Social Internship : A Road Less Taken
For someone with a graduate engineering degree from a not so acclaimed Institution, Making it into the relims of a coveted business school like XLRI as a fresher wasn’t less than reaching the summit of an uncharted peak in the very first attempt.
The joy of an achievement lives only till the moment another goal sets in your life. SIPs became ‘The Thing’ as soon as the gates of XLRI were crossed. Whilst most of my batch mates had their priorities set towards making it into a proclaimed firm offering PPOs and high stipends, my brain was in a tussle. A tussle between prioritizing between a corporate internship and social internship. While corporate internships offer perfect opportunity to have an exposure on how organizations work in the real world, a social internship gives you an opportunity to create an impact on the society. I always had a fascination with doing something that helps me use my knowledge on creating a positive change in lives of people less privileged than ours. Hence, I prioritized a social internship over the other option.
Since limited number of social organizations visit the top business schools due to the inherent corporate orientation, I knew I wouldn’t have many opportunities. Over and above, social organizations being a part of the pre-placement process, the selection process was to be managed alongside regular classes, quizzes and placement preparations. The first part of the process involved an extensive behavioural questionnaire to be submitted online. This was focused on identifying one’s orientation towards social issues and ability to solve complex social problems. The next round involved a video conference with a senior HR manager. Throughout the interview, the focus remained on understanding ‘Why I wanted this internship instead of going for the usual.” I honestly shared my beliefs behind the decision and connected them with the work of the organization. The next and the final round was a call with the HR head. This involved discussions about various projects and initiatives I was a part of in my undergraduate college, how I contributed towards the I behind those initiative and how those initiatives and projects could create a positive impact on the society. I believe that being honest with my thoughts on everything asked was the key to getting the an offer from Dr. Reddy’s foundation for my summer.
From day one, I was involved in the project, which was about improving managerial effectiveness across the organization, which in turn helps the organization enlarge the scope and scale of impact. I had a few things clear in my mind at that point. One, to understand how the organization works and what at the individual roles and responsibilities at various levels. This was necessary to understand why the problem existed at the first place. Two, the solution proposed by me is tailor-made for the culture of the organization. I felt that one fit all solutions might not work citing the primary operative model in the organization over and above the fact that it was a not for profit firm.
Organization had a policy to involve people across levels in any major decision-making process. Since this project could have an impact on employees across levels, the leadership had decided to constitute a task force, which would be involved in all the decision making process of the project. I, alongside my guide had the responsibility to first make a task force which ensures representation across levels and diversity and then steer the task force towards the objective. The biggest advantage of task force was the opportunity to interact with members, who were posted across India at various levels. These interactions helped me get a much clearer view of the persistent problems.
My first challenge was to create a set of core behaviours what every manager in the organization follows. It required days together of browsing through Google scholar, HBR, Blogs, Research published by top consultants like Bane and BCG. I created a large list of nearly 50 behaviors. I felt that an exhaustive list would cater to problem. Sitting next to my guide allowed to to simply make a few strides in my chair to reach her desk. When I showed her the list, she said, “You can’t expect everyone to even read that amidst all the pressure they work under. You don’t expect them to follow all this”
Ting! 2 weeks down the line, this was a reality check. I had to now cut them down to 10 or less without compromising on important stuff while I thought “All of this is important know.” So now, it was about seeing what we need the most, what can be compromised upon and what can be adjusted by some play of words. I used to land up at my guide’s desk in every 40-50 minutes to discuss whatever I had thought. 3 days and a thousand iterations later, we had a set of Core managerial behaviours. This was followed by 3 extensive meeting with the task force over the next week where every word went under the scanner. With some minor alterations, the approval was done.
Now was the time for the difficult part, how do we institutionalise these behaviours. Again, research research and more research. By now, I had already explored at least half of the syllabus due in the second year. Slowly drafts started flowing out for the plan. While we were making the plan, we had to ensure that the possible interventions don’t come as a surprise. Hence, the sensitisation process. I involved in everything from designing infographics, shooting messages with CEO and Ops Head to planning events for May’1.
One great part of the culture was the ability to reach out to anyone from the leadership easily. Regularly before leaving for the day, I used to meet my HR head and discuss my ideas, get her feedback and suggestions.
I was spending time with Corporate Communications department, task force members to discuss my ideas. It took a few weeks before plan was ready to be discussed with the task force. It included communications, mentorship program, (no cost) gamification and minor changes in the appraisal format. In a marathon meeting, take force discussed every idea with me presenting my merits on them. Post that, I individual went to task force members for their personal opinions based on their experience beyond the HO. Changes were again discussed in the next meeting.
I wanted to see how my ideas work, hence I started implementing my suggestion which were scheduled at the start time once they had the green signal from task force. The finalization of plan and approval from the leadership went on until the last week if my internship. I felt so good about everything that we had created compared to a blank slate at the start, that I asked for an opportunity to continue remotely working on the project and the organization allowed to take it up as a live project.
When I look back at my decision to go for a social internship, all I wanted was to do something for the greater good. But at the end of it, it wasn’t just the impact my work was capable of imparting, but all the learnings, experience and knowledge that I gained that mattered. Not to mention the great bond I had with my guide and how I still look at her for advice on college projects and self-improvement.