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Investment in women key to better future: HCL Foundation

HCL Foundation believes that CSR initiatives should not be like a check book charity, but it must be based on international standards of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation in development

Nidhi Pundhir, Director, HCL Foundation
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Nidhi Pundhir, Director, HCL Foundation

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With an objective to be the source code for sustainable socio-economic development, HCL Foundation has been making an encouraging difference and impact through its various programmes and initiatives. Nidhi Pundhir, Director, HCL Foundation, in an exclusive interview with Bizz Buzz outlines the Foundation's social development goals

HCL Technologies set up HCL Foundation in 2011 for its corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative. Its vision is to be the source code for sustainable socio-economic development. As a responsible corporate citizen, HCL Technologies has been taking up CSR projects in all our locations all along

We want to be the source code for sustainable socio-economic and environmental development. We focus on nurturing clean, green and healthy communities in rural and urban settings

What made you tilt toward social development?

HCL Foundation was officially incepted in 2011 as the corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm of HCL Technologies. Our vision is to be the source code for sustainable socio-economic development. As a responsible corporate citizen, HCL Technologies has been taking up CSR projects in all our locations all along. Our employees have enormous passion, zeal and untiring efforts to create a positive change in the world around them. Hence, they have been volunteering their time, skills and resources, especially in education, skilling and environment conservation. The official launch of the HCL Foundation was envisioned to bring an organizational approach toward social development. It has provided an official platform for HCLites to volunteer, pool resources and maximize the impact of CSR projects.

Which are some of your favourite programme and why?

We have five flagship programmes and several special projects. However, there is a common thread running through all of them. It is to transform the marginalized and the unreached lives through scientific approaches. We use an inclusive, integrated development approach as a metric to measure the outcome of our interventions which span across themes and the lifecycle. So, it isn't easy to point out one or two programmes as our favourites. However, HCL Grant is unique because it seeks to strengthen and empower NGOs, the fifth estate of India. It demonstrates our conviction to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and National Missions through well-structured partnerships with NGOs selected after a thorough due-diligence process. The annual grant of Rs16.5 crores ($2.25 million) supports award-winning breakthrough projects of NGOs working in rural areas in the categories of environment, health and education. Today, the HCL Grant is recognized as one of India's most sought-after validations amongst NGO ecosystems.

Which is India's most required development programme?

We cannot take up social development with one or two isolated programmes. It calls for multisectoral and multidimensional thinking. As a nation, we are obliged to respond to a universal call-to-action in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) consisting of 17 goals and 169 targets. There are also related thematic issues such as water, energy, climate, oceans, urbanization, transport, science and technology. They precisely reflect the needs of our societies. What's more, there are well-defined agendas with specific timeframes and best practices that countries can share among themselves. Hence, our focus should be on capacity-building for the SDGs and commit to standards and indices to understand our progress in achieving the goals and targets. We are already in the right direction as we have national missions based on these international conventions and agreements on social development matters. We have programs to empower marginalized and disadvantaged sections of the society including marginalized girls, children in difficult circumstances, the elderly, victims of human trafficking, victims of substance abuse, people with disabilities and special needs, tribal communities as well as daily wagers and urban slum dwellers working in unorganized sectors.

However, the emphasis should be on scientific approaches and creating models that can be scaled up and replicated. At HCL Foundation, we regard the impactful and scalable models as source codes of development. We need to identify and back them up to the hilt. While we talk of SDGs and national missions, it is also crucial to consider the local context while setting the targets and devising the methods to achieve them. One of the practical approaches to creating high impact with the projects in local communities is to adopt co-creation, which is about enlisting the participation of the intended beneficiaries, right from the beginning and throughout the project lifecycle.

What are the points to be kept in mind to formulate a strategy for CSR activities for each industry?

We must know that we are dealing with limited resources and enormous problems. Hence, the focus should be on effective allocations. There should be mechanisms to measure the outcomes. Data and metrics are essential to evaluate the progress and make course corrections when required. Rigorous transparency and accountability are imperative. In other words, CSR initiatives must be based on international standards of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation in development. We at HCL Foundation believe that CSR should not be like a check book charity. CSR projects should also create enough opportunities for the members of the organizations to contribute their time and skills. They should be ideally run the way businesses are run with specific goals, vision and strategies. There must be clear, measurable indicators of success. We prefer a project-based approach and are keen on weaving partnerships wherever possible for some of these reasons. Again, co-creation shows the way. We must exploit proven models such as public-private partnerships that provide the scope for leveraging the resources of the public sector and the efficiencies of the private sector. Systems thinking is another imperative. It is about looking at various underlying systems that are in play. And developing solutions from the perspective of different systems. For instance, while addressing malnutrition, the outcomes will be better if the interventions strengthen the household income, education and orientation of adults. In other words, though malnutrition is an issue of the health domain, a sustainable solution calls for the appreciation of social and economic systems affecting the target population. Environmental sustainability should be at the heart of all projects.

How would you describe HCL's CSR activities and the overall rationale behind these programmes?

We want to be the source code for sustainable socio-economic and environmental development. We focus on nurturing clean, green and healthy communities in rural and urban settings. Everyone is empowered and equipped to reach their full potential.

Do you see any mileage for the company?

CSR is not about strategic benefits - directly or indirectly. We go by the needs and gaps existing in the society and not that of the company. However, organizations live in a community and not in isolation. Hence, when there is a positive development in a particular society, it benefits organizations that exist in it. CSR improves an organization's relationship with local communities and other external stakeholders such as regulators. There are gains in terms of goodwill. But none of these factors figure in the conception and execution of our CSR projects. Our only motive is social development.

Which are some of the most satisfying programmes you have worked on?

We have impacted almost 3 million lives in 21 States and three Union Territories across the country. What we have done so far gives us immense satisfaction. Personally, I am happy that we could create invaluable partnerships - we have a network of 200+ partners and have 21 MoUs (memorandum of understanding) with government agencies. Also, everyone in the team is proud of our efforts toward ecosystem conservation that has contributed toward sustainable development of the planet, alongside impacting the lives of people.

How important is Women's Day and is enough being done for social development?

This is a very significant day for all of us as it is meant to celebrate the achievements of women from all walks of life. Since 2016, HCL Foundation has transformed the lives of almost three million people and more than half of them are girls and women. We focus on strengthening women collectives such as women self-help groups to enable them to be the earning members and entrepreneurs of the society. We also support their education and run nutrition and health-related initiatives catering to their specific needs. We find that investment in women leads not only to their empowerment, but also raises the living standards of their families and ensures a better future for their children. There has been a significant improvement in women's empowerment in our country. We need to continue to strengthen our efforts to impact more lives and keep adding to what we have already accomplished to enable the realization of equal rights for women, especially from the underserved communities.

What could be the ideal percentage of company revenues that should be devoted to CSR activities?

We welcome the mandatory two per cent spending on CSR. We are only responding to the needs of society. During a crisis, societal needs become urgent and diverse. In such contexts, business organizations should consider stepping up their contributions.

Vincent Fernandes
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