Leading The Way Through CSR

by Aneesha Gaba

The panel on Empowerment and CSR at Ladies Who Lead ENGAGE 2019 had leaders from the frontline of this social battle talk about their journey and how victories are gained every day. With journalist & Co-Founder, Influencers, Devna Gandhi moderating the conversation, there were some interesting sound bytes from the panelists.

Nandini J. Singh, Director, ACG Cares Foundation

Nandini heads the CSR arm of ACG, a global leader in pharmaceutical solution. Focusing on women primarily, the ACG Cares Foundation builds infrastructure for schools in rural India, fights against malnutrition in children, has medical vans stationed in different parts of India to educate and treat, and fights against trafficking with its new project ‘You can Free us’. Nandini took the audience through some of the issues they faced in building infrastructure. “Infrastructure is so important in schools—if you don’t have toilets, the girls instantly drop out. That is the first thing we have to do. They don’t understand health and hygiene—how to keep a bathroom clean, they have never used a toilet in their lives and don’t know how to use it. So we give them that support as well. We have also built boarding houses. In some parts of rural India, parents come in and leave their children in school. They sleep on the floor in the classroom in the night and study there during the day. If you go in there, their suitcases are lined on the side, the laundry is handing from the top…this is where they study and this is where they sleep—this is their life. We’ve built boarding houses so that they have a place to study and a place to stay.

Piya Marker, Director, Head of School - The Aditya Birla Integrated School

The Aditya Birla Integrated School is a co-educational school for differently abled children. The school focuses on learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and scales the learning opportunity to suit the child. They are also the only school in India to include mental health as a part of the curriculum. Piya Marker, Director, Head of School takes us through this empowering program.  “More important than education today, in an academic sense, is educating people’s emotional quotient. There is so much pressure and anxiety that people are just fighting to survive and they are not mindful of the people they are harming or hurting in this route to survival. In our school we have a mental health curriculum that starts at Senior KG. Mental health is just about being healthy in the mind and making people helping people deal with pressure in a positive way. Educating children about this from an early age is important, so they understand what it means to be in balance emotionally, socially and academically. The need of the hour is to have children who are well adjusted in their minds. Today we have a lot of brilliant people, but their EQs don’t match that brilliance.”

Neha Mehta, Managing Trustee, SRCC Children’s Hospital

A premier medical institution for children in Mumbai, backed by Narayana Health, the hospital uses its vast pediatric medical experience to provide affordable, quality medical care for infants, children and adolescents. Neha Mehta, Managing Trustee, SRCC Children’s Hospital, is at the receiving end of many CSR endeavors, but feels that more can be done. “Mumbai has a large heart, I have never had an issue with people donating money. But more than funds I want the urban elite to come forward and donate time. By the time you reach your 40’s I think it’s time to give back to society, give back your time and come work for organizations and be involved in public policy making. We have an uneducated lot running the policies and framing historical acts. Like the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offenders Act, it has so many flaws. Someone needs to come forward and say ‘there is a better way of doing it and I can help you with it’. We have smart lawyers, Ivy League graduates— let’s use their power, social skills and business skills.”

Akshat Gupta, Founder and Director, Samatech Foundation

Dealing with sustainable sanitation, Samatech Foundation believes that sanitation is a necessity for all Indians, and sanitation will lead to gender equality and economic growth since it addresses the most basic of human needs. Akshat Gupta, Founder and Director, Samatech Foundation calls this ‘smart sanitation’, and stresses the importance of building toilets keeping women’s needs and safety in mind. And this he says comes down to having women as part of the policy-making platform. “When you make a policy you have to have enough women and men representatives. I’ve been working in this field for four years and I’m sad to say that I’ve interacted with 99 men and one woman in the BMC policy department. You cannot expect men to understand the requirements women have.” Akshat’s company recently won an award for the toilet they build on Marine Drive. This vacuum toilet uses .6 liters water per flush as compared to the usual number of 6-8 liters!

Vibha Bakshi, Documentary Film Maker & National Award Recipient

Spending many years in the most sensitive places in India, be the Delhi police control room post the Nirbhaya rape, or in rural Haryana, filmmaker Vibha has seen a the best and worst of humanity at work. Her films Daughters of Mother India and Son Rise have created huge impacts globally and even at a very personal level for the central characters. Son Rise tells the story of a farmer who married a gang rape survivor in spite of knowing her story and is fighting to get her justice till today. “Ordinary men who have done the extraordinary to change the narrative on masculinity, to tell us who a real man is,” is how Vibha describes the movie. Post the showing of the movie; in a mere 20 minutes of crowd funding 16 lakhs was raised for the farmer to continue his fight for justice. “There are many times I feel like I cannot continue because I’m not that brave, but I know how to tell a story. For us success is when a life gets changed. Through my journey I have met extraordinary people who give us strength to continue doing what we do.”