How to get started in the social work sector?

A career in the social sector can be both challenging and rewarding at the same time. Here’s how you can get started

While charity has always existed in our world view; philanthropy and investing in long-term projects for the needy is a relatively new phenomenon. Working in the social sector is now becoming increasingly desirable. Earlier, social service was considered an activity to fulfil community service hours and receive a certificate to boost your resume. Today it is viewed as the end goal itself for a variety of reasons, which include qualitative paybacks, the job satisfaction and, of course, the happiness quotient.

Who is it for?

Horizons have widened and students and young professionals are now able explore various opportunities including in social work. Universities across the globe are now offering degrees in social work, development studies and NGO management, that allow students to form a theoretical foundation on which to base a career. One advantage in this sector is that talent is easily recognised, and the chances of moving up the ladder are relatively quicker. Because of this possibility, professionals are able to experience a wider range of roles and responsibilities and, therefore, able to further refine their own goals and aspirations of bringing about effective change in society.

There are others who work with commercial enterprises and then use their valuable expertise to make a difference in the lives of the underprivileged. These professionals build a corpus of funds, establish networks and contacts and then either establish their own NGO or join an existing organisation. Their practical knowledge and the money they have saved come in handy. No doubt, salaries in the social sector are not competitive; however, the intangible returns that one receives are priceless.

The third set of people who join the world of NGOs are those who have neither practical experience in other sectors or academic training but are moved by the harsh realities of that many face. More often than not, this section establishes and operates its own organisations. Such people set out to make a difference with whatever they have and learn as they work on the field.

How to get started

Applying for volunteering opportunities or jobs that involve field work is a great way to begin. Getting first-hand experiences will help confirm if you are truly made for and passionate about helping the underprivileged. Additionally, try and find an organisation that aligns with your values and vision. If you are unsure about this, try partnering with an organisation that has a multitude of focus areas so that you get a variety of opportunities to experience projects across causes and demographics.

There is no right or wrong way to execute philanthropic activities or correct ‘age’/stage of life to join this sector. What one needs is determination, empathy combined with rationality and, most of all, patience. Social work is not a hobby or something to pass the time with when no other opportunities are not available. It can be hard and emotionally taxing; the beneficiaries cannot be reduced to data on an Excel sheet. However, all this should not act as deterrents. The smiles you will encounter, the transformations that you will be able to bring about and the happiness and contentment you feel are second to none.

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