The unimaginable has happened! We are living the history that will be told to our future generations for years. Some are calling it a pandemic, and some see it as Nature taking a much-needed breather. What everyone seems to agree on is that we are living in times when mankind is both the problem and the solution.
The unprecedented nature of what we are going through has forced us to introspect on how we work, what constitutes hygiene, our relationship with nature, and our responsibility towards the communities that surround us. The current circumstances also reinforce my long-held belief that CSR is most effective when implemented at the grassroots.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the world in many ways. While it has forced us to quarantine ourselves, it has also brought us together. It has been more than a month since our country has been under a strict lockdown. During this time, the government, with the support of the private sector, is working relentlessly to ensure that India tackles the threat in the most efficient and humane manner possible.
Committed to playing our part in these efforts, we at Essar Foundation are working collaboratively with the government, both at the centre and the states, and with local NGOs. We are well aware of the fact that the worst-hit during this phase are the disadvantaged sections of the society, particularly the truly marginalised communities who may be glossed over during relief outreach. They are the homeless, daily wage earners, transgenders and women who are victims of domestic violence.
The understanding we have developed of India’s most vulnerable communities stems from years of experience. Over the last 50 years, Essar has worked closely with the communities residing in the vicinity of its operations. Since 2011, Essar Foundation has carried on the philanthropic work in a cohesive, programmatic manner.
Its activities are inspired by the concept of shared value whereby Essar strives to build an inclusive environment for the communities that it impacts through its business operations in the sectors of Energy, Infrastructure, Metals & Mining, Services, and Technology. The Foundation today reaches out to 500,000 people across 500 villages in eight Indian states in the areas of Women’s Empowerment, Livelihoods & Entrepreneurship, Education, Environment Conservation, and Healthcare & Sanitation.
Our singular focus at Essar Foundation has been on supporting these vulnerable communities. We have committed to serving 2 million (20 lakh) meals and supplying more than 155,000 masks, along with 5,000-plus Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits for doctors and police personnel. Along with three-ply face masks, we have also supplied hand sanitisers to more than 10 private and government hospitals in Mumbai. The Foundation has already provided almost 8 lakh meals, of which 20,000 per day are earmarked for the Maharashtra CM’s Relief Fund.
Apart from the provision for daily meals, relief material is being distributed across Maharashtra, the state most acutely affected by the pandemic, and in states like Gujarat, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where Essar has operations or plants. In South Mumbai, which has been declared as a COVID-19 hotspot, the Foundation has been providing essential medical supplies to several government and private hospitals, as well as police stations. A feather in our cap has been the installation of the Walk-in-Sample Kiosk (WISK) at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai.
We have been able to extend our support to the remotest villages of our Nation, some of them being Nagwa, Khairahi, Karsualal, Bandhoura, Siyari and Dumri. Be it distributing food grains to Adivasi families who may not have a ration card to avail of government benefits, or conducting village sanitisation projects and undertaking awareness sessions on hand sanitisation and social distancing, we have been successful in being frontliners for rural India with our very own employees volunteering selflessly.
The transgender community is an oft-ignored section of society. We have been able to support over 7,500 transgenders with medical essentials and over 100,000 meals. Meals are also being provided to the Mumbai Police Force, along with frontline doctors.
In the words of Samina Sheikh, a transgender who was overwhelmed by our support for her and her community, “I have received the supplies and have started distributing it amongst the community as well. A big thank you to Essar for coming to our rescue during these harsh times.”
At a time when even the privileged section of our society is struggling to obtain essentials, we can only imagine the plight of marginalised and shunned communities, like transgenders.
We believe in working for a better tomorrow. I cannot imagine business thriving in an environment where the community does not. I am more than happy to tell you that the gems of Essar, the employees, and the senior leadership, have also stepped in to extend their help. They have contributed wholeheartedly to the Essar Covid-19 Relief Fund that has been instituted with seed investment made by Essar.
We are weathering a storm that has yet to show tangible signs of subsiding. But resolve and discipline have forced the curve to plateau in some countries. Let’s work together to ensure the same for India, with a focus on making an impact at the grassroots.
(Kaustubh Sonalkar is the President Corporate HR and CEO at Essar Foundation, the CSR arm of Essar Group)