How do you transition to a career in giving?
Vineet Nayar shares pro tips on preparing for what he calls the third stage in life – entering the social sector
You are in your fifties and, after having put 30 years in your chosen profession, wondering about your second innings. There are consultancies available, offers coming your way, but ideally you want to give back to society and searching for ways to do that.
This is a question that plagues many of us. We have had a deeply satisfying career, impacted many in our profession through mentoring, but want to make a difference to the country at a societal level. Where do we start?
It may sound counter-intuitive but Vineet Nayar, former CEO, HCL Technologies, who transitioned beautifully after a successful corporate career, into the social sector, says that you should not start with a bleeding heart, but apply your logical mind. The former HCL honcho, who is impacting 2 crore children through his Sampark Foundation that has set in motion educational interventions, shares some pro tips:
How do you transition from a corporate career into serving the social sector?
Let me first start with the philosophy of why so many of us want to give back when we hit our forties or fifties. The lowest rung of satisfaction for all of us is financial security. Nowadays, people are becoming financially secure faster. You have a fair predictability that kids are independent and can earn. Therefore, satisfaction out of annual salary increases goes away.
On the next plane of satisfaction is the need for recognition. This comes from professional excellence. By the time you are 45 or 50, you have either achieved this or not. You have got your buzz of recognition and so you are over it. If you haven’t, then you are resigned. So the next question that originates in your mind is, now what — and that’s how the need for giving comes in.
But nowadays you are also seeing a lot of people in their 40s and 50s chasing mindfulness at this stage? Not all want to give back?
In my mind, the stage seeking mindfulness should come after the stage of giving. If you do mindfulness at this stage, it is innately a selfish need. If you look at what mindfulness advocates — being in the moment, being calm, not thinking of the past or future but only the present — it is all about you. It’s a healthy practice but it is more an insider view to yourself.
I don’t believe you can do good-quality meditation until you have crossed the first three stages of life. Therefore, I would put mindfulness as the fourth stage. When you are in your fifties is when you see your parents dying, and you yourself are now in the front line of death. That, to me, is the time you start asking yourself, ‘what have I achieved, who all have I impacted’. Those questions cannot be answered by mindfulness but by creating a life that is useful. Unless the third stage is met, your ability to feel good about yourself will have a question mark.
That’s the why part. Can you share tips on the How part. Where do we start?
The first step involves a mindset change. Typically, by the time you are in your forties, you have gained an entitlement mindset and have got lazy. You are well-connected by now and everybody is a phone call away. You are used to giving orders and have forgotten what it is like to be rolling up your sleeves and doing something the hard way.
People come to me and say, ‘Vineet, mujhe kuch karna hai.’ But it’s not just about showing up for an hour. You have to mentally give up all the trappings that you enjoyed. Start with sitting in the middle seat of an economy airline, travel into villages, give up fancy meals and survive on Maggi noodles.
If you truly wish to do something, then you have to exercise your mind and think through what you can do.
Ninety per cent of the people who come to me have dropped out because they have not been able to frame a concrete proposal of what they can do. The 10 per cent who volunteer had a sharp proposition. They are the ones who are helping me with Sampark’s tech platform, helping with our manufacturing process automation (for the educational tool kits) or training in villages.
So, begin by mapping your own competencies. For instance, I believe my competency is disruptive innovation at scale. For somebody else it may be writing, for someone else, it may be coding.
Once you are clear what your competency is, you can allocate how many days a week you want to give and then approach an NGO. It’s the specificity and granularity of your proposition that will be evaluated and accepted — not your desire to do good.
If you go to an NGO and say, ‘I want to help because I feel badly for the poor,’ it will not cut ice. You have to think with your mind and not with your heart.
And how do you choose an NGO? There is a great deal of distrust about NGOs in general and that stops many from volunteering with one.
It is true that NGOs are often not trustworthy because their intentions are unclear. They claim they are not profiting but the question is asked: Is the cause their own? Or driven by someone else? After all, most use somebody else’s money.
A recent trust survey pointed out that the trust people have in NGOs is the same or worse in government. 75 per cent people trust their employers. Only 56 per cent trust government.
With the corporate sector, it is clear that their outcome is profits.
However, when I want to give back, I am in the business of creating impact. So why do I have to think about all this?