Deciding Between the NGO and the Fat Pay Check


Ever faced the dilemma of following your passion for serving society or getting into a corporate job for that fat paycheck? Maybe this will answer your doubts.

By Kanan Dhru

I woke up and went in to the kitchen to grab a cup of tea in the morning. Mom-dad were already there, talking to each other.

‘Hi guys! How was the function last night that you went to?’

‘Was good’ dad silently replied.

I smelled something fishy. This was not the response I would generally get. They would tell me the details! This time they didn’t say much.

I sat down and tried to probe more. ‘How was the food? Who all were there?’

‘Actually we got into a bit of an argument.’

Wow – this was totally unlike my parents. They are generally extremely quiet and peaceful people.

I don’t even remember them scolding me or my sister in our childhood or talking to someone loudly – ever. If they have gotten into an argument, that means it was something serious.

I started listening intently. It so happened that in the gathering last night, a very close friend of my parents started critiquing me and my work at RFGI in front of the other invitees.

He was shamelessly brutal but put himself under the guise of a ‘well-wisher’. He started making a mockery of the NGO culture in the country – how they are all a complete sham! Nothing is ever going to change in a country like India and that I was out to waste my life and my education.

He said again and again, how I was a fool to leave lucrative job openings elsewhere to start an organization which had no concrete profits or a revenue model.

He even cautioned my parents to convince me to stop this business of reforms and quietly join a multinational to draw a fat pay-package.

My parents were astonished at this attack. The aggressiveness of the person in question and the closeness with him made it extremely difficult for them to react to this.

I could see that it was very difficult for them to narrate what exactly had happened. They obviously did not want to see me hurt but they also were very upset.

Tears started rolling down my eyes. The same person, at some point, had stood as an inspiration to me.

However, he had earlier expressed his dislike to my parents (although passingly) that I was taking up extremely radical issues. But an attack like this? If he had problems with me, he should have told me directly!

So far, I have been very fortunate in coming across people who have only encouraged me and my work. There have been a few who have expressed their concerns on specific issues but I have always been happy to talk to them about their ideas.

But, my parents, who have always, always encouraged me, should not be the ones to hear all this – and that too, in front of everyone? Sadly, those present belonged to extremely affluent class of the society.

They all knew about what I have been up to since last one and a half years and still – they all quietly listened to the encounter.

I broke down. I started sobbing and asking my parents if everything that I am doing is as worthless as this uncle said? I asked them if I should seriously think about taking up a job in a multinational company?

Are things never going to change in India? Is the energy of the youth to be utilized only for one’s own gains and not for the betterment of the society?

My parents told me not to react so strongly. According to them, such people would always exist and we should learn how to ignore them and continue to do what we have to do.

I was still very disturbed.

On one hand, everyone keeps bragging about India being the youngest nation in the world and how the youth-power can help change the destiny of the country but on the other hand, when someone is genuinely trying to make a difference, he/she has to meet with such brutal words?

‘There’s a phone-call for you’ exclaimed my sister from the next room. On land-line? At this time?


‘Hello Kanan ma’am?’

‘Ma’am, myself Avinash from New Delhi. So sorry to disturb you early in the morning – its just that I just arrived in Ahmedabad’.

He continued, ‘I am a student of political science at DU and I am writing my thesis on the role of political parties in shaping up Indian democracy. I have been so inspired by RFGI’s work. I have finally come to Ahmedabad and wanted to seek your guidance.’

‘Sure – wonderful. Come today afternoon at 3 PM if convenient. The address of the office is on the website.’

That’s it. A phone-call like this and back in action! 🙂

All the ‘well-meaning’ uncles cannot stop what is destined.

Ms. Kanan Dhru, a London School of Economics alumnus is the founder of Research Foundation for Governance in India, an Ahemedabad based think tank.

This post was first published on Nov 1, 2010.


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  1. One might argue that NGO work(for lack of a better phrase) is mere fire fighting and cannot bring about the necessary paradigm shift. I agree, not without better collaboration or major scaling up.
    But having said that, each effort can be instrumental in seeing us through to a bigger change. That IS important.
    I’m from a wildlife biology background and have seen more than my share of well wishers.

    Untended regrets and denial often fester into nay-saying uncles. Weddings are their favourite concert venues.
    Nice post:)

  2. it was really a good read..
    i would just like to read out a dialogue from the movie ‘GURU’
    which goes as..

    “agar log aapke khilaf bolne lage toh samaj lena ki taraqi kar rahe ho”

  3. very good read… with herds of sheep following the golden corporate dream, to see NGOs coming up is really nice.

  4. As a law student who had been discouraged of joining this industry, especially the litigation sector, I can somehow relate to it. With no offence meant to anyone, there is a growing sense of respect for various foundations and NGOs within this country and the people labeling it as a ‘sham’ are decreasing. I can see that every semester break where increasing number of students are desirous of interning with an NGO, in order to relate to the society for some satisfaction, than a law firm.

    It was a good read.


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