September 30, 2019
Talent and Mentorship in SGBs: In Conversation with Amani Institute and Arthan Careers

In a recently released Roadmap for the Small and Growing Business (SGB) Sector, authored by ANDE and Monitor Deloitte, improving access to talent was identified as one of the key pillars to enhance support to SGBs. Some of the facets highlighted are: Improving job prospects for new graduates, fostering peer-to-peer learning and focusing on development.

To understand this better, ANDE India spoke with two individuals who have themselves made a transition from corporate careers to the development sector and are now actively supporting talent in the space: Shehzia Lilani, Country Director of ANDE member Amani Institute, and Anchal Kakkar, Vice President, Strategy & Partnerships at Arthan Careers.

How can SGBs attract and retain talent? What are the barriers today?

Shehzia Lilani (SL): Attracting talent is a small part of the game. Something I have noticed over the past few years that is applicable to other sectors as well, but impacts SGBs more closely, is how the world of work has been evolving. I don’t think the SGB space is changing fast enough to keep up with the same trends. Traditional ways of running businesses are no longer attractive to young people who are joining the workforce. We must be more open to considering change – embracing the autonomy and flexibility that young talent is looking for and rid ourselves of the usual hierarchical structures, to make SGBs more attractive as career options.

What is harder is retaining talent. Once people are part of an organization and do not see scope for flexibility or autonomy or defined growth opportunities, they will move on to the next ‘shiny’ opportunity and keep moving till they find the right fit. Understanding what motivates small teams to work is also a key aspect.

Anchal Kakkar (AK): I have observed that in the past few years more funds are being invested in the development sector, and in SGBs and this is helping create more opportunities. What we need is to capitalize on this and build more awareness, and make these opportunities also seem like viable career choices, which they indeed are. The development sector has transcended beyond the traditional ‘NGO’ definition. Another important component is finding that marriage between skill sets and passion; it is a fine balance. If an organization understands that for their employees, the battle is half won. Quite a lot of people foray into the SGB space with very rosy ideas, and when they don’t see changes happening in a short span of time, they tend to get disillusioned. To be able to retain these professionals, organisations must help fashion a slower transition into the sector, by setting proper expectations.

Is there a lack of mentorship/guidance that contributes to low retention of existing talent?

AK: I think there is a lack of mentors in the space, but those who are there are more than willing to provide that guidance. More often what I have seen happening is that even senior employees get so caught up with their work that mentorship is not a priority for them. In a sector that lacks financial resources, people are more often than not doing multiple jobs, and not adhering to one defined job description. Another concern is how funds typically come in for program costs of organisations, but what is equally important is also to be able to finance staff costs. This impacts mentorship access in any organization, as one grows and human resources are not growing at the same pace as the organization.

Given the gender disparity in workforce across sectors, what do you think is unique to this gap in SGBs? 

SL: It is worrying that the percentage of women in the workforce currently is less than it was a decade ago. In one of my training sessions, I had someone share with me how there is a difference in how funders approach a women-led social enterprise compared with how they interact with one that is male-led. There is also research that states that funding for women entrepreneurs tends to be lesser than their male counterparts. A lot of this also stems from perceptions of how people see women in leadership positions, or the lack thereof, which feeds into traditional biases. There are small steps in the right direction, I do get happy when I see more women leading the way in the sector.

AK: I think there are instances where employers feel that the ‘nature of work’ organisations are involved in might not be suitable for women, for example in disaster-struck or conflict areas. But overall, I do think there should be a gender lens applied, not just for the hiring process but also extend to interventions and programs designed by SGBs.

What do you think will help bridge these gaps in mentoring and diversity? 

SL: Invest in the people – beyond just the board and senior level, invest in the middle-management. When middle-management is well-equipped, they can assist those who report into them, and help take organizations to the next level. It is unrealistic to expect this of only the CEO. Invest in building skills, understanding personal motivations and strengths.

AK: I don’t see any quick fixes to these gaps. It will happen if resources are allocated appropriately over a period of time. There is an increasing trend of more investments into the SGB space, and the development sector, which will lead to more opportunities. This will slowly help in building the pipeline for mentorship in the organization. There is also a need to educate funders that money is required not just to manage programs but also for the functioning and development of an organization as well as institutional costs. Unfortunately, a lot of these solutions are linked into getting more financial resources mobilized, which at the end of the day becomes a case of cost vs benefit while an investor is considering to invest.

How do you see the government’s major push to the SGB space impacting the flow of talent? How can players in the ecosystem collaborate towards this?

AK: The CSR Law by the government of India was a key step in this direction. It was a message that the government was keen on working towards greater social impact, which then facilitated more organisations and foundations to grow in this space. The effect of this can be seen now, over time. What we now need to focus on is how can we make this move more strategic.

SL: The key word here is ‘collaborate’. People are no longer only looking at traditional careers, they are looking at newer roles where they can make an impact. SGBs are a great place to develop these ‘careers of purpose’. Right now, there is confusion or hesitation as to how exactly to take up these roles. One of the things we like is to facilitate collaborations at our events, and see how people can help each other. The impact can be compounded if everyone were to join hands and work together.