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Shaina Ganapathy from Embassy Group Talks about the Power of Collaboration in CSR

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With an aim to build a sustainable ecosystem and actively contribute to the Social, Economic, and Environmental Development of the communities in which it operates, the Embassy Group has been focusing its CSR initiatives in addressing the education and healthcare challenges in collaboration with the government. The group has been pioneering in collective CSR approach by undertaking CSR projects in collaboration with the government as well as other corporates.
Shaina Ganapathy, Head – Community outreach, Embassy Group, in an exclusive interaction with The CSR Journal elaborates about the CSR initiatives of Embassy Group and the way in which the corporates can contribute towards post COVID recovery in India, especially in the education and healthcare sector. Following are the excerpts from the interview.

1. Children have been identified among the most vulnerable population amid COVID-19 and ensuing lockdowns. With the schools closed and social distancing restrictions, their development has been affected severely. What steps are required to contain the damage caused to their lives from the corporates and governments alike?

The CSR initiative of the Embassy Group caters to the needs of the government schools. These are the lowest rung schools in the education system of India.
When the lockdown was announced in March,  we realized that many of the parents of the children studying in these schools could not go to work and would not be able to earn money to provide them with food. We decided that ensuring that they are getting food, is the top priority. So we reached out to all our corporate tenants in our tech parks, as well as our employees at the embassy, and focused on delivering ration to the families of the children. We went back and gave two to three rounds of ration to these families. We extended this support not only to the government schools that we support, but also the other low-income families as identified by the government.
The second aspect that the corporates can do is not withdrawing their support from the NGOs that cater to young children. This is because if the NGOs are backed with resources, they tend to find a way to reach those in distress and help them. We experienced this ourselves. Across 17 government schools in one region in Bengaluru, we managed to reach every child on phone and speak to them about their mental health, about their and their families’ physical health, and we managed to send help where needed. We could do this, only because our NGO partners were functional. So mental health is the second major concern that we need to address.
The third aspect is that of education. The corporates and the government have endeavoured to teach online during this time. For government school students, Whatsapp has been very effective as a medium to deliver education. We collected the phone numbers from the students when we went to deliver the ration to them. We asked their parents to ensure that the children have access to the phones for at least an hour every day. We then made sure that the children receive some activity, or video on Whatsapp every day, which would make sure that they stay in touch with education and are mentally active amid the pandemic ensued lockdown.

2. What role can CSR play in modernizing the education system in India?

Technological development is one place where CSR can contribute to, for modernising the education system in India. The technology in the classrooms in most schools in the country is poor. In addition to this, the teachers and other employees of the school are not skilled enough to use technology effectively for education.  Corporates can play a huge role in bridging this gap, by coming up with technological solutions and provide training for its use.
Another area where CSR can lead in is health. A lot of government school students do not have access to basic healthcare. Through CSR the corporates can support the government in delivering healthcare to these children, not just in the form of medical care but also preventive healthcare. We have been working towards the same in collaboration with four other corporates, wherein we deliver health program across 133 schools in cities including Noida, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Chennai, which is largely preventive in nature.
Infrastructure is another area where corporates can contribute towards modernisation of education. A lot of schools require safe and functional infrastructure. This is especially true in the government schools where often there are broken windows and furniture, damaged roofs and dysfunctional technology. Through CSR these infrastructure problems can be fixed, made safe, and maintaining the same.

3. What are the focus areas of the Embassy Group for their CSR initiatives?

At Embassy Group, we partner heavily with the government for our CSR initiatives. In fact, we do not do anything outside the government partnership. We mainly focus on identifying and fixing the infrastructure needs in the government schools. It could be anything from fixing a broken tap to providing them with a brand new building.
Our second area of focus for Embassy is the education outcomes inside a government school. We have realised while working with government schools is that there is a lack of basic resources. The students have textbooks, but no notebooks. The uniforms are provided but only one pair is given. Technology is almost non-existent. And most importantly, teachers are not there in every classroom. So we decided to fix the resources first, and then through our NGO partners, we have appointed about 90 teachers/mentors that stand side by side with the government school teachers to make sure that the delivery of subjects is happening in a manner that it should.
The third important aspect that we focus on is collaboration. We at the Embassy group felt the need to collaborate not only with the government but also with our corporate tenants and employees of Embassy as well as employees of these corporate tenants. We do a lot of our work collectively with these corporates. We have a series of conversations and discussions with the CSR heads of the corporates where we talk about the common problems in the geographies that we work, and we identify a few problems that are glaring and needs help. We then collaboratively work to fix the said set of problems.

4. Please shed some light on the Corporate Connect program by the Embassy group, and elaborate on how will it contribute to effective community development.

We have about 200 corporate tenants in our tech parks and all of them have a CSR mandate. Most of these tenants, just like us, focus their CSR energies on education and healthcare. But all of us work in silos. So our endeavour at the Embassy has been to reach out to these corporates and tell them that we as a developer have the expertise to bring in infrastructure support to any project in the field of education that they are working on. There would be no need for them to engage with a middle man or a contractor. Collaborating with us would also be cost-effective for them as our procurement is done centrally and we would also provide them with project management service pro bono. So we manage the entire project from surveying to drawing out of scope, to developing entire infrastructure and deliver it to our tenant. They come in the project as our funding partner and we also pitch in up to 50 per cent of the cost almost all of the time.
When we started doing this, a lot of corporates realised the value of being able to do a lot more if we came together. We demonstrated this effectively when it was just the beginning of the pandemic and the education department needed sanitisers to conduct the 10th standard exams across Karnataka. In order to help the government, we reached out to our corporate connect members and managed to raise the amount of a Crore. Using this, we reached sanitisers to over 2900 schools across the state where the exams were being conducted, for six days. Over 9.2 lakh students and teachers visited these centres every day. This could not have been possible if Embassy would have taken up the task on its own.
Through corporate connect, we have done about 46 projects and engaged with about 26 corporates.

5. How is the Embassy Group contributing towards meeting India’s Sustainable Development Goals?

A year ago, we were asked to align our activities with the UN SDGs and we found out that seven of the SDGs matched with what we were doing. So through our activities, we focus on the areas of hunger, maternity and child care, infrastructure support, among others.

6. What role is Embassy group looking to assume in the new year, for the post-COVID recovery phase in India?

Our first priority is sustaining the work of our NGO partners who are already working on the ground but are stuck because of COVID-19. This means all of our education initiatives will continue. Fortunately, our infrastructure work never really stopped. Going forward, our main focus will be on reaching out to our government partners and ask them how we can help them to get back on their feet.