It’s been a little over 2 years since I decided to work in the non-profit industry. During these 2-ish years, I have struggled to come up with a standard and universally (and/or socially)-accepted definition of what I do.
The general label that I am usually tagged (and more often than not,hash-tagged in) with, is that of a social worker. Now, being an engineer (yeah, yeah, yet-another-engineer-not-doing-anything-related-to-engineering), I try to see things a little more logically, or at least I like to think I do. I have been trying to come up with an answer to the question: Who is a social worker? And if we dig a little deeper, what is social work?
Just like any other person trained by the current educational and social systems, I go to Google to find an answer. The very first search result to show up is:
- work carried out by trained personnel with the aim of alleviating the conditions of those people in a community suffering from social deprivation.
Ah! That seems fairly complicated to justify what I do. Let me try and break down that definition to a little more sense out of it:
work carried out by trained personnel with the aim of alleviating the conditions (the solution)
of those people in a community suffering from social deprivation (the problem).
So, it essentially boils down to:
Any problem that affects the society, at any level, merits a solution.
Therefore, any person who can fix any of those problems, merits to be called a social worker.
These problems could range from everyday challenges like managing your travel, finding the right food place, best deals on a product etc. to a few more complex ones, like hunger, education in under-resourced communities, sanitation etc.. The underlying effects of the latter may or may not affect the everyday lives of others, or they may not seem as apparent as they should.
Here’s what I think helps us distinguish between the two:
- The intention to select and solve the problem
- Who the customers/beneficiaries are.
Is your intention only to generate profits or are you looking at the greater good? Who is your beneficiary/customer? Are they someone who have benefitted from using your service/product, something that they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise, or are they merely paying for your services?
When the focus shifts to something beyond yourself and the intention is to address problems that may or may not affect you directly, that is when social work happens, in the conventional sense of the word. Most professionals in the social and development sector try to solve problems of such great depth, breadth and length (that’s all the engineering Math I know).
However, it doesn’t mean that if you don’t work on these directly or have a background in social science, you can’t do anything about these problems. Sure, academia plays a crucial role, but that doesn’t take away the incredible potential that others have to bring to the solutions.
For example, in my current work at ConnectFor, we are essentially trying to address a problem of matching skilled volunteers (like you) to non-profit organizations who need them more efficiently. In other words, we catalyse social work.
By helping organizations with your skills ranging from being an English teacher on weekends to helping sort books for over a million students to mentoring a child to even talking about what you do for a living (no, really!) among several hundred others.
All it takes is volunteering your time and skill to solve, fix and create solutions to these problems and voila! You are a social worker too! Now there’s a label that should make you feel good about yourself.
Dharmaraj is the ConnectFor team’s Senior Associate for Outreach & Operations. He is also our resident do-gooder!
To get started with your social work, sign up to www.connectfor.org now, and earn your label!