Women’s Day 2017: Where giving is a way of life

Aditya Birla Group wears its heart on its sleeve. Each of its companies in the country, and abroad, is busy taking up projects to empower women and change lives under its CSR activities. Vidyottama Sharma comes back impressed.

Vishnu was only three feet tall as her polio affected feet never allowed her to stand to her full height. But a decision taken by Rajashree Birla, Chairperson, Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development years ago,changed her life. The decision? To make polio eradication a priority in the Group’s CSR activities. A polio corrective surgery and a few months of physiotherapy later, Vishnu today knows the art of standing tall.

Vishnu’s is only one among the thousands of success stories of women that Aditya Birla Group has helped write. And polio is only one among the innumerable causes the Group takes up to transform lives and empower people, especially women. While Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been taking strong mature strides in India’s corporate world since the last few years, the Group has been working on its empowerment projects since over two decades when CSR had not become the buzzword of the corporate identity. It spends over Rs 200 crore on its CSR projects.

Over 15 years ago, employees of Madura Garments in Bangalore went to villages, announcing on loud speakers their intention to engage women from the villages in their plants. “We will provide you buses for pick up and drop facilities, sewing machines, breakfast and lunch and also a crèche for your children,” they assured. Today, about 8,000 women earn between Rs 12,000 to 15,000 per month under the Group’s Feisty Fashion initiative. Aditya Birla Cement’s Tailoring Centre in Rehla village of Jharkhand’s Palamu district has enhanced the earning of women tailors from Rs 50 per salwar-kameez to about Rs 6,000 a month. The year 2002 project, that moves from village to village, is operational in Murma village at present.

Women’s Day 2017: Where giving is a way of life

At one of their visits to a mohalla in Khor, Madhya Pradesh 17 years ago, Mrs Birla and DrPragnya Ram, Group Executive President, Corporate Communications & CSR, were told by women that they wanted to do something about the dying art of weaving in their mohalla itself. And soon, Vikram Cement set up a weaving centre in a huge hall, provided looms, recruited master weavers to train the women and connected them with the Hastkala team. The company later linked them with Jaipur Rugs. In Odisha, the Group financesNGO Swabhiman. Run by Dr Sruti Mahapatra, the NGO teaches about 400 physically challenged children about taking charge of their lives.

As Mrs Birla says, “The philosophy of giving and caring is in the DNA of the Birla family. Our endeavours towards making a meaningful difference to the lives of the underprivileged, is part of a continuing legacy.  Many of you must be aware of the sustainable development goals, adopted a year ago. The major goals have the potential, to put an end to extreme poverty. It would surprise you to know, that we live in a world, where 3 billion people, still live in deep poverty. Of this, nearly 10% are Indians. India ranks 130 in the UNDP – Human Development Index out of 188 countries. India is scaling up, but the road ahead is still uphill. On our part we are trying to bring about a qualitative change in the lives of the marginalized. Women form an integral part of our constituency. Through empowerment and literacy, we are able to bring dignity to their lives as we enable them to rescript their lives for the better.  Their confidence, their positivity and the way in which they transform their family’s life, their sense of self-esteem is our greatest reward.”

The Group takes over education, health care & family care, sustainable livelihood, infrastructure and social causes under its various CSR activities. Each of its companies decides the project best suited for the area it has a plant in. The Group has reached out to seven million people in 5000 villages so far, and runs 48 schools teaching 45000 children, and 18 hospitals where it has treated about a million patients atunimaginably low cost.It also runs 18,000 Balwadis and trains 12,000 students at its vocational centres.  It runs 4500 Self Help Groups to empower 45000 women. Mrs Birla, who works closely with Rotary International, an international NGO that has vowed to eradicate polio from earth, has donated millions for this cause. For her dedication to the cause, she was conferred upon with the ‘Rotary International Polio Eradication Champion Award’ by the former President of India, PratibhaPatil.

One of the biggest achievements of Hindalco’s Renukoot plant is getting over 200 widows remarried after a long and sustained effort of convincing the Panchayat. It has also facilitated dowry-less mass marriages. Saksham project in Tikiri in Odisha for tribal women empowers women through a garment manufacturing centre. Hindalco runs a dress making and tailoring plant in BhotBaga, West Bengal. Mahan Aluminium plant runs a long list of impressive projects through its Self-Help Groups. The Renusagar plant has a Capacity Development Center that runs many courses and classes. On the guidance of the Karma Self Help group at Dudhi, women entered into fishing business, along with farming, their main occupation, to increase their income, and generate an income of Rs 30,000 per month. Heart surgeries for children under the Childline project and chemotherapy for children are ongoing projects.And this is a very small list of the Group’s CSR activities.

The Birla family’s personal philosophy of caring and giving has percolated to the Group. On the 40th birthday of the Group Chairman’s wife, NeerjaBirla, 45 children had a life changing experience with their various needs taken care of. For their 25th wedding anniversary, Kumar Mangalam and Neerja Birla gave personal cheques of a sizeable amount to 20 NGOs form their personal bank accounts.

In their private capacity and through the group, the Birlas go out on a limb wherever genuine people have issues. And a grateful society, often expresses its gratitude through the many awards that line up the Group’s various plants.

The hand pump project at Hindalco’s plant in UP is a case study in empowering women. 15 years ago when Hindalco approached UNICEF to begin a hand pump project in Dudhi, UP, it was assured help only if the project was for women. Hindalco sought the help of UP Jal Nigam to train women and handle the quality of the hand pumps. It took six months of convincing the men of the village to allow 20 of their women to become a part of the project. When the women, who reported difficulties in repairing the pumps operated by bullock carts, were to be given cycles by the group, the men allowed on one condition: “No man can touch our women”. So the company arranged for women trainers. Today, every house in 10 metres has a hand pump and 80 women are associated with the project.

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