GMR Varalakshmi Foundation follows empowerment approach, Says Meena Raghunathan

GMR Group’s mandate for CSR stems from the ‘Vision’ itself, which states “GMR Group will be an institution in perpetuity that will build entrepreneurial organizations, making a difference to society through creation of value.”

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GMR Varalakshmi Foundation (GMRVF), the CSR arm of the GMR Group. It’s aim is to boost the quality of life of communities around the locations that has the Group’s presence. GMR Group is doing good CSR works through GMRVF.

Meena Raghunathan, Director, Community Service, GMR Varalakshmi Foundation (GMRVF) speaks to India CSR Network about the philosophy and works of the Foundation. She says, Foundation follows an empowerment approach rather than charity approach. It is not run as an obligation but it is a DNA of the GMR Group to give back to the society.

Edited excerpts of the Interview:

What is GMRVF’s philosophy on Social Good and working for the welfare of the communities around its projects?

Inclusive growth is the objective of GMRVF. As per Group philosophy, GMRVF Works with communities around GMR businesses. GMRVF initiates its CSR activities as soon as the decision to commence business at a site is taken. The idea is to provide the necessary support to the community surrounding the Group’s businesses right from the start and not wait for the Company to commence operations, make profits and then start CSR.

GMR Group’s mandate for CSR stems from the Vision itself, which states “GMR Group will be an institution in perpetuity that will build entrepreneurial organizations, making a difference to society through creation of value.” Thus making a difference to society has been made an integral part of the Group’s vision implying that all businesses have to keep this societal goal as part of doing the business itself. The concept of shared value is inherent in the goal of creation of value in which the whole society benefits, rather than just aiming for profit maximization.

With an intensive brainstorming in the initial years of our work, it was decided to focus on the most essential and basic needs of the communities viz. Education, Health, Hygiene and Sanitation and Empowerment and Livelihoods, but keeping the scope within these thrust areas very broad so that all which is needed to fulfil these can be taken up. We also felt that we should draw geographical boundaries to make a meaningful and sustainable impact.

Thus mandate of GMRVF has become to work with the communities neighboring GMR Group’s business operations to enhance their quality of life. The vision of the Foundation is to make sustainable impact on the human development of under-served communities through initiatives in Education, Health and Livelihoods.

GMRVF follows an empowerment approach rather than charity approach. GMRVF is not run as an obligation but it is a DNA of the GMR Group to give back to the society.

How is GMRVF unique in its approach? What are the firsts associated with GMRVF?

GMRVF is run just like the businesses of GMR Group with complete professionalism. It is governed by a Board of Directors comprising of eminent personalities in different fields. It has its own professional staff drawn from top academic institutions who are dedicated to the cause of community development. It has its annual operating plans and budgets duly approved by the Board. There is a periodic review by the Chairman of the Board and timely guidance is provided.

Foundation is currently working in 27 locations and locale-specific programs are designed and implemented at each location based on the felt needs of the communities.

Another unique feature in the functioning of Foundation is the development of Standard Operating Procedures for all the programs. These SOPs help us standardize the programs at different locations and guide the teams to implement the programs systematically.

Frequent monitoring of programs by the management, Board and regular internal and external evaluations are conducted to ensure quality and impactful implementation of programs.

GMRVF is the one of early organizations to recognize the need for skilling and as far back as 2003 set up its first vocational training institute. The unique feature of the skill training program is the leveraging of business links to forge industry partnerships in skill building programs. The business platform has been also utilized to leverage marketing opportunities for the products made by women Self Help Group members supported by GMRVF.

Our Foundation believes that Sanitation is another important area to promote community well-being and built its first community toilet in 1998.

Gifted Children program is another unique program of GMRVF through which educational support is being provided to over 200 children from their Std. I till they get their first job. Began 15 years back, the first batch of 10 students was a great success, with 4 of them becoming engineers, 2 chartered accountants, and 1 girl selected for higher education in USA.

What are the two top most focus areas for GMRVF and why so?

Education and Skilling are the two most focused areas of GMRVF as we believe that these are the areas that will have sustainable positive impact on the communities that we work with.

What are the key challenges that you come across while carrying out your foundation works?

The issues faced by the community members we serve are diverse and complex. It is difficult to identify the most pressing causes and deserving beneficiaries towards whom we can channelize our efforts and resources. Needs and expectations from the communities are always very high.

Tell us more about Delhi Airport’s CSR works. Being the largest Airport project, is it a showcase of your CSR works?

At Indira Gandhi International Airport, the CSR unit of Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) is working in three communities namely Mehram Nagar, Savda Ghevra JJ Colony and Shahabad Mohammadpur. DIAL-CSR is directly working with an approximate population of 20,000 in these locations apart from running a vocational training center for dropout youth from disadvantaged communities. Over 4000 youth have been trained in about 10 different vocational skills at the Center for Empowerment and Livelihoods with 85% of them settling in different jobs or self-employment ventures.

After School Learning Centers (ASLC) for students of Std. VI to X and Kid Smart Early Learning Centers are being run at Savda which benefited about 1200 children. Over 400 kids passed out of the three Balwadis set up in the project communities.

Provided inclusive education, physiotherapy, speech therapy, aids and appliances and other supports to over 300 differently abled persons through Samarth center set up at Savda. Primary health care support has been provided through a clinic to over 800 patients and ante-natal and post-natal support has been provided to over 2000 pregnant and lactating women.

Apart from the programs implemented at Delhi, DIAL also supported other GMR locations in providing vocational training to over 10000 youth and also to create sanitation facilities to about 5000 families. Two Mobile Medical Units are being launched to provide health care services to about 1000 people every week and Gifted Children scheme is being launched benefiting 25 under-privileged children.

Please share with us the highlights of GMRVF support towards Government initiatives? Are you working in the areas of Skill India, Swachh Bharat and similar campaigns?

We at GMRVF believe that there is a great need to supplement government efforts in every area of human development to facilitate faster progress of the country. In the area of education, GMRVF partners about 350 government schools to support them with required infrastructure, additional teachers, teaching and learning material etc. reaching out to over 38000 children.

Further, in partnership with ICDS department, 150 Anganwadis are being supported by Foundation which provides quality pre-school education and nutrition support to the children of 3-5 years of age. In Bangalore, in partnership with the Karnataka Education Department, Foundation runs 12 tent schools which are providing bridge education to about 1000 children of migrant labour.

GMRVF is into skilling since 2003 and is supporting Government’s mission of Skill India by training over 6000 youth every year in its 13 vocational training centers. These centers trained over 45000 youth so far with 85% settlement.

Recognizing the importance of Sanitation, Foundation built 26 public toilets and 14 school toilets apart from renovating 70 toilet blocks in Govt. Schools. Over 1000 families have been supported by the Foundation to leverage the Government’s Individual Sanitary Lavatories scheme.

It is the resolve of our Foundation to support the Government in every possible way to accelerate the nation building initiatives.

How your employees at large are sensitized towards the foundation works? Are they encouraged to pitch in in order to make the campaigns more effective?

Social Responsibility is one of the core values of GMR Group and employees of the Group are encouraged to contribute personal time, attention and effort towards community development and social causes.

GMRVF creates lot of opportunities for the employees to participate/contribute to Foundation activities. It is part of induction of every new employee of GMR Group to visit Foundation activities at their location which provides scope for them to understand the wide range of activities the Foundation is doing and select the causes that are of interest for them to contribute.

Regular communications on Foundation works and employee engagement programs are shared with all the employees of the Group to motivate them further to participate in Foundation activities.

GMR employees across locations participate/contribute towards various Foundation programs such as notebook donation drives, blood donation camps, teaching English and soft skills to under-privileged children, sponsoring educational expenses of Gifted Children etc.

Employees also participate in 3 months Social Volunteering Projects where employee teams from across different departments implement social projects of their choice for which Foundation supports. Every year, GMR colleagues contribute over 15000 person hours of time in community service activities.

Mr GM Rao had pledged his entire wealth towards GMRVF few years ago. Tell us more about it?

In order to ensure that the GMRVF runs even after the lifetime of the founder, Sri G M Rao has pledged his entire portion of the wealth for Foundation, which is irrevocable submitted to the SEBI. This gives the Foundation sustainability and security for its activities.

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