute effectively to a new social initiative like ours. Today, we are just a group of 12 young girls running the initiative.
My point is that people come and go(in most cases, abruptly), while a few stay. I have always been of the opinion that those who stayed back with me to run the initiative had no other source of motivation, but to make a change in the lives of those who are looked down upon. Most importantly, they had the courage to believe in something that was going to take years to grow. I believe that running any social start-up is all about being in a stubborn, lopsided relationship with your passion to improve lives, knowing that you are short of manpower and funding and that the implementation of your projects will take months as you patiently wait for government authorities to positively respond to your carefully – drafted permission letters. The relationship doesn’t give much back to the young social worker except for the satisfaction of serving another.
It isn’t easy investing your time in starting something which is non-profitable, especially when you are still a student and your classmates are busy bulking up their resumes with coveted internships, respectable publications and impressive grades, securing fancy placements. More than often, I have seen my team compromise on these aspects, at times, forgetting that they exist. You will find them spend their summers in observation homes or educating juvenile offenders, rather than interning in air conditioned firms. While others may be sincerely attending a lecture back in college, they are out there offering legal aid to prisoners and their families, making them aware of their rights- with complete dedication.
The hardest part of it all is that young social workers stand alone, with very few people around to trust their gut and take their work seriously. This happens primarily because we are inexperienced. At times it is the cause that we stand for which hits the wrong chord with people. When we approached corporations and a few private donors in Pune, they were hesitant to fund an initiative that largely, “supports criminals”. None of them really gave us an opportunity to explain our mission and objectives. Fortunately, universities like the Symbiosis International University and the Indian Law Society, have offered tremendous support. Nevertheless, we continue to endlessly shoot emails to prospective sponsors, plan better projects and keep watching out for like- minded organizations who would be willing to forge fruitful partnerships. Quite often than less, we fail. But that doesn’t deter us from trying harder and achieving our goals. I believe that all of this just makes us stronger than before and inspires us to continue struggling in the most unusual way, something which cannot be explained.
At the end of it, walking the road less traveled is always the tougher option. But it is the same road that helps us discover what we wouldn’t have, had we not chosen it. Such discoveries are priceless. Much of what I have discovered by starting young are lessons of endurance and determination. When I look at my team, I am reminded of the fact that there are people in the world who would selflessly help others in creating better futures and the wondrous results that they have achieved through persistence, cooperation and teamwork. Personally, I have evolved as a person, making mistakes and eventually learning from them. I have learned that failure is about rising up to what pulled you down and bouncing back. These two years have reinstated my belief in the power to do good sans expectations, something that we as a generation has forgotten.
One leap of faith can do wonders, only if you are crazy enough to take the leap.