Archive for October, 2007

Ambitious plan to empower underprivileged women through music: The Swami Samarth Program gets ready to roll

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Remarkable People! 

In 1929, two women in Mumbai founded Swami Samarth Sangeet Vidyalaya, a truly-unique women’s institution, that has not just imparted high quality music lessons in Hindustani classical music, but has focused on making music a means for building self-confidence, development, and employment of many women.

Today, a young scion of the family, Hemchandra Javeri( “Hemu”), is all set to build on this rich heritage and experience. He visualises The Swami Samarth Program as a potential means of uniting and energizing less fortunate communities.

I have known Hemu well for 22 years since the time we went to IIM/C together. Also having witnessed his meteoric corporate career, I know that Hemu is extremely determined and serious when he says, “Music is the universal language that is an integral part of Indian psyche and culture. Music in India has many sounds and origins, but its overall importance, and its role in energizing and uniting us is unique and substantial. Over the years, women have played a big role in spreading the beauty and enjoyment of music.  We believe the guiding principles are relevant even today, and offer great opportunity of value addition to our lives, and the lives of the less fortunate”.

Hemu is in the process of fine-tuning these plans, but the broad contours are clear. Girls and young women will be taught Indian classical and modern music( with emphasis on the former) in key cities and towns across the country, within targeted, underprivileged communities. The primary focus will be on girls and young women, and to create social change through them, in their communities. The curriculum- a combination of theory and practical learning, with regionally-relevant content- will emphasise on creating a group of passionate students and teachers.

The program will ensure full funding for students and teachers, with wider scholarships for the deserving. By offering scholarships that allow students to use this money for their overall development and growth, it will enable many to improve their economic life.
It will also provide a tangible potential career and livelihood option for those who chose to do so.

Knowing Hemu as many of us do, this kind of rigorous planning and vision shouldn’t be a surprise. So, when Hemu concludes our conversation by saying that, “We will evaluate our success by the number of women and communities we are able to change and empower”, we have got to take him seriously.

I, for one, am especially delighted because Hemu has agreed to dovetail his initial program roll-out with my plans for ‘Growth-for’All’. As reality shows like Indian Idol, SaReGaMa, and Voice of India rock the TRP charts with unknown stars from small towns, the timing is just right for The Swami Samarth Program to make an impact.

Community development via sports? A unique ‘Chak De’ experiment in Delhi provides working model for nation-wide emulation

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

When my friend, Anita Lobo, whom I caught up with after several years, told me that she was now working on social development projects using Sport as a medium of change, I didn’t quite believe her. I almost dismissed it as a PR spiel.

After all, apart from a few corporates like TATAs, who’re supporting athletes from weaker sections of the society, the “sports-based social inclusion” model is not used in India. (In Africa, on the other hand, the sports based inclusion model is gaining acceptance, with football and athletics being the chosen mediums).
But, as we continued chatting, and she gave me more details, it was intriguing. Spring Sport & Sustainability (a JV between Spring Worldwide & Perfect Relations Limited) is purely focused on community development, via Sport. In doing so, they involve corporate partners, who step in with time, effort and resources.

The first such experiment, titled ‘GOAL’, was rolled out in the relatively-underprivileged communities of Govindpuri, Aligaon and Sanjay Gandhi Camp, in Delhi. Multiple stakeholders collaborated in this project- NGOs (Naz, Deepalaya, Prerna and FXB); Netball Federation of India; schools and colleges; and Standard Chartered Bank.

70 girls were enrolled in the program, which entailed a 45-hour modular training course covering 3 broad areas of communication, wellness and entrepreneurship, including financial literacy. The girls also received professionally coached Netball sessions once a week. There were scholarships for meritious girls. What however, acted as a major impetus was the fact that the budding Netball team had a chance to qualify & become part of the national team.

Netball in action

38 Standard Chartered executives contributed their time and skills to the success of GOAL by designing the modules on Environment, Communication and Financial Literacy. 

Anjali Gopalan of Naz Foundation is excited about the program’s success. “We wanted the girls to have fun as they learnt. Our focus was to get them out of their shell & make them independent, confident individuals.  When the girls first came in they wouldn’t even lift their heads & now they play as if the world outside doesn’t exist.  They now conduct conversations with confidence”
An important indicator of success is the retention rate. An 80% retention was achieved, a very difficult proposition in any sustainable community development.  It has obviously struck a deep chord somewhere. A community elder and father of a girl who plays in the Aligaon netball team admits, “My daughter has changed for the better. When this program started, I wasn’t sure if it will actually work. Now I am sure that her life will be much better than I thought.” [Uska jeevan aur bhi sukhi hoga]

Standard Chartered Bank is committed to supporting this initiative, and plans to extend to Mumbai and Chennai by end of this year. 

Anita is passionate about this whole tri-partite approach involving poor communities, Sport, and companies. I completely agree with her, and eagerly look forward to integrate her ideas into the Growth-for-All movement.

1/3rd of world’s blind are in India; Sankara Nethralaya’s unique business model that takes care of the poor

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

Economic Times has recently recognized Dr S.S Badrinath, the founder of Sankara Nethralaya as its ‘Corporate Citizen of the Year’. While the achievements of this wonderful institution are truly creditable, what struck me most in the ET feature( ” The Modest Doctor with a Great Vision“) was the ‘business model’ that was described.

On the one hand, India has a third of all blind people in the world, and mostly poor. Coupled with the fact that we also have the largest number of diabetics,  eye care is truly a challenge, which needs the best of talent and equipment. On the other hand, early prescription and use of corrective glasses is often all that is required; around 6-7% of blind people in India are that way because they do not use corrective glasses!

Sankara Nethralaya’s business model is a self-sustaining one. Poor, needy patients get free treatment, while the richer ones pay( an important fact being that treatment is of such high quality that even well-to-do patients aspire to get treated here). So, the rich subsidize the poor. The institution accepts donations for capital investments — especially equipment which is costly and has to be imported.

ET reports that this ‘business model’ has enabled Sankara Nethralaya to today employ over 1,200 people, treat 1,500 patients daily, and perform over 125 surgeries a day. About 50% of the consultations and 40% of the surgeries are done free of cost.

Can other hospitals replicate this unique, self-sustaining model, where the poor get affordable treatment and the rich get quality-care, across all aspects of healthcare? Why just healthcare? What about education? Housing?

The Great Debate: should corporates do CSR? what kind? how much should they spend?

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

CSR at work!

The last one week has seen an unusual amount of public debate, involving leading CEOs and others, about the kind of corporate social responsibility that makes sense for them.

While reporting on the Leadership Summit 2007, HT covered the views of Infosys’ Nandan Nilekani, and Unilever’s Harish Manwani. Nilekani, a leading philanthropist in his personal capacity, believes that corporates have limited ability to spend on CSR given the need to protect shareholder interests. Hence, he asserts that promoters and corporate honchos must do more in their personal capacity. An interesting viewpoint, but one that begs an argument. First, companies will build a foundation for future revenue growth by investing in the economic development, and thereby increasing the purchasing power of a large section of the Indian population. High revenue growths cannot be sustained by focusing on urban and middle-class markets alone. Next, companies need to build bridges with all sections of the Indian population in order to ensure that they don’t face a backlash, as corporate retailers currently are. It is, therefore, in the shareholders’ interests to support CSR investments. If presented correctly, they are likely to reward companies for CSR, as they have done for corporate governance, in the past. And, yes, of course, company promoters( who have a lot of money) and corporate honchos( who may not have as much) must also do their bit.

Harish Manwani’s view is that CSR, to be sustainable, must have a related business benefit also. For instance, Hindustan Unilever’s Project Shakti has enabled over 30,000 underprivileged women to earn Rs 1000/-+ p.m, by becoming sales entrepreneurs. So, while people get livelihoods, HUL expands its rural distribution and sales. Similarly, through its ‘Hand-wash Awareness’ campaign, HUL promotes hygiene, but there is an indirect benefit for brand Lifebuoy. (Similarly, I know that L&T offers vocational training to rural youth, and in the process, ensures that it has a ready workforce for its booming construction business, where talent is in short supply).

This point-of-view is perfectly logical, but it throws up several intriguing issues. For one, where do you draw a line? For instance, should one support a sales promotion where a company promises Rs ‘x’, per unit sold, to a social cause? Or, what about Posco’s sudden espousal of CSR when it faces a huge backlash on land acquisition? So, while companies like HUL may commit to CSR with all sincerity, there may be a nagging suspicion in some quarters, on account of the perceived business benefits. For instance, during my recent visit to Jharkand, an NGO told me that they had turned down an offer to be an alliance partner for Project Shakti, for precisely these reasons.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

While we are groping for answers, there comes along an interesting newsitem in today’s Economic Times, about Nachiket Mor moving from ICICI Bank, to ICICI Foundation. The important part of the story was the likely commitment from ICICI Bank, to spend 1% of net profits on issues relating to inclusive growth. Now, that is an interesting development!

I have been debating the “right amount of spend” issue with several people, including at a corporate panel discussion that I was part of, yesterday. I think 1% is absolutely perfect: it is a figure that shareholders will support, and will make an impact. The important thing about this spend is the multiplier effect it has, on actual economic activity. During my recent trip to Jharkand, with Pradan, I was astounded to find that a Rs 1/- spend enables villagers to raise Rs 10/- from government grants or loans; and each rupee they raise generates economic activity worth Rs 10/-. So, the overall multiplier effect is 1:100 !

A final observation on how corporates execute CSR. Some, like Dr Reddy’s Foundation and Bharti Foundation, have set up their own, large teams, whereas others work with existing NGOs.  The former is not scaleable, and will raise questions about overheads, headcount, etc. Whereas, working with existing NGOs represents a long-term, low-cost option. There are literally a million NGOS in India, and many of them are extremely sincere, but desperately need financial support. This could be a win-win relationship for both. ( See an interesting article ‘The Silent Army’ in Economics Times)