Lessons from A ‘Seva’ Based Organisation

To serve the person in front of us as if we are serving God or the divine is Seva. This culture of Seva is firmly rooted in the Indian ethos.  Many families contribute a portion of their earnings and often their time too for Seva. Similarly, there are many institutions that focus their entire energy on Seva. These are organisations that operate largely through the efforts of the Sevaks, loosely translated as volunteers. I am proudly associated as a volunteer and a teacher with the largest volunteer-driven NGO in the world, The Art of Living Foundation. 

In my last 14 years of experience with The Art of Living, I have realised a few amazing insights. These can be of use to both those who work for or seek to work in such a unit, and to those who plan to start or run such an organisation. Here are my 3 biggest takeaways: 

Inspiration is Key

Unlike a job, where even if you don’t like to go to the office, you will drag yourself to work because they pay you, there is no such incentive to do Seva. The only reason why we do Seva is that we are inspired by a bigger cause to serve and give back to society. As a volunteer, it is critical to be inspired by the vision of the movement if you wish to have the energy to be associated with it for the long term. As somebody who runs the organisation, it is essential to keep your volunteers inspired by regularly reminding them of the cause and why they joined you in the first place. 

Moved by Love

While the cause is of utmost importance, so is how we engage with our volunteer family on a daily basis. Volunteers are not resources and the relationship with them cannot be transactional. A volunteer-based organisation can work effectively only when the volunteers are treated like family with love. What family I was born into was not my choice, but for me, the volunteers I do Seva with are a family I have chosen to be a part of. For a volunteer, such a space also offers the opportunity to open one’s hearts, to be oneself freely, to form relationships for a lifetime, and to seek mentorship at different key junctures of life. 

Challenges Fuel Growth

While the idea of doing Seva is beautiful, many people give up Seva because it is also challenging. If you wish to promote a cause, you might need to pick up a phone and explain it to people. You might encounter criticism, failure, and even insults at times. I have had people bang their door in my face when I went out to do Seva. But, these challenging situations slowly shaped me from a shy, timid teenager to a confident adult today. That is why the one thing everyone doing Seva should know is this – you will need to go out of your comfort zone and the one thing which will make you do it is commitment. Everyone running a Seva-based organisation should make it a point to celebrate these failures along with the successes of volunteers. This is because we work without the intention for a particular outcome, Seva is all about enjoying and learning through the entire process. 

Having worked in the corporate environment for a long time, I see people struggling every day for ‘job satisfaction’. Personally, I have never found such joy or purpose in any corporate organisation that I have found in myself through Seva. A job will give you comfort, but Seva will bring satisfaction. A job will bring you luxury, but Seva will bring an attitude of commitment. A job will give you a promotion, but Seva will bring you growth. 

So, to be truly happy in life, we have to make Seva a part of us till we eventually realise that Seva is our very nature. Giving is the nature of God or the divine. And after all, that is who we are, is it not?

About the contributor:

Shreyans Mehta is an MBA from IIM Calcutta and a faculty member with The Art of Living Foundation. He is a personal mentor for students preparing for MBA entrance exams and is the host of the podcast ‘Seeking Ithaka with Shreyans Mehta’. Listen to his podcast here.