Nitin Rao

Talent Retention in the Fast Changing Development Sector

If you are a manager at a NextBillion enterprise, pause and ask yourself:

  • What attracted you to development through enterprise?
  • What attracts members of your team to this sector?

It’s interesting to see how employees bring diverse motivations. Understanding what drives them is key to retaining your top talent.

Is it the mission?
The recent buzz and interest in development has seen quality talent from countries such as the US take up positions in developing countries, often with significant pay cuts.Is it the money?
For many loan officers at microfinance organizations such as mine, even USD 100 a month can be a great salary.

Is it a hybrid?
As a colleague told me, “I’m happy to work in this sector as long as I can manage a certain lifestyle”

Is it a short-term stint?
Development startups depend on talent working as interns or for short stints ahead of graduate school, or a career change.

When I first considered the sector, driven by Prof. C. K. Prahalad’s HBR paper on “Serving the World’s Poor, Profitably”, what attracted me was the elusive idea of doing good and doing well at the same time. While market mechanisms may not always work from the get go, it was a concept that I found very attractive.

Indeed, understanding and being true to your motivations might help you be satisfied. Especially in a context when business schools applicants like my friend ask, “How important is it to do some non-profit work?”

It’s an exciting time as the development sector is changing very fast and will look very different in a couple of years.

With NGOs converting to market-driven structures or philosophies, some of our favorites on NextBillion are making a big transition – in terms of their vision, capital and team structure – bringing unique challenges from inertia to compensation policy!

For quality talent considering the sector, the opportunity to work on highly entrepreneurial assignments with a lean, high caliber team remains a great draw.