There was a survey done by USA Today recently that stated, “83% of people will trust a company more if it is socially responsible”. There is clearly a lot of buzz around CSR lately, and so we ventured out to interview some industry experts on how they define CSR and how their journey lead them to become pioneers in this field.
One of our first interviews was with a gentleman, who has been a practitioner, has worked on the ground with communities and now leads the esteemed SRF Foundation, Dr Suresh Reddy. Simple, straightforward, benevolent……he is probably one of the most real people I have come across in the corporate world, completely unperturbed by the vagaries of corporate living. His work in CSR reflects his simplicity and the sincerity with which it is executed. Here’s his story.
Foundation Head, chosen out of “need rather than choice”.
Having nearly 17 years of experience in school education, teaching and research, he migrated to Delhi as a lecturer. Unfortunately, the cosmopolitan city didn’t offer him a chance at lecturing due to the language barrier, since he was not fluent in Hindi. Having been stirred out of the lecturing/academic world, he took a role with SCERT after which he joined CARE India, which he mentions was a decision taken out of ‘need’ rather than ‘choice’. This was his starting point into a mainstream career. With 6 years of experience in the field of Education at the Byrajju Foundation, 4 years with CARE India, and a history full of lecturing, Dr Reddy was sure that he wanted to invest his time in making a difference in this sector. In 2009, when the opportunity of working with SRF Foundation came up, he took up the offer without blinking an eyelid. It was also an ideal amalgamation of the work done previously with government agencies and NGO’s.
“CSR dedicated to doing good for society”
The SRF Foundation is the CSR wing of SRF Limited. While SRF is probably a pioneer in the field of education, in terms of establishing progressive educational institutions that serve society, Dr Reddy felt a dire need to extend these academic resources to needy institutions. Consequently when given a choice to decide a focus area for investment, Dr Reddy opted for school education and vocational skills trainings, specially targeting the underprivileged youth.
One of the first projects that he initiated with the foundation was to adopt 45 government schools in Gurgaon. There he was involved with almost everything from ensuring that all children in the village attend school, to strengthening the management committee in these schools, upgrading the capabilities of the teachers, building leadership skills amongst the head masters and even initiating a residential program for adolescent girls who have not had the opportunity to attend school.
One may wonder about the extent of autonomy given to the foundation to execute these projects, to which Dr Reddy, with immense poise, said that he gets his space and independence to make the necessary decisions where the Foundation works as a completely separate identity, an independent agency of sorts.
“Idhar kuchh nahi hota” to “Idhar kuchh ho sakta hai”.
When asked about his successes, Dr Reddy claimed with great delight that the Foundation started with 1 person and has now extended to 30 professionals, including core management as well as operational staff.
He also mentioned, with great fulfillment and glee, that the attitude in the village changed from (and I quote again) “Idhar kuchh nahi hota to Idhar kuch ho sakta hai”
“The goal was always Education, only the journey kept changing”.
After having sat through the entire interview, I was left with one, and a rather significant question in my head, which was, what inspires him to do what he does? Dr Reddy didn’t feel the need to use extravagant language to convey his inspiration. He said that the goal was always Education, only the journey kept changing. Coming from a reasonably conservative background, he said that his intention was pretty basic.. move to a city, get a job for safety and security, and get married!
What started as a basic need, lead Dr Reddy to transform an enormous philanthropic entity into an implementing agency, creating impact and change at every level.
His advise to people who are trying to venture into this field: “True impact can only be attained if one works on the ground” !