Dr. Raja Samuel is the Principal of Madras School of Social Work.Born and brought up in North Chennai, witnessing poverty and deprivation and experiencing it to some extent, Dr. Samuel has grown up in stature to head one of the premier Institutions for social work education in the south. In his childhood, devoid of access to books for extra reading, he used to read whatever he came across in print. This habit of reading laid the firm foundation for his language skills. He attributes his success in career to the hard work and investment of time he made in all his endeavours and the blessings of his parents and the Almighty. He is also fortunate to have the support of his wife and two sons.
Dr.Raja Samuel talks with Marie Banu about the need for social entrepreneurship in education.
About your education, and interest in research?
I studied at Don Bosco School in Perambur and did my UG in English Literature as well as PhD in Loyola College. I disliked science and maths, hence chose literature. Fortunately, Loyola College has PG in Social Work and therefore I pursued this course specializing in Community Development. From then, my career has been linked broadly to social work and social development.
My block placement was at the State Resource Centre for Non-formal and Adult Education and they gave me the assignment of evaluating the impact of population education in adult literacy centres at Sriperumbudur. I produced a report on the Adult Literacy Programme and this launched my career in research and evaluation.
The years I spent at Loyola College was very fruitful. The Social Work Department gave its faculty full freedom to take on funded research projectsfrom outside. They offered space and computer to work on data analysis. This was around 1992 when we were migrating from DOS to Windows. I had huge support from my teachers and colleagues,Mr. Arulraj and Mr. Sarvesan, who taught me about computers and research respectively. I used to read a lot of books on data analysis and explored research software.
I had the opportunity of conducting a state level study at M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation on ‘Women in unorganized sector’ and that is how I established a connect with MSSRF and landed there later on. The years at MSSRF, in Project ACCESS, further consolidated my research expertise and also taught me how research can be converted in to a tool for advocacy.
Who is your inspiration?
Several persons have inspired me and also helped me in my growth. Dr. Udaya Mahadevan, former HOD and UGC Emeritus Professor of Social Work Department, Loyola College inspired and instilled a sense of humanism and integrity.She was also my PhD Guide. Fr. Joseph Xavier, former Principal of Loyola College has been my role model for sharing and inclusivity.Mrs. Mina Swaminathan, MSSRF, has been a great influence in honing my professional skills and introducing me to the use of visual arts for development. I have been inspired by several of my own students. I continue to be inspired by the ordinary people I read about, who have done extraordinary work in the community.
What are the changes in mindset or perspectives that you see in students studying social work today?
In Tamil Nadu, as in the rest of the country, we have Human Resource Management(HRM) attached to Social Work making it a mixed bag. A lot of students apply thinking that social work is all about HRM.This trend is quite worrying and must be reversed. Some Institutions have made the course generic or have separated HRM from Social Work. However, I find that whoever opts for the MSW course is committed to social development. In terms of intention, commitment and attitude to work, I don’t see much change compared to now and then, though I wish that all students who opt for MSW have the zeal for it. Awareness levels have gone up. Earlier, students used to join without knowing much about social work, but now they are aware.
About Outlook ranking MSSW as third best institution in India? What makes your organization unique?
Outlook based on popular perception and user survey has ranked MSSW as third best institution in our country. It is getting more difficult to maintain this image as there are a lot of colleges now. Earlier, some 20 or 30 years ago, there were few colleges and being on top was easier. But, today we have many colleges which are coming up with good resources, competencies and capabilities. Staying on top is a real challenge.
We revise our curriculum thoroughly every three years and also make changes annually. Our curriculum pattern is the best and there are many institutionswithin and outside the city who borrowthe papers we offer. We have a very good Board of Studies in which we have external members from the industry and social work organisations who offer excellent suggestions. We also bring in elective papers on new themes like social entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility etc. What makes us unique is our willingness to experiment within the boundaries of academic freedom and the quality of our students who are generally vibrant and give their best to any activity.
What is your take on Social Entrepreneurship?
Social Entrepreneurship (SE) is something that has tremendous potential, not only in terms of actual entrepreneurship possibilities outside but also in terms of training within the college. Today, funds for NGOs are coming down in several ways and the welfare model is phasing out. In fact, people in Tamil Nadu are better off when compared to other states. So, what is the substitute for developmentactivity to take place?
Development involves a lot of participation and intention to develop oneself. Thatis where it matches with Social Entrepreneurship which focuses on helping people develop and where people participate not only physically but also monetarily. When one pays for a particular service, even a token amount, the value of the service goes up. This is whereSocial Entrepreneurs come in. The hallmark of Social Entrepreneurship is the capacity of creativity and ideas that can be channeled into a particular service for people.
Traditional social work or social service or welfare never had that opportunity. They had a package of services which we think need to be offered. But, SE comes from the needs of the users. In that way, there is tremendous scope for SEand we at MSSW seized up this issue and integrated SEin a major way. Some departments have a paper on SE, some departments offer an elective, and some offer certificate courses in SE.We may not be ready to have an exclusive course on SE immediately, but we think time is ripe for it.
We are also in the process of launching a Skill Lab with CSIM. The social incubation centre which is part of the Lab will motivate few of our students to start up a social enterprise.
About Social Work today?
A lot of professionalism and diversity is getting into this area today. Participation of social workers in human rights advocacy is also on the increase. However, several others without social work qualifications also operate in that space. That poses a challenge. We are re-examining what exactly is our core domain and where we can pitch in. Social Work’s core domain earlier was working with individuals. However, we focusing more on communities as our problems are large scale.
Although our overall focus is on development of individuals and communities, one of the main challenge is the recognition from the government of what Social Work can do. In India, we do not have a council for Social Work like the Bar Council or Medical Council. MSSW is closely partnering with Professional Social Workers Forum and we are trying to see whether we can move towards a Council and talk with the government.
Recently, the Government of Tamil Nadu has asked MSSW to conduct a study on Government children homes. The government wants us to look into the conditions of the children homes and recommend measures to improve them. This is a great opportunity not to improve the situation but also to reinforce the role of social workers and we are trying to harness such steps to gain more identity and recognition for social work with the government.
Your advise for student who wish to study at MSSW?
MSSW is a place which offers several opportunities for learning. We would like applicants to be focused on what they want to do and come prepared. Then, there is a likelihood for them to join our institution. I would say: “Don’t apply if you are looking at obtaining a generic degree in MA or MSc.”
We have a UG as well as PG in Social Work. We have a lot of students applying for UG in social work and psychology. We encourage diversity in several ways, and welcome applicants from other states.
About the fees and scholarships offered?
The fees is affordable and we have a variety of scholarships. We also have scholarships instituted by our alumni, which was one lakh rupees last year. We have a strong alumni network and our recent meet was attended by 300 alumni. Our Parent-teacher association is vibrant and we have many parents who offer support for students. The best outgoing student award is offered by our PTA.
Thus MSSW offers one of the best opportunities for students to prepare for a career in Social Work and Human Resources.