CEO, The Welfare of Stray Dogs, an NGO for street animals
BIO: Aras did his MBA and got a nice stable job in customer services and sales with DHL. He gave it up to sterilise street dogs, help strays find homes, treat injured pariahs, manage volunteers, fight legal cases against stray killing and better the relationship between street dogs and us
There was always love for animals at home. My mother had an Indian pariah who loved her so much, he’d follow her to the railway station and want to go with her to college. But strangely, our family only had cats. My paternal grandfather had 13 of them. Even as a kid, I’d take injured street animals to the vet. When I found out about Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD), I naturally started volunteering.I enrolled for an MBA in marketing in 1994 and some time through my course, I admitted a pup with a small wound to the hospital. The dog didn’t make it. It got me thinking about the advantages of on-site first aid. No one was running an organised on-site first-aid programme then. So I trained under a vet and started it in 1996, as a volunteer. I also did fundraising, educational programmes – everything – alongside my MBA. It was challenging but it’s what I wanted to do.
I got placed with DHL after graduation. It was a good firm. I was happy there and it taught me as much about people and management as my MBA school did. I realised I could apply this knowledge to make WSD more professional and change the public misconception of animal welfare workers as those who care about animals at the cost of humans. But I’d have to do it full time. That’s when I took the plunge.
Off the Leash
I think it was harder on others than it was for me! My boss had a bit of a shock: "Where are you going, to a competitor?" They kept trying to dissuade me. The national sales manager met me on my last day and tried to keep me back with offers of a promotion and better salary. I told him I wasn’t after a better deal – I was going to take a 60 per cent pay cut as CEO of WSD. Plus, the couriers at DHL had already given me my farewell gift, a clock. I could hardly stay on now...! Two, three years later my boss would still call: "You wanna come back? Why are you wasting your life?" I’d say "Sorry boss. I’m very happy." Managing an NGO is akin to running a company. The WSD model was volunteer-driven but you still need systems to manage volunteers and have a regular stream of them joining in. My corporate training taught me so much – strategic planning, goal setting, budgeting, motivating a team, resource management – sorry for all the MBA jargon, but it really works! It also taught me not to waste time and resources on what is not within our span of control – like depending on the Municipal Corporation to do things. I still wear formals Monday-Friday and casuals on the weekend when I do vaccinations or first aid.
Part of the Pack
No organisation thrives because of a single person. It is thanks to the WSD staff – doctors, wardboys, field staff, project managers and dedicated volunteers and supporters – I was just the guy who gave it a format. I could have never made the switch if I wasn’t living with my parents and had to pay rent. A lot of credit goes to them for supporting me. A lot of people, even at WSD now, don’t have that luxury. I wish that their parents support them so that they can fulfil their dream of making animal welfare, their career.
Still, I had to cut down on little luxuries. I met my wife, Maya, at MBA school but we didn’t marry for 10 years because I couldn’t afford it. I took a holiday after 10 years for our honeymoon because I knew I’d be in trouble if we didn’t go then. Maya runs the household. We use her car more for WSD work than for personal trips. She started out being petrified of animals – she once saw a kitten in someone’s house and jumped on top of the sofa – but she’s come a long way and is very patient and supportive of my work.
Today, no matter how challenging a day at work, there’s never been a moment of doubt. Not one. The job has helped me hone other hobbies, like walking around the city I love. I have been lucky to meet the most amazing people across strata who don’t have commercial agendas. A fellow NGO is not competition, just a fellow crusader. My MBA batchmates tell me “You’re lucky because we are caught in the rat race and you are not” and it makes me smile. And my clock from DHL? It tells the time at the WSD kennels.
If you want to do the same…
Expect a curtailment in your personal lifestyle. You’ll be giving up a lot, so your passion has to be greater than everything else.
Remember, volunteering is not the easy way out. The fact that you’re not getting paid should not absolve you of your responsibility to your job.
You’ll always be at work 24x7 but you’ll also have more flexibility. When my mum was ill, this job let me tend to her and still do my job.
Expect lots of happiness and satisfaction.
As told to Rachel Lopez
From HT Brunch, April 14
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