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Social Service
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As the world is becoming increasingly materialistic, another trend is distinctly evident: many young people want to do something for society. There is a great satisfaction in doing something for others which cannot be equalled by any high-paying job. Even those working in full-time jobs want to do some social work in their spare time. The social sector, indeed, offers fulfilment of higher level needs. In the West, dissatisfaction with the rat race causes people to opt for jobs that help solve social problems and it is happening to some extent in India too, though mobility is smaller in this country. It may be said that it is noble in working for others and help those who may not be as privileged as we are.

The scope of social work is very wide. There is a need for people who can provide help to the disadvantaged people of society. There are centres for rehabilitation for drug addicts, orphaned children and people with disabilities. Counselling, both educational and psychological, is required these days by a large section of the population. There are opportunities in health care, community policing, adoption, environmental protection, culture, and so on. The areas in which one can contribute are limitless.

The social sector consists of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and institutions providing services to different sections of society. Many are engaged in research and publishing while others are active in solving problems at the grassroot problems. In the latter group, we find quite a few celebrities and the names of Medha Patkar, Anna Hazare and Sunderlal Bahuguna easily come to mind.

An idealistic youngster who wants to do something for the country may, thus, be attracted to the social sector. Fortunately, it is now more than an occupation of the idle and is becoming professionalised to some extent Institutes offer degrees and diplomas in social work, after which permanent positions can be obtained in organisations. Salaries have risen as well, with generous infusion of funds from the government and foreign agencies.

Working in an NGO or a funding agency may in fact be quite lucrative these days. High profile urban NGOs these days own prime property and buildings matching the best in the corporate sector. There are additional perquisites in teh form of trips abroad on junkets financed by the UN and other international agencies. Seminars are held in luxurious hotels, causing some people to comment that talking about poverty and pollution is one of the most upcoming professions in our country today!


There are no basic qualifications to get into the social sector: all you need is a burning desire to do something for society. However, a Master in Social Welfare (MSW) degree, rural management or any masters' degree in social sciences will help. The well known institutes for these studies are Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, the Xavier Institute of Social Science, Ranchi, and the Institute of Rural Management, Anand, Degrees in environment and forestry management are also offered by other institutes. Apart from this, diplomas can be obtained in specific areas like those for the hearing impaired, physically handicapped an old age. Some organisations train volunteers themselves.

It is however, not necessary to have a formal MSW degree. If you are qualified in any field, you can do your bit. A lawyer, for instance, can provide free legal services to the under-privileged. A manager can provide marketing skills to a cooperative. Chatered accountants can act as professional fund raisers and provide services to organisations which may be engaged in social work and may not have resources to hire their services. Many NGOs are engaged in publishing and they need journalists, graphic designers and desktop publishing experts. Teachers can join in by helping to educate poor children. Those who have some M.Phil and Ph.D. can find jobs in the social sector too, as much research is conducted by the NGOs. International funding agencies, notably from Canada, Sweden, Holland, Norway and many other countries, have their offices in India and require professionals for their offices.

There are two distinct branches in the social sector. The first is to work in an activist organisation which actually helps the disadvantaged. If you have a genuine concern for doing something for the society, look for small set-ups in villages. The drawback is that small NGOs do not have much funds. Moreover, working for a crusader like Anna Hazare or Medha Patkar involves some amount of hardship. It requires a truly motivated person to go and stay in a village these days, though it must be said that working with such people can be greatly satisfying.

The second option is to work for the high profile NGOs featured in newspapers. They publish articles and hold seminars on wildlife conservation, environmental pollution, child labour and AIDS awareness. Many organisations in the country work in this way and solve problems through seminars, making films and publishing pamphlets. Such urban NGOs have good salary structures, so working with them is quite lucrative in terms of money and physical comforts.


A word of warning may be in order here. Few people can make long-term careers here, since NGOs are basically one-man organisations. Even the big NGOs are run by the founder along with family members and friends. The founders are highly individualistic people, lack professional management and often, it is difficult to get along with them. Working in an NGO may be like working in a small company. Jobs may not be secure, especially if one wants to stand out. Often, the director is also the principal fund-raiser and the management style is dictatorial, though they may profess democracy for others.

The second major problem is that many NGOs are started by bureaucrats and politicians for the sole purpose of cornering government funds, which they can extract because of their influence. Such agencies have no interest in social service or upliftment of others. The Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technoloogies (CAPART) has blacklisted over 500 such fraudulent agencies and any professional who worked in such an organisation would have been very frustrated indeed. Third, NGOs are registered over the Societies Act so the protection to workers in industries is not available. Unlike the corporate sector, there are no disclosure norms for NGOs. Many NGOs are known to pay less than minimum wages and employ child labour even while claiming to work for upliftment for the poor. It is unfortunate that because of the activities of some organisations, the whole sector has begun to be seen suspiciously. The activities of some NGOs have resulted in a bad name for the sector so one should be careful while searching for jobs.

The solution is not to look at a career in the social sector from a long-term prespective. One can work in the NGO for a few years and return to profession after that. After all, protesting about things as the Miss World and the Yanni show on social grounds would tend to get tedious after a while. So would publishing books and magazines for a small number of readers.

Options Abroad: Alternately, if one feels very strongly about social service, one can start one's own set-up and try to help others. Such an option must necessarily be on a part-time basis, since generating revenues would be difficult. In the West, voluntary work has a different meaning and organisations like Greenpeace have made major impact on public policy. In India, that kind of activism is still a dream. So, another option for the social worker could be to go abroad. The academic qualification for professional social service in the US is the Baccalaureate degree in Social Work (BSW). There are more than 380 accredited BSW programmes available in the US. The Master of Social Welfare is a two-year programme. Further, one can do Doctor in Social Work (DSW) or Ph.D. in Social Work.


The salary level for an MSW in the US is around $30,000 per year and in hospitals a social worker who works full-time can earn $33,000. The average salary for social workers in the government was about $44,000 per year, in 1995. In India, a social worker can start with a salary of about Rs 5,000 per month which may rise depending on the organisation you work for. There are no fixed salary structures since NGOs are highly individualistic but certain large outfits do have pay scales.

Address for social work courses

  • Diploma in Hearing, Language and Speech for the Hearing Impaired is offered by Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, Bandra Reclamation, Bandra (W), Mumbai - 400 050.
  • Courses in Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and Mental Retardation are offered in Cuttack, Calcutta and Secunderabad by Rehabilitation Council of India, Vishnu Digamber Marg, New Delhi - 110 002.
  • Diploma in Mental Retardation is offered in different States by National Institute for Mentally Handicapped, Manovikas Nagar, Secunderabad - 500 009.
  • PG Programme in Rural Management is offered by Institute of Rural Management, Anand - 388 001.
  • MA in Social Work is offered by Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Sion Trombay Road, Deonar, Mumbai - 400 088.
  • PG Course in Rural Development and Social Work is offered by Xavier Institute of Social Service, Purulia Road, Ranchi - 834 001.
  • MA in Social Work is offered by Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra - 136 119.
  • MA and Diploma in Social Work is offered by Lucknow University, Lucknow.

How you can work in the social sector.It is not necessary to have a formal degree in social work. You can do your bit no matter which profession you are in. Here is what you can do to help.

Contribute in awareness campaigns. Provide educational counselling services.

Provide free medical services to the under-previleged. Help fight drug addiction.

Provide counselling services to the mentally disturbed. Help the physically disadvantaged.

Scientists, Engineers:
Build awareness about pollution and provide solutions for energy saving and better living.

Awareness campaigns.

Artists, designers:
Provide exhibition or educational material for public awareness.

Provide free legal services to the under-priveleged. Participate in public interest litigation.

Help orphaned children, battered wives, dowry or rape victims, adoption services.