There is no denying the fact that India has a long way to go before a semblance of parity comes into being in the social fabric of our country. Socio-economic disparities and ungainly chasms between haves and have-nots will continue to exist until far reaching interventions disrupt deep-rooted inequalities which are embedded throughout the land.
The thought processes, life-style, priorities, diets, physical health and social standing of the poor are so distinct from those who are upwardly mobile on the adder of progress, that it will require major upheavals before any significant
impact is attained.
However, recent small beginnings in the social sector have made possible some early wins and dented a few inequalities with constructive attempts to redress the balance. Numerous non government organizations or NGOs are trying to make a mark in the fields of healthcare, primary education and vocational training. While all of them may not be entirely well intentioned, hundreds of them are genuinely carrying out meaningful and inspiring work. One or two misfits on the landscape should not mar the reputation of the many organizations which are constantly toiling to improve the lives of people.
A few social sector organizations that have attracted top-notch youngsters to work for them are- GOONJ, which facilitates the donation of clothes in many States, PRATHAM which works in the education sector, SWASTH Foundation which is in the healthcare space, “Teach for India” which provides voluntary teachers for schools and SAMHITA which works in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) sector. Pan-India NGOs such as SEWA and HELPAGE have also done remarkable work. Several large organizations such as Action Aid Association, the Bill Gates Foundation and the Infosys Foundation are also active across the country. Kailash Satyarthi’s Foundation is doing exemplary work towards the prevention of child trafficking.
But the real clincher, the game changer, has come about in the shape of the CSR Act which made it compulsory for large profit-making companies to set aside 2 percent of their profits for CSR projects. While the implementation of the Act is still a work in progress, it is a fact that large conglomerates have begun spending substantial amounts to set up infrastructure or carry out campaigns which the Government alone cannot possibly do to any level of satisfaction. Educational institutions such as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and, in recent years, Ashoka University, etc. are churning out young champions of social change who are all fired up to launch themselves into slums, distant villages and other backward areas where people really need upliftment.
I come across many millennials these days who are keen to work for the disadvantaged of our society. They work at much lower salaries than those that their qualifications would have enabled them to garner in multinational
companies. Thus, young boys and girls from cushy backgrounds and comfortable lifestyles are these days sweating it out in poverty stricken pockets of our country, both in urban and rural areas.
Several youngsters who were hitherto considering careers in the civil services have now started aspiring for positions in social sector organizations where they can perhaps make a more sustainable impact through their efforts. Speaking recently to a batch of CM Good Governance Associates (CMGGAs) in the state of Haryana who are inclined towards the welfare of society more than anything else, I realized that they are passionate about being true agents of change. Some of them appeared to have already learnt a lot about the social milieu of India and they were full of ideas and suggestions on how our system needs to really smarten up to be more people friendly.
Those parents who are cut up with their children for choosing to work for society rather than for investment banks had better spend a day or two observing the dedication and devotion with which such youngsters work. No amount of extra perks or remuneration would compensate for the sense of satisfaction that comes to such young people when they bring a smile to the tired, worn, face of an elderly beggar.
As Anne Frank said, so inspiringly, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single day to improve the world!”