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Mission welfare

Reach out to people who need help – not just the oppressed and marginalised sections of society – as a social worker Pranab Ghosh reports.

education Updated: Jun 20, 2012 13:31 IST
Pranab Ghosh

Saloni Dahra, 25, took up sociology in college because of her interest in social sciences. It became easy then to look at the society and the ground realities around her with an expert’s eye. Soon, the desire to help others became a mission as she enrolled for a Masters in social work.

Today Dahra is a project coordinator in Modicare Foundation, the K K Modi group of industries’ corporate social responsibility arm, also registered as an NGO. Her first month’s salary, when she joined Modicare Foundation as a project officer on adolescent health issues two years back, was Rs 15,000. Today she is drawing Rs 25,000.

Prof Sanjai Bhatt, Head, Department of Social Work, Delhi University, gives a different twist to welfare work when he says: “We have too many philanthropists and there is no denying the fact that charity is important… but that is not sufficient. We should know how to help people without affecting their dignity and individuality. We work with the oppressed and marginalised people, primarily. At the same time, we work with anyone who is in need of help at different levels, be it physical, emotional, administrative, individual, group or community. So a social worker can work with various cross sections of the society at micro and macro levels.”

Vinita Nathani, Executive Director, Prerana, an NGO that works for integrated community development, says that in spite of the fact that new institutions offering social welfare as study programmes are coming up, there is something terribly wrong with the way people perceive social work. “They think anybody with free time can become a social worker. They do not understand the necessity of a trained social worker and the difference s/he can make. This lack of awareness is a reason behind the inadequate number of trained personnel,” she says.

There is also no state recognition, says Prof Bhatt. “The state does not recognise social work as a profession. We do not have any council on social work as there is in countries like the US, the UK, Australia or even Ireland. Five per cent of our students move out to these countries every year, enhancing the demand-supply gap,” he points out.

What’s it about?
Social work is an activity to help individuals, groups or communities enhance or restore their capacity for social functioning and creating societal conditions favourable to this goal. It deals with issues of social change clubbed with social justice and human rights. As an academic subject, it’s a two-year professional programme (at the PG level), which equips students to work on issues related to inequality and injustice.

Welfare is a noble way of helping people fulfil their unmet needs. Welfare workers develop the capacities and potential of the needy and deprived so that they can help themselves. Social work, however, is very different from the way people perceive it. It is not charity work. Therefore, when working with those who need help, you facilitate processes for them so they are able to identify and link the opportunities and options available to them to better their lives

9 am: Go to office
10 am: Go to the field; interact with people
12 noon: Meet outreach workers
1 pm: Quick lunch
2 pm: Design training programmes
4 pm: Prepare and review reports
5.30 pm: Work on a new proposal/project
6.30 pm: Meet the staff at office, discuss plans for new project in slum areas
7.30 pm: Leave for home

Entry level: Anywhere between Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000
. Middle level: Anywhere between Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000
. Senior level: Anything between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh.
. For self-employed professionals, the sky may be the limit

Basic knowledge of human behaviour, society and its systems
. One needs individualised efficiency to perform a task, so relationship skills — dealing with people, communication, responding to others’ needs, etc, are important
. Compassion for fellow human beings
. You should be emotionally mature, rational and sensitive to people and their problems
. You should have good listening, observation and counselling skills
. Social work needs action with involvement and commitment, it’s your zeal that matters

How do i get there?
Since social work is an interdisciplinary social science and profession, there are many practising professionals and students who have a background in economics, political science, sociology, history, psychology and philosophy at the Bachelors level.
However, a Master’s in social work is the standard and the ideal qualification for this line. A doctorate is an added advantage. In many countries, you need a licence to practise social work

Institutes & urls
. TISS, Mumbai
. University of Delhi
. Institute of Rural Management, Anand, Gujarat
. Department of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi
. Madras School of Social Work, Chennai

College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan, Mumbai and Department of Social Work, Christ College, Bangalore are also among the good institutions in India. IGNOU offers social work degree through distance-learning mode

Pros & Cons
. It’s a rewarding career for it lets you contribute to society and make a difference in people’s lives
. You achieve a unique sense of satisfaction helping others get out of negative life conditions
. As you help people improve their lot, your own attitude changes for the better
. Work schedules are erratic; witnessing the deplorable conditions others live in could be frustrating or depressing
. No structured career path

The state must regulate social work

An industry expert underlines the need to take ‘social work’ seriously

Who will hire a social worker?
A social worker can get employment both in the public and private sector. And then there’s self-employment as well. There are many positions which are regulated by the government and are meant to manage the social welfare programmes like Directorate of Social Welfare, children’s homes, CDPOs in Integrated Child Development Services, welfare officers in factories, mines, plantations, family welfare counsellors, medical social workers in medical colleges and hospitals, etc. There are two segments in the private sector — corporate and civil society. In the corporate sector, students join as HR managers, industrial relations officers, personnel managers, etc. The civil society employs social work graduates in NGOs, international NGOs, trusts and non-profit companies. One could also work in UNICEF, WHO, UNDP...

Are there many takers for this profession?
Probably the concept of “social work” is yet to be understood. Any one can become a social worker in this country. There are 120 MPs whose profession is stated as that of ‘social worker’. In fact, herein lies the contrasting reality between voluntary and professional social work. And we do not have large numbers (in the profession) so we cannot create pressure on the state to pass a legislation to regulate social work as a profession. And that is really needed.

What does one have to do to become a social worker?
We have professional courses in social work at undergraduate, postgraduate and higher degree (research) programmes like MPhil or PhD. But the most popular programme is a Master’s in social work (MSW).

Professor Sanjai Bhatt Interviewed by Pranab Ghosh