GMRVF follows an empowerment approach rather than charity approach, says Meena Raghunathan

MUMBAI: GMR Varalakshmi Foundation (GMRVF) is not run as an obligation but it is a DNA of the GMR Group to give back to the society. It follows an empowerment approach rather than charity approach. The Foundation is currently working in 25 locations and locale-specific programs are designed and implemented at each location based on the felt needs of the communities.”

In an exclusive interview with India CSR NetworkMeena Raghunathan, Executive Director – CSR, GMRVF reveals the challenges and its approach towards community over the years. Excerpts of an 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 is taken to commence business at a site. 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 Group ‘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 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 a needs-based and locale specific approach can be taken. We also felt that we should draw geographical boundaries to make a meaningful and sustainable impact.

Thus mandate of GMRVF is 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 from different fields. It has its own professional staff drawn from top academic and social development institutions who are dedicated to the cause of community development. It has its annual operating plans and budgets duly approved by the Board. There are periodic reviews in sync with the other Group businesses and timely guidance is provided. Foundation is currently working in 25 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 major  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. Today, it has skilled about 55,000 youth with 80% settlement. The unique feature of the skill training program is the leveraging of business links to forge industry partnerships in skill building programs. Such partnerships with leading industries gives our trainees an edge. The business platform has been also utilized to leverage marketing opportunities for the products made by women Self Help Group members supported by GMRVF. We believe 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 close to 250 children from their Std. I till they get their first job. Began 15 years back, the first batch of 10 students had 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.

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 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 300 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, 190 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 7 tent schools which are providing bridge education to about 500 children of migrant labour.

In line with the Digital India Mission of Government of India, Foundation has initiated various digital education programs such as Kidsmart Early Learning Centers, E-learning centers, Computer Based Functional Literacy Programs etc. in schools, colleges and communities. The digital literacy programs of GMRVF reached out to over 70000 people. 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. Recognizing the importance of Sanitation, Foundation built 28 public toilets and 14 school toilets apart from renovating over 100 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.

What are some of the institutions created by GMRVF?

SGCSR Degree college was the first institution under GMRVF. It was founded 25 years ago, to bring quality higher education to Rajam, in under-served district of Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh. The college is going strong, with both Intermediate and UG education, and is well-known in the area for its focus on holistic development. GMR Institute of Technology is GMRVF’s most prominent institute, with an ongoing focus on academic excellence. Founded in 1997, this offers both UG and PG engineering education, and has passed out about 9000 students. It is ranked under 200 as per National

Institute Ranking Framework- 2017, Ministry of Human Resource Development, and is an autonomous institute under JNTU-Kakinada.

GMR also works with well-known education providers to run four schools, which are leaders in their own geographies. GMR Varalakshmi Care Hospital is a 165-bed state-of-art secondary hospital in Rajam, which not only provides quality care, but also works to keep prices low and to provide various schemes through which it can support patients who cannot afford treatments. GMRVF has facilitated an 30-bed hospital in Kamalanga, Orissa, and a free 8-bed clinic in Kakinada, AP.

How are your employees at large 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 about 16000 person hours of time in community service activities.

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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