Home CATEGORIES Business Ethics & Philanthropy Dr Rajan Samuel, MD, Habitat for Humanity India talks about Housing for...

Dr Rajan Samuel, MD, Habitat for Humanity India talks about Housing for All and the role of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

‘Roti, Kapada, and Makaan’ are recognised as the basic needs for human survival. Driven by the vision that everyone needs a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 as a grassroots effort. The housing organisation has become a leading global non-profit working in more than 70 countries.
In India since 1983, Habitat for Humanity has supported more than 38 million people by helping them build or improve a place they can call home, build improved sanitation units and provide humanitarian aid and disaster-resilient shelter solutions in the aftermath of natural disasters. Through financial support, volunteering or adding a voice to support affordable housing, everyone can help families achieve the strength, stability and self-reliance they need to build better lives for themselves.
In an exclusive interaction with The CSR Journal, Dr Rajan Samuel, MD, Habitat for Humanity India, discusses the housing situation in the country and the role of the organisation in influencing it for further improvement.

1. What are the campaigns that Habitat for Humanity is working on in India presently? What has its impact been so far?

Habitat for Humanity is an infrastructure-driven organisation. For us, campaigns are generally linked to broad programs. For example, back in 2015, we launched the ‘Sensitise to Sanitise’ campaign. The focus was to ensure that every Indian has access to sanitation facilities. Therefore, the mandate of sensitise to sanitise coalition was to bring in different partners from across the country and build a focused and target-based intervention.
In December 2022, we launched the Green Campaign. The mandate of the Green campaign is to promote clean living. The campaign is aimed at creating more people to be committed to green living at both – macro as well as micro levels. For this campaign, we are engaging with the students and the corporates and enabling them to make more sustainable lifestyle choices.

2. How did Habitat for Humanity India work to contribute to India’s fight against COVID-19?

We wanted to be very strategic in our approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. After the first wave of the pandemic, we came up with a long-term strategy called Road to Recovery 1.0 which was transformed into 2.0 after the second wave. Through this initiative, we aimed at providing a second home for the poor. We were trying to aid in providing isolation facilities for people from the slums in urban areas and the rural areas, and people at the bottom of the pyramid.
The first thing that we did in Mumbai was to set up a Habitat Care Center (HCC), in partnership with the government. During the peak of the pandemic, hospitals were running over capacity. For a person to receive care from a hospital, they had to have a positive PCR report. At HCC centres, there was no such requirement. Anybody could walk in if they wanted to check their Oxygen-level or have to be admitted for care.
Later, we also invested in augmenting the medical infrastructure of government hospitals across the country. All in all, we were able to impact almost 1.3 million people through our interventions during the pandemic.

3. Please elaborate on the Green Habitat Campaigns that the organisation is undertaking with schools and corporates. What is its purpose, modus operandi, and impact?

The green campaign is aimed at creating awareness. We have started with the schools, and we have a goal to impact at least 10,000 students. As we all know that over 50% of our population is below the age of 30. In order to make a real impact, we need to catch them when they are young and ignite the fire of passion towards environment conservation. Through this program, we want to create 10,000 champions from across the country to enable them to serve as a catalyst of change.
We are also collaborating with corporates as part of their employee engagement. With this form of engagement, we are looking to create green champions and create an opportunity for people to raise money for the cause.

4. Economists have predicted a recession in 2023. How can NGOs across the country brace themselves not to get hit by it too severely?

We have already gone through a major pandemic recently, which has taught us many lessons. Anybody running an NGO has already done this exercise as part of their business continuity plan – that is, to reduce operational costs. We at Habitat have started this campaign internally, wherein we try to see how we can do more with less. The one thing we have to do is make use of technology to maximise efficiency and impact. NGOs can embed technology at all levels, especially for monitoring purposes. In addition, the NGOs can move their base from major cities to tier 2 and tier 3 cities. This not only aids in cost-cutting but also enables the NGO to stay closer to the community.
Apart from this, there is an excellent opportunity for NGOs on the horizon in the form of the recently established Social Stock Exchange.
One of the most effective, tried and tested methods that NGOs can employ for effective implementation and to insulate themselves from financial shocks is collaboration and partnership. Like we did in our Sensitise to Sanitise campaign, the NGOs can collaborate with other like-minded organisations for common causes. In this way, we can work together that can enable us to minimise our delivery costs so that more money can be allocated to the program.

5. What are the goals of the organisation for 2023?

In 2023, we will continue to talk about shelter because, in India, there are many people with no roof over their heads. We have lobbied with the Minister of Housing and also with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs that they should include housing as part of schedule seven, to allow for the investment of CSR funds in this domain.
Another thing we would like to do this year is scale up our operations. We have identified three states as our strategic states for scale and impact – Maharashtra, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu. In these areas we want to adopt a clustered or an integrated approach wherein we would be putting housing at the centre of our focus, but also engage in livelihood skilling and other activities.

6. What are some of the ways in which CSR can aid in ensuring the smooth running of NGOs?

Corporates right now are working on a program mode. They are making commitments on an annual basis. In order to make a significant impact, an NGO requires sustained funding for an extended period of time. To aid that, corporates need to make long-term commitments, wherein the funding can come on an annual basis, but their support for the project can extend beyond a year. This way, the NGOs can plan their project efficiently and can multiply the ROI, thus, maximising the impact.
Another thing that is essential to ensure a smooth running of an NGO is a fund to support its own employees and infrastructure. Corporations need to look at the overall cost of the NGOs, and set aside a percentage of the total grant for the NGO’s internal operations. This aids the NGO to have the endurance to sustain and run the operation.
Apart from this, I would also appeal to the corporates to allocate some amount of CSR funds for the capacity building of the organisation. This will aid the organisations to scale their operations, build systems for automation, bring subject experts for consultation, and overall adapt better to the changing landscape in the country.