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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What motivates one to serve?

I am probably preaching to the choir if you’re reading this blog service is at the foundation of public health and social justice. Yet, I think reflecting on personal motive in any work is healthy. A business school friend recently told me about Goleman’s 4 constructs of emotional intelligence (EI), and self-awareness tops the list, followed by self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Why serve?
A couple months back, I had an email exchange with a friend. She had written: I do wonder what it means to be in service, at the [core], at the intention level. She was referring to a deeper attitude of selfless service, called Seva in Sanksrit. Certainly, the concept crosses religions and personal belief systems. Having grown up with an extended family that strongly believes in Seva, my motive to serve lies in a sense of duty, which inherently serves a personal function. This functional motivation of volunteering has been classified by Clary et al (1998) into 6 categories:

Function Distinguishing elements of the function
Values To express important values Feeling that it is important to help others
Understanding Seeking to learn more about the world A chance to exercise skills and abilities that might otherwise go unpracticed
Social To be with like-minded people To be engaged in an activity viewed favorably by important others
Career To explore different career options To look good on one’s CV
Protection To reduce guilt over being more fortunate than others To help address personal problems
Enhancement For personal growth To develop ‘psychologically’
Table modified from://

The functional theory is appropriate to explain simplistic motivation at an individual/immediate level. Below are other theory bits/concepts (not comprehensive) that describe societal factors which affect service culture and volunteerism:

  • Collectivism vs. Individualism: Collectivism is more strongly related with altruistic motivation and desire to strengthen social ties, and development of a volunteer role (i.e. religious, community groups, cultural norms). Individualism is associated with career-related objectives (i.e. social service for resume)(Finkelstein 2010)
  • Social origins theory: More volunteering where there is limited government social spending, a fee-dominated revenue structure, a large non-profit sector, and a small paid workforce. Volunteering is mainly service provision. (Salamon and Sokolowski 2001; Hwaung 2005)
  • Role identity theory: Social norms provide the impetus to start volunteering. With continued service, the individual establishes a volunteer role identity, and this new identity drives further participation. Similar to Individualism. (Grube & Pilivin 2000)
Developing service ethic
In the US and India, I have had the pleasure of being involved with amazingly dedicated public health/medical/development workers who embody selfless service. For example, the heads of Manzil (=destination; youth empowerment) Delhi and Manav Sadhna (=devotion to mankind; community empowerment), in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, inspire others by their example. Their approach is collective (not individualistic) which results in value/social/understanding motivation functions that are adopted by those they help and the staff. These leaders are able to make local, context-specific changes, which are maintained because of high buy-in from the staff and community. In this way, they have actually produced a new generation of service-minded citizens who want to change the vices of society and improve equity.

To end, one of the boys, Raju (picture above), who grew up in the slums around Manav Sadhna and was schooled and trained by the NGO, is now in his mid-20s and has returned to his village to address public health and development issues. In the course of 1.5 years, he has implemented a waste management program, personal hygiene programs for school children, computer classes for youth, addressing alcohol abuse and sexual violence...and is going strong.

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