Essar Foundation, CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility arm of Essar Group has been committed to striking a sustainable balance between businesses and communities. The Essar Group impacts more than a million lives positively across 500 villages in eight states of India with various initiatives in education, women’s empowerment, skill development, environment conservation, calamity relief work and health. One such significant initiative is ‘The Rainbow Project’ which focuses on transgender inclusion and empowerment. Through this initiative, the foundation has also reached out to over 2,000 members of the transgender community during the lockdown to take care of their basic requirements.
In conversation with Rusen Kumar, India CSR; Kaustubh Sonalkar, Group President HR, Essar, and CEO – Essar Foundation shares more details about ‘The Rainbow Project’ and other initiatives that has helped bring a positive change for the transgender community. Excerpts:
Tell us about Essar Foundation’s ‘Rainbow Project’.
KS: Deep-rooted stigma has unfairly marginalised the transgender community. Trans people struggle to be included at every level of the society — right from homes to corporates. The Rainbow Project is a flagship transgender sensitisation programme meant to eradicate community marginalisation by allowing trans people the equal opportunity to grow and be self-empowered. Since 2018, the programme is progressing with small but firm steps in collaboration with NGOs, SHGs, corporate partners and key opinion leaders including celebrities and transgender activists.
Under the Rainbow Project, we have launched numerous initiatives impacting thousands of lives in the community. To foster inclusivity and awareness towards the community, the Rainbow Project organised many events like Job Fair, Panel Discussion, and awareness campaigns through our social media platforms and Essar Radio, Essar’s radio-styled audio platform. In the midst of the pandemic and the resultant lockdown, Foundation launched an initiative to reach out to the community with meals, medical supplies, rescue and relief. Also the TransSchool initiative was e-launched to help trans persons acquire skills that make them ready for India Inc. Each of the initiative targets a specific line of issue faced by the community, and the vision behind the Project is to achieve equal rights for all trans people.
How has been the reaction of the transgender community towards the initiative so far?
KS: Empathising with the concerns voiced by the transgender community, the Foundation has been progressively addressing multi-layered challenges. The Rainbow Project’s initiatives have received great response and appreciation, especially from powerful community voices and transgender activists. This has helped us further our work towards the community’s upliftment, joining our efforts towards inclusivity with known personalities like Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, Grace Banu and Abhina Aher, and also SHGs dedicated towards trans people, like Kineer Services and Tweet Foundation.
These individuals and organisations have also shown active participation in the Facebook Live series launched recently, which hosts leading transgender activists and aims at raising awareness about transgender issues through meaningful discussions. Garnering participation of an average of over 2,500 trans persons per session, these sessions too have been a great success. Essar Foundation hopes that TransSchool’s initiatives continue receiving such amazing support!
Tell us about the workshops and webinars being conducted by Essar with Aditi Govitrikar?
KS: Dr Aditi Govitrikar, who dons many hats in the spheres of acting, medicine, modelling and psychology, is the face of ‘TransSchool’, a platform that conducts e-sessions for the community members. This one-of-a-kind ecosystem trains trans people in market relevant vocational skills so that they can pursue a dignified livelihood of their choice. Intensive e-sessions help acquire business and analytical skills, linguistic proficiency, communication and networking skills as well as financial literacy. The long-term objective of the initiative is to positively impact the community’s socioeconomic status, health, education and overall well-being.
Under the banner of TransSchool, Dr Govitrikar has engaged with some of the leading voices in the LGBTQ+ spectrum to discuss a myriad of topics related to mental well-being, career avenues, community elevation, and advocacy for dignified livelihoods. TransSchool has already hosted some trailblazing trans personalities and allies in its Facebook Live series – Grace Banu, Abhina Aher, Vidya Rajput, Ojas Rajani, Anjali Lama, Sonali Dalvi, Rakshika Raj and Nishtha Nishant being a few names who went on air through the platform.
Can you sight some examples on how ‘The Rainbow Project’ has helped the transgender community?
KS: Besides the marquee TransSchool initiative, here are some of the other initiatives by the Foundation’s ‘The Rainbow Project’, making a visible difference for thousands from the transgender community –
An Inclusive Diwali
Tweet Foundation set up a handicraft stall at Essar’s corporate office at Essar House, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai. The event helped the community showcase their talent with a sense of pride. It was also an opportunity for Essarites to appreciate how Diwali can be celebrated in a more inclusive manner, helping sensitisation towards the community.
Job fair for the transgender community
In partnership with Kineer Services, Barclays, Sodexo and Diversey India, our Foundation undertook a 2-day hands-on workshop on professional housekeeping services, interview techniques and resume writing customised for trans persons. The workshop addressed queries pertaining to full-time employment in a corporate environment, followed by a job fair.
Promoting Dancing Queen – The first trans persons’ dance and drama troupe
Being an ardent proponent of art and talent especially among the marginalised communities, Essar Foundation has sponsored and promoted the troupe, helping trans persons to showcase their talent in dance and drama across Mumbai city. The troupe was invited to perform before the women workforce of Essar on International Women’s Day.
Essar Radio and Essar Learning TV
While Essar Radio is a radio-styled audio platform for Essarites, Learning TV is an internal e-learning initiative. The Foundation used both these platforms to invite trans persons to interact with its workforce. Case in point- the famous Kathak exponent, Devendra S. Manglamukhi, conducted online Kathak classes for Essarites on Learning TV.
How did Essar help the transgender community during the Covid-19 pandemic?
KS: The transgender community, mainly the hijras, lost all sources of income due to the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. Social stigma makes it more difficult for them to sustain livelihoods and access essential items like food and medical supplies. Some were even stranded and couldn’t return to their hometowns. The effects of ostracisation are exacerbated during a pandemic and hence, it becomes even more essential for corporates to extend support to the community during these harsh times.
Through ‘The Rainbow Project’, Essar Foundation has been undertaking initiatives, in collaboration with NGOs and Self Help Groups (SHG), to ensure that the community has avenues to earn money through corporate jobs or self-employment opportunities. Additionally, Essar Foundation has reached out to over 2,000 members of the transgender community, mainly targeting the pockets of Noida (Delhi), Govandi, Malad-Malwani, Ulhasnagar and Dharavi (Mumbai), as well as Thotukoodi (Tamil Nadu). This includes taking care of the community’s food requirements, rescuing stranded trans people after the lockdown announcement, mobilising resources to ensure the supply of medical essentials, as well as providing entrepreneurship platforms through TransSchool.