19 Dec 2015 20:00 IST

‘We look for volunteers with strong management strengths’

Start-up evangelist Revathy Ashok says the social sector offers an opportunity to make a significant impact

Are you an MBA aspirant, a recent graduate from a B-school, or an MBA with experience in the corporate arena now looking to chart a career in the social sector? In this concluding part of a two-part series which focuses on the scope for MBAs in the development sector, Business Line on Campus spoke to Revathy Ashok, a start-up evangelist, angel investor, CEO and Managing Trustee of Bangalore Political Action Committee (BPAC).

She is also an Advisor to Athena Infonomics and works with the firm on public policy research and consulting in PPP, and governance models in sectors such as water, waste management and skill development. Prior to this, she held senior management positions in multinationals such as Tishman Speyer, Syntel, and Microland group. Revathy is an MBA from IIM-Bangalore.

She talks about her journey in the social sector, the skills the sector demands of MBAs, and what she believes it has to offer MBAs.

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

Getting into the social sector requires passion, commitment, and a keen desire to make a difference. I have always wanted to do things beyond my corporate life and contribute back to society in a meaningful way. Having spent 35 years in a corporate career, I am today in a position to volunteer significant time and commitment to causes that I believe in and care about.

At BPAC, we work on advocacy about civic issues concerning our city. I am also involved in other initiatives regarding women’s empowerment and safety of women and children, as well as public policy issues relating to preservation of art, heritage and culture. I am on the Board of India Cares, an organisation that brings corporates and NGOs together for organised giving, in addition to being a partner with Social Venture Partners that pioneered the concept of venture philanthropy in the country.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a tough sector: the impact is not easily evident, nor are the outcomes easily measurable and, unlike a corporate role, where there is a defined span of control, here you have to have tremendous influencing skill, and should be able to carry many divergent views along to make a difference.

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

Except for domain knowledge, passion and commitment, other skill-sets from the corporate sector are portable. You need people with good marketing, outreach and fundraising skills, strong technology skills to run your programmes as well as project management and organising skills, research and analysis — ability to be analytical, and data-driven and make a convincing argument.

Do you think the sector needs the kind of skills offered by MBAs?

The sector is in real need of management bandwidth to scale. There is always a toss-up between how much you spend on staff costs versus actual project expenditure.

Smaller organisations will face constraints in their ability to hire MBAs and other experts, they can compensate by having a strong Board with these skills and a young enthusiastic and passionate team that works under the Board’s guidance.

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

The social sector is a very wide all-encompassing terminology. If you look at it as the not-for-profit sector alone, there are policy think tanks, on-ground programme-oriented NGOs in specific fields, advocacy groups, and so on. There is also the emerging field of impact investment, which is a good intersection of investing skill-sets and social impact insights.

The sector offers a unique opportunity to make a significant impact, and make a difference to the larger community, influencing public policy and facilitating closer and meaningful interactions with the private sector. There is great personal learning and appreciation of the complexities involved in working in the social sector with empathy, influencing without authority.

If every person pledged at least 15 per cent of his or her time to some form of community work and stayed engaged, we would make huge strides in transforming our cities and improving the quality of life for all.

Does the sector seek MBAs?

We are an advocacy group, largely volunteer-based, but we do hire people with key skills. We look for volunteers with strong management strengths and experts in key domains that we work in.

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