CSR Interview with Dr. Loveleen Kacker, CEO of Tech Mahindra Foundation


NEW DELHI: The CSR Leadership Series with Nayan Mitra promises to surprise every time. So, now we have a true humanitarian who has served the country not only in her official capacity in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), but, also later, spearheading one of the key challenges of India – Skill Development as the CEO of the Tech Mahindra Foundation.

In this interview, Dr. Loveleen Kacker, CEO of Tech Mahindra Foundation speaks of the nature of work that has been done in this sector by the Foundation, the challenges faced, the organizational structure that facilitate the work, the implementation partners that are key in implementation, the importance of cluster development, social return on investment and some shared memories.

Tech Mahindra Foundation has been doing some commendable work in the area of Skill Development. Can you tell us more about it?

We began working in skill development in 2012, even before the Skill India mission was launched. SMART (Skills for Market Training) first started in Delhi and Hyderabad with three centres. Today, we are running 100 SMART centres in 11 cities across India. Our aim has always been to scale up without compromising on the quality of training delivered. We have never chased numbers for the sake of it. We went slow initially, and invested extensively in curriculum development and training our trainers. Today that hard work is paying off.

While doing this work at the grassroots level, what are the three main challenges that you have faced?

There are multiple challenges in the skill development sector at operational and conceptual levels both. At an operational level, it’s difficult to get quality trainers and retain them. It is a challenge to find trainers outside cities.

At a conceptual level, we need to reexamine whether the current model of short term, free skill development courses are delivering long term value, both to employers and to the beneficiaries. It takes a long time to develop soft skills. When the duration of training is too short, and quality not sufficiently high, job retention becomes an issue.

Thirdly, skill development needs to be industry-led. It is essential to build in backward linkages, and have a closed loop model where employer requirements dictate skill development. This will help ensure that trainings are in sync with industry needs. We have made it a point to build industry partnerships to overcome this particular challenge in SMART.

What kind of organisational structure do you have to support such a huge project?

Tech Mahindra Foundation has a team strength of over 100 strong. Each city has an associate dedicated to managing SMART. Additionally, they are supported by the head office in Delhi. All of this though, is held together by well-thought out SOPs which are the backbone of the programme. We have procedures in place right from mobilisation, to admissions to assessments and finally placement. We are also selective when choosing our partners, we work hard to bring them on the same page as us, and we also support them in capacity building. Additionally, we use technology to make things easier – our curricula are shared on tablets, a real time MIS keeps track of every single student enrolled.

Who are your external implementing partners?

We have knowledge partners, and we have our training partners. We work with more than 70 implementing partners across the country. This is in addition to consulting with the industry about training and ensuring our curricula are up to date with sector requirements.

What is the importance of cluster development in skill training?

Cluster development is the answer to targeted skilling and job retention. It ensures that students get and retain jobs. It makes sense to set up a vocational training to cater to the needs of the local economy. What’s the point in doing something which won’t generate local employment or help youth seize local opportunities? If we adopt a market-led approach to skill development, cluster development is the logical end.

How do you assess your impact in what you are doing?

We keep track of all our trainees for 6 months after they complete their courses. We track their placement, their salaries and growth. Further, we bring in external agencies to carry our impact assessment. In 2015, KPMG carried out a study of SMART, and found that there is a Social Return on Investment (SROI) of Rs 13.29 for every rupee invested.

Please do share with us one of your memorable incidents in taking this programme forward.

One of SMART’s proudest achievements is SMART+, our skills training for persons with disabilities. The best way to support someone with disabilities is to empower them to earn a living, so that he or she is not dependent on the charity of parents or relatives. We regularly hold meetings to which our beneficiaries and their families are invited. One of my most memorable incidents took place in Hyderabad a few years ago. The mother of one of our visually impaired trainees came up on stage, she was in tears. She said that when her son was born, he was born blind. Her mother-in-law and husband wanted her to abandon the baby, and said that he would be a burden on the family. When she refused, they turned her out of the house, and she raised her blind son on her own. Thanks to SMART+, her son got trained and placed in a job earning a decent salary. Her son supports her today. Her story is a reminder to us about what our intervention means to individual families.

About Dr. Loveleen Kacker

A leader with vision, skill and accomplishment, Loveleen has worked with governments, institutions and organisations, in important roles that involved high stakes, large budgets and diverse teams. She has held the several important positions in the IAS including Director, Madhya Pradesh State Council of Educational Research and Training (MPSCERT); Director, Administrative Training Institute, Bhopal; Deputy Secretary and Director, Ministry of Food, Government of India; Collector and District Magistrate, Betul; Resident Commissioner, Government of Madhya Pradesh; Additional Chief Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of Madhya Pradesh; and Joint Secretary, Child Development, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India.

Loveleen took over the reins of Tech Mahindra Foundation as the Chief Executive Officer in 2012 and is currently leading a team of almost hundred associates and interns at Tech Mahindra Foundation, and thousands of volunteers across Tech Mahindra Limited. With her vision for an educated and skilled India, Loveleen redefined the Foundation’s CSR policy and repositioned its work into two key areas – education and employability. Convinced about wholesome development of children and youth, she conceived the idea of ARISE or All Round Improvement in School Education, and SMART or Skills for Market Training, as the flagship programmes. Under her guidance, the SMART programme has grown from 3 skilling centres in 2012-13 to reaching the milestone of 100 SMART centres in April 2017.

Loveleen is an accomplished writer with numerous publications in child welfare, art and culture to her credit. She has authored several novels and stories for children, which fetched her national acclaim. She has been awarded the national-level Children’s Book Trust Award for children’s writers twice for her literary talents. Loveleen has been recognized for her efforts in child protection with the Article 34 Award (Individual Category) by Tulir-CPHSA. Widely travelled, she is a member of numerous institutions and has spoken at several international forums.

Loveleen holds a Master’s degree in Political Science and a Doctorate in Social Anthropology from Barkatullah University (Bhopal, India).

Interview was conducted by Nayan Mitra.

Disclaimer: The thoughts captured in the interview is solely that of the interviewee. The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network.

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