THE BLOG
09/03/2013 11:15 am ET | Updated Nov 03, 2013

Creating a Better Society: At What Cost?

On completion of my law degree from the London School of Economics, I returned back to India. For me, it was the most obvious thing to do. Indian economy was booming -- people in and outside India were optimistic about the prospects the country held for youngsters.

It was the time when "reverse migration" was slowly becoming a phenomenon. Youngsters like me were considering returning back from U.S., U.K., Australia or other Western countries. Equally well-paying jobs were now available in India as well. It was now possible to start their own ventures, as investors wanted to fund the Indian entrepreneur, or sometimes the young Indian minds were so overwhelmed by the stark realities of India, that they found it necessary to attempt to change the social and political systems of the country.

I found it to be an exhilarating time! With no market saturation and interesting socioeconomic challenges posing new questions almost every single day, India gave me a wide platform to innovate, experiment and implement different ideas.

And challenges -- there were so many! But I took to heart the delay and efficiencies within the Indian courts and decided to start my own organization to work towards improving the Indian legal system. I was excited! This was the platform I knew India had the potential of offering me. India was certainly on its way to change into a more open, transparent and equal society.

And as if this was a collective force, there were other youngsters like me too -- who had started careers in the development sector in India through different routes after gaining quality education and international exposure. It was possible for them to take up a plum job in a luxurious office somewhere in London or New York, but they had chosen other paths for themselves. Someone had started a campaign on women's rights, while someone had joined a member of parliament's office in Delhi. There were some working on changing the scenario of the education sector by way of joining NGOs, while there were also those who had taken the plunge of joining electoral politics. These youngsters knew what they were getting into, their hearts were in the right place and had the drive to actually give what it takes. These youngsters inspired me -- I looked up to them for support. Their mere existence assured me that I was not alone in this journey.

But this year, when I celebrate the fourth anniversary of my organization, I feel a little bit lonely. Some of the young forces who stood as my own pillars of strength have chosen to alter the course of their careers.

Their reasons are often the known suspects: facing too much corruption, long gestation period before the social venture takes off, financial crunch, inefficient and ineffective infrastructure to create a momentum, to name a few. According to a recent article, there has also been a significant decrease since last year in the number of students and young professionals returning back from abroad.

Perhaps social realities of some of the developing countries are so powerful that many who even attempt to change them become a victim of the same in one way or the other. A friend who is heading an NGO told me recently:

Kanan, I have already given too many personal sacrifices in order to build my organization but I often feel as if I am fighting a very slow and painful battle. I have given up a life of luxury, my personal life is a mess and I feel so stressed since I don't even know whether there is any future to my organization. I can't even tell this to people as they might think I am weak.

And when I received a call recently from another friend informing me about his decision of joining back his old corporate employer by quitting his work with the government, I was not surprised.

I wonder whether these are just the outliers or whether there is a systemic problem which prevents young people from continuing to work towards creating social impact.

Perhaps working for social change requires way too many personal sacrifices which is becoming more and more difficult for those from the young generation, or perhaps the social sector has always ended up attracting very few serious players. Isn't it a shame? What our society needs the most is motivated young minds willing to work for nation's development. India, in particular, with the largest number of young people, needs to encourage and tap on their energy to create a more transparent and open society.

This August, when my country celebrates its 67th Independence Day, I sincerely hope that those who are working towards creating a better society, anywhere in the world, get all the power and resources they so richly deserve. It is ultimately with the strengths of these individuals that the societies will change. We need them -- motivated and rearing to go! While I wish that their journeys continue and flourish, one question is burning at the back of my mind: What is the price one has to pay to bring about a change?

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