Enhancing the lives of persons with disabilities, Meenu Bhambhani of Mphasis

5-6% of India’s population has some or the other form of disability, of these only 1% or so are employed. Mphasis an IT services company wanted to change this scenario. Meenu Bhambhani, the VP and CSR head of Mphasis, who has been instrumental in this says, “I joined the company in 2007 when the company was looking for a CSR head and also for someone who could manage Diversity and Inclusion function as well. Coming from a disability background, I started my journey with a twin-track approach – working internally with staffing training and admin team to increase the number of employees with disabilities and bringing about systemic changes through equal opportunity policy, reasonable accommodation and working towards making built and technology environment accessible. We also used CSR grant making strategically to pilot solutions that address barriers faced by people with disabilities in leading a life of dignity.”

Mphasis started with Project Communicate in 2007, in partnership with the Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre (DEOC) to train and provide employment support to candidates with disabilities. This program became an industry benchmark and most IT companies till today continue to work with train and hire model. The culmination of this program was through train the trainer and enablement of other organisations to prepare the employable pool of youth from underserved communities. This led to Mphasis partnering with Headstreams in 2009 and the launch of Aalamba programme which targeted youth from low socio-economic backgrounds, who do not attend school or college. The objective was to reach out to over 300 youth directly, with employment and skill training (BPO or trade skills) and job-information exchange. 30 of the brightest youth from these groups would be selected for intensive mentoring and entrepreneurship development program. The programme also focussed on their financial inclusion by giving them training in finance, financial products, getting them access to banking through bank accounts, loans, credit system, among others. By 2014 the programme had evolved into training over 3000 youth and set up of 163 livelihood units

Out of the Aalamba programme came the Arivu programme. Many of the beneficiaries wanted their children to access English medium education, and the programme enabled them to access this through government schools. Arivu which means ‘Knowledge’ focuses on improving English reading and comprehension for children in Karnataka middle schools (Grades VI to VIII).

Around 2015, taxi services like Ola and Uber were becoming ubiquitous. And, Mphasis realised that transport was a huge challenge to persons with disabilities. Even if they had jobs reaching their workplace was an arduous task as public transportation remains disability unfriendly. This led them to tie up with Uber. The plan envisaged converting 50 cabs to be disability-friendly. “However, the issue of providing accessible taxi/cabs is rife with several regulatory and policy barriers which make it prohibitive to even venture into this area. While there is a Central Motor Vehicles Act that guides the federal entities to operate within the guidelines set by the Act, each State’s Road Transport Authority interprets these guidelines in their own way. We straightway ran into problems. The RTO rejected the vehicle saying that no modifications can be made to a commercial vehicle. We stayed with it for two years till we got approval,” says Meenu. Mphasis and Uber were not creating anything new as the technology was already there, the cost was primarily the cost of the cars, modification and training of drivers. The services, UberAccess and UberAssist, emerged out this initiative and has been a boon not only to persons with disabilities but also the elderly.

A challenge that the speech and hearing-impaired face is communication with the world. To help them, Mhpasis has partnered with academic institutions such as IIIT Bangalore where it has set up a centre of excellence in cognitive computing. The centre has developed a technology that enables speech to sign language. Another project involves the prevention of child trafficking using heterogeneous information sources to derive intelligence. On the entrepreneurship front, Mphasis collaborates with institutions like IIM Bangalore’s NSRCEL and Villgro in IIT Chennai. It also collaborates with NASSCOM Social Innovation Forum and the Nudge Foundation’s N/Core for incubation purposes.

Disability is an area that the company feels strongly about and so involves itself into policy advocacy too. What Mphasis can do would always remain small. To create an impact at a larger scale with a lasting impact requires intervention at the policy level. For instance, railway stations, Bus stands, airports are all government owned, and improvements can only be brought about through policy changes. “With smart cities being promoted, inclusive policies can bring about an impact right from the start. So, if disability inclusion is already added in procurement policy, then the documents will include disability-friendly designs and construction will happen accordingly,” says Meenu.

Mphasis has been supporting NCPEDP (National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled) people for many years. Along with NCPEDP, Mphasis recognised that the laws relating to people with disabilities had many lacunae and did not comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Sustained and strong advocacy along with NCPEDP has led to a new Rights of People with Disabilities (RPWD) Act. The new Act empowers people with disabilities. Mphasis’ sustained efforts led to it winning the Zero Project Award at the UN recently. According to Meenu, “Changes are now becoming visible on the ground, and several PILs have been filed to make government accountable. One outcome has been that the Delhi government is now procuring disable friendly buses.”

Many actions undertaken by Mphasis with a strong focus on persons with disability has led to significant improvement in their lives. Mphasis has aided the disability inclusion through various means — helping provide education, training, employment, transportation, policy changes and improved lives. A disabled friendly CSR strategy built around personal experiences of Meenu Bhambhani has been the nucleus of its programmes.

Based on a conversation with, Dr Meenu Bhambhani, Vice President & Head – Corporate Social Responsibility, Mphasis

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Coca – Cola Sparks The Change With The Fruit Circular Economy

Coca-Cola India has a new ambition – to become a complete beverage company. Which essentially means providing more choice to the consumer by offering newer beverages and many based on fruit and fruit juices. This has been inspired by the concept of the circular economy or a virtuous economic cycle. This initiative will create a spurt in the company’s local procurement of fruit and farm level interventions and will have a positive impact on the Indian horticulture ecosystem. The two key components of this project are, launching new and innovative products and sustainable sourcing.

Product innovation and taking them to market is handled by Asim Parekh VP, Fruit Circular Economy, Coca-Cola India who says “To spark the change we’re bringing many other drinks like tea, coconut water, and juices to our customers. We are launching several new local brands at various price points and for different customer categories. Infact, we are now emulating a start up with 17 brand launches in 2018 and many more slated for 2019. We have made small teams that are quick to innovate, quick to market and adapt. Our core philosophy aided by a sustainable supply chain is about reaching customers and mapping their journeys in detail,”

This way of functioning is a big shift and is rooted in the understanding that India is not exactly a homogenous country, besides social and cultural diversity, there is economic classification. In addition, the modern consumer in big and small cities and even semi-urban areas wants personalization of their products and services. Keeping the potential growth of the economy in mind, even seemingly small customer segments could be large value generators.

One such sustainable sourcing program is Unnati Mango. The program was started to increase crop yields, save water, bring in ‘Good Agricultural practices” and improve the livelihoods of mango farmers in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Emboldened by the success of the program, the company has now extended this framework to other fruits and placed it under a strategic framework called the “Fruit Circular Economy”. Under this program orange sourcing and farming initiatives were launched in 2016 across the water stressed regions of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. It encouraged the adoption of newer varieties of orange that have 50% higher juice content. Says, Ishteyaque Amjad, VP, Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia , “Entering and staying in the fruit production and processing ecosystem is part of our long term strategy and commitment to the country. Through these sustainable agricultural initiatives we plan to double farmer’s incomes. All projects under the Fruit Circular Economy framework consist of modern nurseries with high quality plants, intensive training to farmers, drip irrigation techniques and an assured buy back. About 250,000 farmers would be benefited over 10 years through these programs. At one level, these projects help the company in creating resilient high quality supply chains at another they also ensure that the shift towards juice based beverages is a smooth transition.”

Coca-Cola’s 2020 sustainability goals put sustainable sourcing of key agricultural ingredients as a top priority. Concerted efforts are being made by the company and nearly 250 bottling partners in more than 200 countries and territories to ensure this becomes a reality. The Coca-Cola Company is one of the largest buyers of Indian agricultural produce, sourcing 95% of its ingredients locally. This helps the company in sourcing high quality produce and also benefits the local farmers who get a ready market. India is the second largest producer of the fruits and vegetables in the world. The country grows the most amounts of bananas, papaya, mangoes, guavas, pomegranates and is the second largest producers of potatoes, green peas, tomatoes, cabbage and cauliflower. However, only 2.2% of fruits and vegetable output in India is processed. Coca-Cola views this as India’s untapped potential.

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The Journey to Creating a Sustainable World

Business is hitting against two important headwinds; climate change and technological disruption. In a recent panel discussion at Economic Times Global Business Summit, Dr. Ajay Mathur of TERI spoke of the worrying impact a world warming by 2 degrees will have on India with increased floods and droughts and erratic monsoons. Water would perhaps be one of the biggest challenges in the near future. Additionally, extreme poverty, waste, energy and biodiversity, are all discrete elements that need to be fixed, not just in India, but the world over. In this scenario, what kind of leadership will be needed to create an equitable and sustainable society? Can sustainability be achieved at scale? Can we limit emissions?

Increasingly, companies are dedicating teams to work on social responsibility and sustainability issues. They map the material risks that their companies face, interface with stakeholders, develop strategies to mitigate or eliminate them. The finance function that until recently merely counted the pennies that the company made has started to look at ways to measure the impact of the company’s sustainable and social actions. The production department tasked with improving the efficiency of operations now also concerns itself with using sustainable materials. The marketing team not only promotes the products but also promotes the well-being of people. The CEO’s thinking is moving from shareholder value maximisation towards maximising value for all stakeholders.

Business leaders, depending on their varied contexts are also prioritizing various approaches to sustainability challenges. For instance, Sanjiv Paul of TATA Steel says that sustainability strategy needs to be embedded into business to manage environmental risk, Tony Henshaw of Aditya Birla talks of the need to map supply chains in a transparent manner keeping sustainability issues in mind. Dr. Srikanta Panigrahi of IISD believes that global reporting standards can solve many of the sustainability issues of companies and Arun Maira who has been part of many large companies feels that a systems thinking approach is the way to go.

Yet, something is amiss. None of the environmental or responsibility challenges seem even close to being solved. For instance, the connected world, used to moving things and information, has no automatic way of managing discarded products. Which is why our landfills are showing no signs of reducing and possibly never will unless we start thinking of ourselves as part of a system that needs to be redesigned. As JP Chalasani, CEO, Suzlon says, “Our energy related issues are not just about adding more capacity but redesigning the grid to factor in renewables”. The flows of value—not just of materials, but of data, knowledge and participation need to drive a radical new design of business.

The more significant challenge is that we are in an age where large multinational corporations are themselves being disrupted by new challengers who have digital skills at their very core.

Perhaps the need of the hour for business is to hire more designers. Systems thinking is not just about mapping the system but about designing a better system. The future will witness a rate of change at a velocity never seen before. Acceleration due to technological change may bring the world closer, but it could also lead to a faster pace of wanton destruction. Designing a better world will not just be about new processes but a better way of thinking and communicating. Balancing the impact of our actions on people, the environment and everything around us. We therefore need people who are willing to collaborate in mapping customer journeys and product journeys with empathy as the central belief.

A new kind of leadership is needed that builds trust, is driven by values and is open to change. The leader has to be a trustee to all the stakeholders, rising above the stereotypes to decide what she will and will not do. As a trustee to the organisation, there is no exit strategy. The leader is responsible for the impact of her decisions. This could be food for thought for venture-funded companies that are currently destroying business models without taking responsibility for the damages caused. Deep, meaningful conversations and not just excel sheets hold the key to responsibility. Thinking not just about what new perspectives might be needed, but also finding entirely new ways to create and update our thinking models over time in collaboration with other people in the industry, policy makers and customers themselves. The corporate brand needs to be more human, responsive and above all trustworthy.

Based on Panel Discussion at ET-GBS 2019: “Sustainability – Embedded Strategic Planning”

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Sustainability is a key focus for Applied Materials

Applied Materials has grown from a small start-up founded in 1967, into one of the world’s most admired global companies. Applied is a leader in materials engineering solutions used to produce virtually every new chip and advanced display in the world. One of the company’s fundamental commitments is to maintain sustainable and ethical business practices. According to Srinivas Satya, President and MD of Applied Materials India, “We strive to make a positive contribution not only to our industry but to our larger communities and the world around us. So, the whole concept of sustainability is very important for us.

Applied’s mission is to provide materials engineering solutions that enable customers to transform possibilities into reality. The company’s competencies are in highly sophisticated methods of materials deposition, removal, modification and analysis. The company applies these technologies primarily in systems used by its customers for semiconductor manufacturing. Applied Materials also plays a leadership role in display manufacturing systems. So, virtually every new flat panel TV or smartphone display that one sees has been processed on one of its systems. This involves forming thin layers of material on a glass substrate. Srinivas Satya says, “Our expertise in modifying materials at atomic levels and on an industrial scale applies to both glass substrates and silicon wafers.”

Applied Materials has a very active program called design for environment. The goal of this program is to design products and services to minimise the consumption of natural resources and maximise efficiency. The team asks questions like: How do we minimise the footprint energy consumption of our products? What design choices can we be making to optimise usage of electricity? How do we reduce emissions? How do we internally have additional steps so that the output has less impact on the environment? The company has reasonably aggressive standards on how much it wants to reduce the energy footprint of its machines. The India centre also contributes significantly to these initiatives.

The company’s actions are not limited to manufacturing alone; they link to the operations as well. Beginning from the supply chain and getting the material into the factory, each of the machines has thousands of parts that come together. For the sophisticated products the company ships it could be conservative and use a lot of packaging materials that would end up as waste.  But then the energy footprint goes up. Thus, the company has a packaging technology team as well. They have expertise in designing reusable packaging, including specially engineered boxes, crates, shipping containers and transport carriers.

Reflecting on future trends and sustainability Srinivas Satya says, “Artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning are at an inflexion point. We know that 5G wireless is coming, later 6G. We are assessing the potential future sustainability impacts of these technologies as part of our overall Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy. What materials are used inside these devices? Can the devices and their components be recycled? How do you handle the refresh? Increasingly in the future, the conservation of materials will become super important.”

Based on a conversation with Srinivas Satya, President and Managing Director, Applied Materials India Private Ltd.

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