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Is social work worth it?

(March 08, 2015)

Nagpur: It has been around five years since Swati Deshpande (name changed) is working in a city-based NGO for child development but her honorarium remains to be Rs13,000 per month – the same amount with which she started. After completing her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from a city college, Swati was hired by the NGO during campus placement in 2011 and since then, there has been no turning back for her.

“Initially, when I decided to make a career in social work, I was frowned upon by many but I followed my passion nevertheless. I have no fixed working hours and I am constantly on toes doing my bit for society. However till now, I didn’t get any increment in my pay or significant promotion. I have kids now and find it tough to support them. How will I help the children of society when I don’t have enough money for my own kids,” she asks.

Like her, many social workers are in dire straits as they remain underpaid and without the benefit of promotions or appraisals. This is the main reason why youngsters today are shying away from considering social work as a full-time profession and merely perceive it as a voluntary sector.
Says 21-year-old Jeswin Rajan, founder member of a city-based NGO Take a Step, which works for homeless people, “We are all a bunch of young passionate social workers and there is so much we want to do. But finance is one major hindrance that comes in our way every time. We don’t expect any funds from government, so we brainstorm and try to come up with different methods for fund-raising. Putting up a stall at local food festivals, exhibitions, performing at music concerts or taking photographs are the options left for us.” He adds that some government projects which are allotted to NGOs demand financial investment from the side of social organizations. “Rather than leaving projects incomplete, the government should outsource work to more NGOs as we have a better connect with people and manpower. There should also be a fixed pay-scale for the NGOs concerned so that they can fulfil the tasks,” he suggests.

Principal of Matru Sewa Sangh Institute of Social Work, John Menachery, agrees that the social work sector is highly underpaid when compared to its other counterparts. “Social work is a major profession but unfortunately it is neglected by the government as it just wants cheap labour. There is absolutely no willingness from the government’s side to revise the salary structure in this sector due to which many students don’t consider taking social work as a full-time profession,” he says. He adds that the average package offered to students during campus interviews is between 15,000 to 20,000. “Because of this, the quality of students who are opting for social work course is also affected. Youngsters with calibre do not want to be a part of underpaid jobs,” he points out.

Agrees Shilpa Jibhenkar, assistant professor and placement in-charge of Tirpude College of Social Work. “Social work is not just another 10-to-5 job. To get quality work, proper salaries and funding are needed. Many NGOs which come during placement drives offer honorarium to candidates and not salaries. Social work is a vast field and has immense scope in the present scenario. There should be strategic, well-planned funding from the government’s side so that NGOs are able to sustain and survive.”

However, Suryakant Narvekar, Smile Foundation’s regional director (West), Response, differs and believes that the field of social work is performance-oriented and one needs to prove himself first before demanding a good salary. “If one is truly passionate about his work and has the potential, sky is the limit in this profession. The sector might not have a corporate-like pay scales but holds scope for personal growth. One just needs to prove that he is here to stay and be proactive. Making money won’t be a problem then,” he says.

He also adds that some kind of a monitoring system is needed to ensure accountability and transparency in the working of NGOs. “This will help the government in even distribution of funds and will avoid corruption,” he says.

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