12 Dec 2015 20:10 IST

MBAs in social sector can help governance, streamline systems

In a social enterprise, the focus is not on profit making but working for a social cause, says SOS Children's Villages, India President S Sandilya

Are you an MBA aspirant, a recent graduate from a b-school, or an MBA with experience in the corporate sector now looking to chart a career in the social sector? BLoC speaks to industry veteran S Sandilya, who, having made his mark in the corporate sector, is now using this experience in the social sector.

In this first part of a two-part series, which focuses on the scope for MBAs in the development sector, Sandilya talks about his journey in the social sector, the skills the sector demands of MBAs, and what he believes the sector has to offer to MBAs.

S Sandilya

S Sandliya is President SOS Children’s Villages of India. SOS is an international non-governmental, social development organisation that provides family-based care for parentless or abandoned children.
He is also currently the non-executive Chairman of Eicher and Mastek. In the past, Sandilya has also been the President of SIAM, and the International Motorcycle Manufacturers Association, Geneva. He is an MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad.

Edited excerpts of the interaction:

How and when did you decide to venture into the social sector?

I did not venture in to the social sector on my own but the opportunity came my way and I accepted it. When I retired from the position of Group Chairman and Chief Executive at Eicher, a senior partner of Egon Zehnder approached me and informed me that SOS Children’s Villages of India is looking for a President, which is a pro-bono assignment. I was not aware of this organisation but I was persuaded to visit the Children’s village at Greenfields, Faridabad.

That was an eye-opener for me: to witness a unique model of child care where destitute children needing care are being provided a loving home in a community called children’s village where there are 20 houses each assigned a mother who takes care of 8 to 10 children. It is like a normal family but there were 4 or 5 boys and a similar number of girls who are not biological siblings but are being brought up as siblings. Subsequently, I was requested to meet the board members when they were having a board meeting and I had an interaction with them which gave me an idea of the passion with which the board members were involved. After that a small group of board members came to my office and persuaded me to take the role of the President and chair the board of the organisation. It is a society and therefore one had to go through the process of an election, but with the board having already decided to have me as the chair, I took on the role in July 2007.

I have been its President since 2007, having been elected to the office after completion each term, and it has been a very fulfilling experience.

What skills that you acquired during your MBA and career have you been able to leverage in the sector?

Any organisation, be it a business organisation or a social organisation, needs people to manage the affairs, and needs a group of leaders who can provide direction and guidance and take the organisation towards its goals. What people like us bring to such organisations is the experience of having been involved in working with organisations with a variety of challenges and the knowledge and wisdom we have gathered in the process.

A person like me would help in the area of governance of the organisation, help streamline systems and processes, ensure a fair and healthy environment for people to work for the cause of the organisation, help in building a network of donors to raise funds and on the whole help the leadership team work in a cohesive manner. I am a non-executive President and all the board members are from various sectors and are involved with the organisation on a pro-bono basis except for two representatives from the International Organisation who are employees of SOS Kinderdorf International. On the whole what we leverage is our holistic leadership skills.

Do you think the sector needs skills offered by MBAs?

The sector needs a variety of skills. It also needs skills that a professional manager brings. But we must understand that while the skills for managing a social organisation or managing a team of people is similar to a business enterprise, the focus is not on profit making but working for a social cause, hence the metrics of performance will be different.

The orientation and attitude required is one of service and it is important to have passion for the cause. While it is not essential to have MBAs in the sector, people with management background and skills can contribute to the sector in many ways and will be enriching to them personally while benefiting the sector as well.

What can the sector offer MBAs, in terms of growth, learnings, and experience?

Learning opportunities are huge in the social sector. The stakeholders in the social sector are different from those in a business enterprise. The challenges are different. While in a business enterprise you make profits out of providing goods or services and the surplus thus generated provides returns to the investors, in the social sector one works to generate funds from the public or government through donations and sponsorships and ensure that the money is spent with a lot of diligence to provide the service to the society in whichever field one is engaged in.

There is no surplus generated to share outside but re-invested in providing the service for which the organisation exists. While the person will use all the managerial skills on the job, the focus and attitude gets tuned to the cause of the organisation. Hopefully the managers are able to build a much broader perspective working for a social cause than working for a business enterprise.

Does the sector seek MBAs?

The sector does not have to seek MBAs. However, MBAs can contribute to the social sector provided they have the attitude of service and are not self-centered. If the right kinds of people are available the sector would be glad to have them on their rolls to contribute. I must add here that a lot of MBAs are in the social sector but have started working after completing a few years in business organisations.

There are quite a number of MBAs that I know of who have started social enterprises from the very beginning or after a few years of work experience in industry and grown their organisations to serve the society in a variety of ways. At the end it is not the qualification that matters but a positive attitude to contribute hence MBAs are not a must but welcome in the social sector.

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