WNS Cares Foundation (WCF), the CSR arm of WNS Global Services, has collaborated with Pratham InfoTech Foundation (PIF) to empower children and youth with practical knowledge around cybersafety through its digital platform CyberSmart. Over a period of 18 months, WCF and PIF will educate over 10 lakh students about the fundamentals of cybersafety in three phases.
Shamini Murugesh, Honorary Chief Mentor, WNS Cares Foundation spoke to India CSR on the programme and future plans. Excepts:
Could you tell us about the journey of WNS Cares Foundation?
We formally started WNS Cares Foundation in 2010. We started with a focus on education as most of our employees wanted to focus there. We wanted to create a very powerful and active program and realized that we had a huge powerhouse of people in terms of employees. To give an opportunity to our employees to engage in social activity, we focused on volunteering. We started with India and slowly expanded to various countries where WNS was present. We were lucky that everybody took our mission, ‘educate, empower, enrich’, to heart and got into the act.
Our focus initially was computer literacy, setting up libraries and we kept adding new programs. As voluntourism grew, we introduced a program called e-mentoring wherein emails are exchanged between volunteers and students. Somewhere along the way, we also realized there was a need for digital education. So, we brought in something called the WCF digital portal wherein we house all the textbooks required by Indian schools. We have a library. We have videos that children can watch and learn by themselves. So, that was our first foray into digital.
The CyberSmart program is doing a great job in making children safe on digital platforms. Can you share more about it?
While working on digital education, we realized children don’t know about the pitfalls of the internet or the digital world. So, we introduced the Cyber Sword competition as an awareness program. Gradually, we realized mere awareness is not enough. And that’s how CyberSmart came into being. To make the program interesting, we came up with a plan of creating CyberSmart as a gamified portal. The learner goes through various levels and once they finish one level, they move to the next. The program offers age-appropriate modules. For instance, smaller kids deal with very basic cyber problems, while those in higher classes face issues such as cyber bullying and phishing, among others. The program caters to the needs of children with different requirements. We realized that to scale up the CyberSmart program we needed collaborations. We have, thus, tied up with various schools, NGOs, state governments as well as other foundations such as Tech Mahindra Foundation. We have also launched the program with NASSCOM and organizations like the Hyderabad Police among others. The CyberSmart program is available in 10 vernacular languages, which helps it reach out to children from various states and languages.
What kind of collaborations do you have for CyberSmart program?
We have been working with Pratham Infotech right from the time we started WNS Cares Foundation. We work with them for our computer literacy program. We have almost 55,000 to 60,000 children in that particular program. Pratham has already completed 1 lakh students over the past, I think 4-5 months, in the CyberSmart program. And this is something new that we are going to do over the next 18 months as it were. The program not only teaches children, but also prepares school teachers, parents and volunteers.
What are the issues or areas that this program covers?
We are going from A to Z as it were. So, we start with the bullying, then we go to phishing and even to cyber etiquette. Very often children do not realize that you cannot do ABC. It’s actually an offense. So, educating them about all these and not just keeping them safe, but also educating them about what they can and cannot do. Like cyber hate, so many things like that go into the entire education module of the program.
So, what target have you set for this program?
By the end of April we will reach the 1 million target. And in the next year, we are looking at five million
So, is it a gamified course where there is no human interaction or there is training by teachers or trainers? And what is the duration of this training program for each kid?
This is a very child-friendly self-learning program. There is no need for anybody to teach you in that sense. It does not take more than 12 to 15 minutes, max 20 minutes, if you were to do it. So, it’s basically a self-training module. It’s pretty much like a game that you play, like it’s a multiple choice, you choose something. Given a certain kind of a scenario what would you do? What is good? What is not good and then you choose your answer and then you move on to different levels. And at the end of it, every child or every teacher gets a certificate, an online certificate saying you are CyberSmart. To ensure that the program is taken through properly, we train the teachers. Our volunteers also train the teachers and there are ways to help out children in case they get stuck somewhere.
Great. So, apart from cyber security programs, what other programs are you running? What are the focus areas?
E-mentoring is very key to us now. It has come out of the need of the volunteers. We have also introduced something called ‘make my career’ wherein students in the third year of college are given social skills to make them job ready. We have also introduced certain modules which help students get into certain industries such as the BPO industry. Pre-COVID, our other program was a self-defense program for girls. We have a computer literacy program and a digital school program as well. We also have a personal health and hygiene program and a personal skills program to develop real life skills. With our programs what we are trying to do is to create a 3600 kind of approach so that when a child goes out, they are ready for the world, and they are able to compete with anybody else.
Very nice. What is the age group that you look at as beneficiary?
We primarily work from Grade 1 to Grade 12; our key programs are for that category. Things like ‘make my career’ is more for those who are just finishing college.
There is something that you mentioned about e-mentoring. It intrigued me. Can you elaborate more about this?
Under the e-mentoring program, each child is connected to a mentor in one of our eight countries and every month they exchange an email. Through the exchange of emails, both the child and the volunteer get exposure to a world they wouldn’t see or haven’t seen. For example, if I’m sitting in India and somebody from say US or UK is writing to me, I get to share say what the festival of light is all about. It’s a learning experience for the volunteers as well. We have found that children open up and speak to the mentors on any issues or challenges they face or even just share their experiences. So that’s how the e-mentoring program works. We have, I think, about 1,200 children under this program.
There’s one more program that I didn’t talk about — the mobile libraries. So, what we do is our old transport vehicles are converted into libraries and they go into the communities. There are some children who don’t go to the schools. So, these mobile libraries go into the community. We have teachers in this particular mobile van and the children who don’t go to school, they come there, and they learn at least the basics. We also have volunteers who go to these communities.
From here, where do you see WNS Cares Foundation going forward in the next 5 to 10 years?
We want to make our presence felt in certain areas. For instance, we want to see the CyberSmart program to become part of the school curriculum in various states. That is one thing that we are working on.
While we do look at numbers, and the numbers we have achieved are quite decent to be honest. But beyond that, I want us to go deeper into creating children who are absolutely self-sufficient, who can stand on their own feet and who can compete as good as the person next door. That is going to be our goal. And we are going to be working towards ensuring that every WNS Cares Foundation child is not just given the opportunity, but is up there standing and achieving this.