Home Leaders Speak Ashima Bhat, Group Head, CSR, HDFC Bank talks Impact

Ashima Bhat, Group Head, CSR, HDFC Bank talks Impact

Ashima Bhat - HDFC Bank
With an expenditure of Rs 374 crore in the last financial year, HDFC Bank is one of the largest spenders of CSR in the country, yet its focus has always been on sustainability.
“We believe that business cannot prosper if the communities in which they operate fail. Thus all our social initiatives have a concerted and long-term approach which dovetails into one of the core values of the bank; ‘Sustainability’. We believe in making a real impact on the ground, rather than simply providing monetary support,” says Ashima Bhat, Group Head, Corporate Social Responsibility at HDFC Bank who has been with the bank for over 25 years.

What is HDFC Bank Parivartan?

All the social initiatives fall under the umbrella of Parivartan, which as the name suggests means bringing about a change or making a difference in the lives of people. To give you a perspective of the impact, the bank spent INR 443.8 crore in 2018-19 under HDFC Bank Parivartan (their CSR programme) which has impacted over 3.5 crore lives across the country.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Ms. Bhat:

From contributions to people affected by Cyclone Fani to working with teachers through Navachar Pustika, innovation has been a major theme for HDFC Bank CSR programmes.

We are in an age where business and CSR are not separated from each other. As in case of business, one needs to look at new ideas to improve business, same applies to CSR. We believe that Innovation creates interest and can solve issues that earlier would have looked impossible. Innovation can lead to increased engagement, interaction, motivation, productivity and collaboration. Therefore, we try to be as innovative as we could in our CSR processes.
With regard to Cyclone Fani, being a socially responsible corporate we felt it was our duty to contribute towards helping the people who are suffering. We will restore and repair 20 government schools. The plans include refurbishing school premises and restoring sanitation facilities. But much needs to be done and HDFC Bank is committed to support the people of Odisha who have clearly witnessed tough times.
As for our Teaching-the-Teachers (3T) programme, that is truly innovation at its best. It works to draw out innovation from the participants themselves. The manual Navachar Pustika is a compilation of innovative teaching ideas contributed by teachers themselves. These include use of dramatization and puppetry to arouse curiosity amongst students.
One of the innovations in the manual that I personally found interesting is use of the board game Snakes & Ladders to teach language where each square has an alphabet to teach students the alphabet and make a word out of it.

What is your approach towards CSR? What are the areas of focus for HDFC Bank?

For change to take place, we firmly believe that we have to walk shoulder to shoulder with society in the quest towards Nation-Building. Thus, HDFC Bank through Parivartan looks to make beneficiaries an equal partner and ensure accountability; so that they may reap the benefits in the long run. The Bank works in 5 key areas of:
– Rural Development
– Skill Development and Livelihood Enhancement
– Education
– Health and Well being
– Financial Literacy & Inclusion
Under HDFC Bank Parivartan, we reach out to communities and enable them to make a transition from a vicious cycle of poverty to a virtuous cycle of growth.

How does the bank choose its implementing partners?

HDFC Bank undertakes CSR projects which are closely linked with the principles of sustainable development and shared value, with the involvement of local institutions and the community at large. The implementing partners are screened basis our criteria to ascertain the entity’s credibility and its ability to execute the proposed projects.

Could you take us through some of your CSR programmes?

We have a few flagship programmes  including the Holistic Rural Development Programme (HRDP), Sustainable Livelihood Initiative (SLI) and the annual blood donation drive.
In rural development, HRDP is a testament to our effort to help bridge the India-Bharat divide. The Bank is working across villages to bring about a sustainable change in the areas of healthcare & hygiene, financial literacy and natural resource management. So far, HRDP has reached 1,000 villages across India touching more than 3 lakh households.
Under education, HDFC Bank runs the Teaching-the-Teachers (3T) programme. The objective here is to unravel the innovation streak among school teachers in India to enable them to impart education in a more dynamic and creative manner. It has reached 14 lakh teachers and benefitted more than 1.6 crore students across 6 lakh Government schools.
Sustainable Livelihood Initiative (SLI) as the name suggest is one of the largest initiative of its kind aimed at women in the bottom of the pyramid in India. Under SLI, the Bank has already made close to 90 lakh women across thousands of villages financially independent. This financial empowerment not only benefits the womenfolk, but also their families. Thus, the Bank has been able to make a difference in the lives of close to 3.5 crore Indians in rural India.
HDFC Bank also conducts one of the largest single-day blood collection drives. This effort has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Record in 2013. Over 12 years, the bank has helped collect over 10 lakh units of blood.
Being a bank, we believe in supporting financial literacy and inclusion as more of a duty than social responsibility. Through our financial literacy programme, we have been able to reach out to over 59 lakh participants during 2017-18 across the country.

Does the company encourage employee volunteering?

Absolutely! In-fact, the bank encourages its employees to lead social initiatives. In our communications across teams, we always encourage employees to involve themselves in community activities and contribute to charities of their choice. This approach proactively engages employees to solicit their active involvement in the Bank’s CSR programmes. Our employees recently participated in a drought mitigation activity in Maharashtra, which was an eye-opening experience.
The blood donation drive is the bank’s largest employee-led initiative where our employees come together to assist and addresses the issue of shortage of blood. We also have “Payroll Giving Program” to allow employees donate a part of their salary. This amount is matched by the bank and the combined amount is donated by the employee to a cause of his/ her choice.

Are any of the goals aligned with the SDGs?

Yes. The UN set 17 goals in 2015 for the year 2030, whereas the bank has been working towards most of these goals from much before.
Our HRDP & SLI programmes have been targeted towards goals like eliminating poverty, hunger, inequality and create opportunities for decent employment, economic growth, sustainable cities and communities.
Additionally, through our health and hygiene programme, we are providing sanitation, good health and well-being. Our Teaching the Teachers (3T) programme is improving quality education and reducing inequality.

Where do you see gaps in CSR implementation in India?

The CSR space in still in a fairly nascent stage and evolving every day. I believe that as with any regulation, the industry is in a learning stage and we are working toward more meaningful implementation. At present, I feel there’s a need for better collaboration and learning between corporates to optimise efforts.