Titan and the Girl Child Go Hand in Hand: NE Sridhar, Titan

It is well known that representation of women at workplaces is relatively less as compared to men. The #metoo campaign has also highlighted harassment women face at the workplace. Gender diversity has therefore come up as an important issue for making companies equitable and socially responsible.

However, for Titan, the manufacturers of watches, jewels, eyewear and perfumes, women have always been an integral part of their business. It was 1987, well before CSR programmes took shape in India, that Titan took a conscious decision not to hire from the market and the industry (except for a few seniors) and started hiring young boys and girls and trained them to become watchmakers. The girls made a natural fit to watch assembly operations. They were good at repetitive activities and had the natural finger dexterity that helped them go about the assembly operations. At the same time, the company started working in various communities to encourage young women to form self-help groups in the community. The self help groups skilled them to be productive and today many of them have been part of this extended arm of the company for more than 20 years. Hiring young women and youth from far off schools also created a need for Titan to support education in the neighbourhood, for the needy and meritorious. So about 30 years back, the company began providing them with scholarship support for continuing higher education. Mr Sridhar, AVP & Head of Corporate Sustainability at Titan says, “Working with women in the community, hiring them in our manufacturing operations ensured that young girls and women became central in many ways to the way we conduct our business and operations.”

Sridhar believes that people mistakenly look for a company’s CSR model through the lens of philanthropy. The company works in the community and hence must do what the community wants from it not just what the company wants. About half of Titan’s watches and eyewear business today comes from women. Add to it more than 95% of the jewellery business comes from women. Therefore, the connection with women and girl child comes naturally to the company. This connection led Titan to include girls and their education as an important peg in all their CSR initiatives.

Titan’s focus in CSR is to align its competencies to do good and do right.

One of the company’s core competencies is design. This competency led Titan to think about using the design for good and initiate the Design Impact Awards. These are grant awards that were aimed to positively impact the underprivileged communities to design for the benefit of society.

Second, Titan started as a manufacturing company before it became a house of brands and hence skilling became necessary for the company. Thus, skilling the underprivileged became part of its CSR engagement.

Third, Titan products, jewellery and watches, are all about craftsmanship. Hence, working with Indian arts, crafts and heritage is the third focus area.

Titan believes that for promoting education in the society, it is essential to start with the girl child in the country. In the remedial education model, Titan focuses on improving the quality of language, English, Mathematics and Science through sessions in government schools. Trained tutors handle these sessions after school hours. Tutoring is done through innovative teaching methods using Teaching Learning Materials (TLMs). The use of TLMs enhances the quality of inputs and also ensures that the children who drop out or perhaps have poor attendance are motivated and put back into school to complete their studies till class ten. This activity has been undertaken in Krishnagiri in partnership with KCMET (KC Mahindra Educational Trust), covering about 6000 girls in government schools.

For the out of school girls, dropouts and the ones who are not enrolled in schools, Titan has a learning centre model. It brings them to a place commonly used in the community and provides them inputs on the model. This programme not only enhances the learning levels but also makes the classes interesting through innovative TLM’s by the tutors. They enter mainstream schools after learning level 5. Both these programmes cover about 13,500 children.

In both models, the education goes beyond regular classes. It also ensures that the girls participate in extracurricular activities, helps them build their talents, participate in science fairs amongst others. The consent of the community is taken for enrolling the children. The company has created a sense of holistic support for the girl child with the aim of having her stand on her feet. Therefore, Titan aims to cover all elements of a girl child’s growth till self-sufficiency.

The company also has many associates, successfully running Titan and Tanishq showrooms. They have benefitted from the relationship with the company and have a will to give back to the community. Rana Uppalapati is one such business associate of Titan Company Limited, who is also a skater. With a sense of giving back, he set out to cover the Indian Golden Quadrilateral, a distance of about 6000 kilometres. As part of the journey, he raised funds for the education of more than 18,000 underprivileged girls and, more importantly, created awareness on child safety, especially on ‘good touch and bad touch’. This activity reached to over 3 lakh adults and children.

Although most companies think about CSR as working within a radius of company premises, Titan has decided to go beyond that. Given its pan-India presence, it felt the need to spread its CSR beyond the boundaries of company locations, where about 20% of the company’s activities takes place. About 80% of the CSR activities take place in the prioritised states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Sikkim. The company also contributes to non-priority states during exceptional circumstances such as their work in Kerala during the recent floods. Sridhar says, “Behaving as a responsible corporate citizen far outweighs what we want to do as part of the company’s CSR programme.”

Based on a conversation with NE Sridhar, AVP & Head – Corporate Sustainability, Titan Company Ltd.

(Original Post)