Suma Ravi belongs to that rare breed of business graduates who chose to work in the non-profit sector rather than the corporate field, way before it became a lucrative career choice. A Business Management graduate from XLRI, Suma has worked for several years in the market research industry as a qualitative researcher – in companies such as Nielsen and TNS (UAE, Hong Kong, Indonesia). She is currently Regional Director (South), CRY.
Since its inception in the 70s, Child Rights and You has won numerous awards that recognise efforts in giving India’s children a happy and healthy childhood. Most recently, Trust Research Advisory (TRA) declared CRY to be the Most Trusted Child Rights NGO in India. A rights-based approach ensures that entitlements are available to all children without any discrimination. They are universal and non–negotiable. Along with their project partners, CRY ensures that the government fulflls its duty by providing the necessary infrastructure and services.
“Children constitute almost 40% of India’s population, yet get less than 4% [set aside in the Budget]. Within this, issues of malnutrition and health get very little attention, as well as child labour, marriage and child trafficking,” says Suma.
She sees CSR as one of the ways to bring lasting change for child rights in our nation. In an exclusive interview with The CSR Journal, she gets frank about everything from partnering with corporations to aligning the goals of CRY with the SDGs for the year 2030.
How involved is corporate India in child rights?
There is a growing involvement of organisations in social issues – in measurable outcomes, in social innovation, volunteering options, digital solutions. There seems to be a greater desire to work together to find solutions.
Among the spectrum of children’s rights, education still seems to be the one most favoured. There is a long way to go in terms of understanding the issues around child marriage, child labour, trafficking and by and large, the need to create a safe environment for children.
Has the CSR mandate in the Companies Act, 2013 increased corporate participation in organisations like CRY?
Many corporates and foundations were involved with developmental work prior to the CSR Clause. In fact, as they had started early, they have gone through a learning curve and now seem to look for more sustainable solutions.
The newer organisations seem to be looking for quicker solutions and it might take them a while to realise that true change will only take place if you move the needle on power structures such as caste, gender, patriarchy etc.
Our experience at CRY has been mixed. We have started new conversations with many corporates. While some have developed into partnerships, we find that there seems to be a tendency towards more urban-centric solutions, while organisations like CRY have a large number of projects in the rural areas with grass root organisations.
Which companies is CRY partnering with for CSR and in what way?
We have long standing partners who have contributed to making a lasting change. Microsoft has their individual giving programme, ‘Give As You Earn’. Oracle stepped forward to support our monitoring and evaluation systems which we rolled out among our project partners. Shankara Build Pro has been our key sponsor for a hugely successful soccer event for years.
We also have other corporates like AON, Bajaj, Metlife, Hero, and Menzies Aviation on board. Our partnerships range from direct project funding to individual giving programmes, from employee engagement to sponsorships. Above all, we have managed to enroll them in our journey, and hence feel that the impact is far greater than what is reported.
Could you elaborate on the various ongoing programmes by CRY in India?
Our programmes are aimed at enabling sustainable change in the lives of marginalised children. Therefore, we work with children, parents/communities and the government to create awareness and take positive action for children. Our programmes and campaigns attempt to break social norms and practices that are harmful to children and to create an alternate norm that enables the fulfilment of their rights. The key issues looked into are education, health, nutrition, child labour, child marriage.
Are any of your goals aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
Yes, we are strongly aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.
SDG 3 is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. The CRY goal aims at increased access to free equitable quality primary healthcare for mothers and children such that children survive, grow and develop healthily.
SDG 4 is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all to which the CRY Goal reflects on ensuring universal access to free, equitable quality education for children in the age group of 3-18 years.
SDG 16 looks at promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development and to provide access to justice for all. In continuation to this, CRY works towards creating a protective environment for children that is free from violence, abuse and exploitation.
We identify intervention areas based on critical indicators developed to ensure that children and families from the most vulnerable communities are identified and linked to essential services including social security schemes.
Child labour in India has come into focus in recent years. CRY has been involved in this cause for decades. Take us through some statistics.
Child labour is an unfortunate reality for many children in our country. Our country has 10.13 million child labourers between 5-14 years (2011 Census data) and around 33 million are working children between 5-18 years.
We work at all three levels – self, society, and system. For the age-group of 5-14 years, we find ways to ensure that children are enrolled back to school, as the law stipulates that they should have access to free and compulsory education. For children between 15-18, the law does not support us, and thus here the key would be to have a dialogue with families and communities to treat teenagers as children in need of support and care and not as adults. Parents are linked to schemes that can increase their basket of finances, and as schools for this age category are limited, we look at increasing both availability and access to schools.
How can Indians work towards solving this issue?
When working with the issue of child labour, it is first important to understand the context, the type of industry that employs these children, systemic issues such as access to school, access to schemes, issues such as poverty, migration, debt etc. This is necessary so as to get to the root of the problem and then drive a sustainable solution. It cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
What is your role at CRY?
My association with CRY dates back to 1991. I was fortunate to have worked with the founder Rippan Kapur. I consider myself extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to work with such a visionary.
During my first stint with CRY, I worked as the Sales and Marketing as well as the Branch Co-ordinator. I left in 1994, travelled and worked in several countries in [the field of] market research. I returned to India in 2011, joined CRY again in 2013.
Currently, I am the Regional Director (South) which is part of the MANCOM team, a group of regional and functional directors, who along with the CEO take strategic decisions for the organisation, and ensure their operationalisation.
After having studied business management at XLRI, what compelled you to join a non-profit rather than follow the lucrative corporate path of your peers?
I was brought up in a small town in Kerala. My teachers, my school, the community, all stepped forward to support me and I owe a lot to them. I believe that receiving support at the right time can go a long way. I have also seen the power of individual and collective action to bring about change.
When I first joined CRY, I was happy that a person with my background had a space in the development world. Some of the things that you value in any sector hold true for the development sector too. There is so much to learn, there is an opportunity to bring my skills to the fore and I am in the company of people who are united by a cause.
It not only gives me a chance to follow my dreams but also lets me come in contact with inspiring people – everyday heroes, who believe that everyone should be treated with justice, equality, dignity. I get to hear incredible stories of courage, hope, resilience.
In what ways have non-profits evolved since you first entered the field in 1991?
When you look at the non-profit continuum, there is a whole array of NGOs. From the niche small non-profits, to the large foundations who believe that they can bring change at a scale, those who work with the government to others who are led by innovation. There is now a wide range of organisations which didn’t exist earlier.
Colleges now insist that students intern at NGOs, giving them the required exposure. The CSR entitlement has forced companies to also participate. Social entrepreneurship is huge, you have new products like social impact bonds, hence the way NGOs raise funds and use them has significantly changed too.
Apart from funds, how else can individual citizens contribute to CRY?
We at CRY believe that every individual can bring a special skill or interest to the fore and work on behalf of the child. It could be volunteering, taking forward issues with those in power, creating awareness, lending a voice against abusive and exploitative situations.
The thing to remember is that every child is entitled to being treated with dignity and respect, and so all of us can work together to create an environment where the child has potential to grow, learn and has leisure.