CEO Blog 6: The Art of ‘Seeking Help’

25 Mar 2017

‘Seeking help’ is not about asking for assistance to get one’s work done but is an act to embrace learning proactively, by reaching out to gain clarity on how to handle a situation one is in. One engages with other minds to receive different perspectives, gain insights, hone ideas, or improve upon one’s current situation.

 Social interaction is a virtue that social entrepreneurs exhibit, which leads them to bring about social change through their work. However, sometimes, this very virtue makes them vulnerable, to judgments volleyed against them by the community and their trusted folk. Social entrepreneurs continuously live under the public eye, where perceptions are held by many with the age-old belief: optics matter. This reality makes them vulnerable, and the need of the hour is to ’embrace their vulnerability’.

There are three dimensions to ‘seeking help’ which co-exist or can exclusively be present in an individual. With humility and gratitude to every mentor and senior, both in my workplace and in my personal space, I would like to share some of my personal experiences that have had a profound impact on my life all because I reached out for help.

I recall my first meeting with Prof. Arvind Gupta who played the role of a mentor, teacher, guide, philosopher, and friend, and one who honed me into becoming a teacher. I met him during my stint with the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, and it was as if I had met my navigator. He touched my soul in a way, which made me feel positive every single day. And this feeling of “I CAN” meant a lot to me. I would engage with him on important aspects of the academic programme, and his interactions and active listening helped me gain clarity around my thoughts. When in doubt, I reached out to him and his one great lesson to me was: Continue to do your work by actively engaging all relevant stakeholders – what comes out of it will certainly be better than what you would achieve with ‘non action’.

He helped me swim through rough waters, especially when the academic programme I worked on was under the threat of closure. He made me believe that I was strong in my purpose and must continue my pursuit. And this helped me to grow the programme, gradually increasing the revenue thrice. It would not have been possible without the support of colleagues and the Institute Director who created a space for me to operate in. I wish to point out, that Prof. Gupta never offered ready solutions nor did he work for me, but every single instance that I was seeking his help, he engaged with me in a way that gave me clarity of purpose, and which encouraged me to take actions.

I would also like to mention Nafisa Barot, of Pravah here, who mentored me to continue my work in the development sector. She has helped me a great deal in putting things into perspective and developing unbiased and strong views on people, power, equity, equality, and justice. She gave me insights on why we should question ourselves and our actions including the environment, which in turn shapes us into the individual we become. When I worked in Gujarat during 2003–05, I was managing a state-level WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) network which was then headed by Nafisa Barot. She was critiqued on her choice to make a non-Gujarati lead/manage a state-level network and this disturbed me in particular. However, she never let this come in between our work relationship because the purpose we pursued together was bigger than the concerns expressed. But we still had to deal with it and I needed help. It was when I needed to talk to someone that my colleague Parul Christian (Administrator) helped me by instilling confidence and supporting me.

In the first Annual General Body Meeting of the network I decided to start my speech in Gujarati; and it was Parul who gave me the confidence that I could do it. This definitely helped to address the concerns of those who believed otherwise about my being a non-Gujarati. The whole team stood by me and spoke on my behalf if someone ever expressed even the slightest concern. I could only achieve this because I learnt to adjust the sails when the wind did not blow my way.

The three dimensions of seeking help as I see them are: ‘seeking help to calm our mind’; ‘seeking help to gain self-control’; and ‘seeking help to revitalise’, and all three are actionable. Social entrepreneurs constantly seek help because they know that this will give them that cutting edge.

At SSE India, I find Action Learning one method that provides help to our Fellows that’s capable of bringing all three dimensions of seeking help into one experience. Some of the Fellows have shared Action Learning as an experience of ‘self discovery’ – the discovery to address a challenge. Action Learning is not about directly helping the social entrepreneur but allowing the means to understand the journey of self-discovery they need to undertake to find support towards any given challenge.