Once upon a time
Once upon a time we had a freedom struggle to fight. There was no donor funding for it. No freedom fighter had to add their salaries as 10% admin cost. There were no reports to give.
The conversation was not about 2 year fellowships but about “Jeevan Daan” — giving your entire life to a cause. (this was in fact all the way till 70s where people like JP had done a jeevan-daan on Vinoba’s invocation)
Then came lots of money….from religious institutions and aid agencies and the government and then from corprorates…..thus birthing our profession — the professional social worker….the social entrepreneur.
All very good, all changing the world and all….but often we were doing what governments were supposed to do….and rather than making service delivery more efficient, we often tried to do it ourselves…..
Our donors, distant from the field relied on abstractions like numbers, impact and reporting….and we continued….with the underlying value system of our time….the same value system that we were trying to outgrow and change…..
But then what do we do? Something is better than nothing….and now that the world in in ever greater trouble, more and more of us are hopping in to save it….thats great!
Don’t count on professional social workers to save the world though….not any more than you’d count on doctors to make the society healthy…..just as doctors are there for times of disease, social workers are around to solve specific social challenges….that’s the contribution we can make to social diseases but health can be created only by citizens….
(Oh as a side note, an army of us managers also marched in with techno-managerial solutions looking at everything as a “problem” especially all that disagreed with our value system and started solving it using our frameworks and corporate ways)
If we’re colonial in our ways (here’s the world and WE will change it using OUR ways), we’re consistently anthropcentric (“Our species our species”), we’re driven by the same restlessness, speed and drive for scale that marks our time — how are we going to shift things in transformational ways?
Sure we will make incremental change happen but that long, far dream of social transformation ain’t happening….
At this level of committment, this is the world we get — in fact it the world should be far far worse except there are many many people doing thankless work under the radar and holding up the world to this level and standard….
It is very easy to fall into an existential abyss (we’re still going to be swirling stardust whatever happens and it means nothing)…..or into spiritual arrogance (oh its all about inner work and only the truly awakened people will take us forward)….
But if we look at this as yet another excuse to come together, to knit our broken ties into one fabric, to collectively see what wants to be born (and to birth it with voluntary labour pain)….thats a cool thing to do, and enough for a lifetime’s meaning and purpose…(can we millennials please note this?)
In the larger span of time we’re so tiny, our lifetimes are so fleeting, and since we’re anyways gonna go into our graves or pyres, most likely anonymous 2 generations from now…is all this really going to matter? (and seeing what we’ve done with Gandhi and Buddha, like who really wants to be remembered anyways?)
And yet, that doesn’t change my original point — that this change will not come with tiny slices of committment, giving only parts of ourselves to the cause or running with donor funding…
If there is one place where ‘reform’ is most urgently needed, it is in the social sector itself — in how we allocate power, in the promises we make, in how we go about meeting them, in our own deep morality and in the complex stories we tell ourselves….
The day we change the way we social change, we’ll have a little more hope :)