Titan is a watch, eyewear and jewellery company. We all know about its products and brands. What would be interesting is how the company look at its CSR and sustainability activities?
The fact that we are products and brands company and everyone’s perception is coloured by it. The reality is that this company started some 30 years back. The fame of watches is captured in our brands like Titan, Fastrack and Sonata. But, what came before the brand was the watch itself. And what made the watch was the making of it. So, the making of the watch or manufacturing is where it all began. The manufacturing was established about 30 years ago in Dharmapuri, which at that time was a backward district of Tamil Nadu. It was here that we actually went to villages in and around our plant and recruited young 18-year-old youngsters just out of school and taught them watch assembly and watch making. So, that is where we started and how the story of giving back to the community began. At Titan, it is more of a Tata’s philosophy which had started from the first day itself. Therefore, we never even thought of our work as CSR, we just thought that we were simply setting up our business. We still do the same thing.
For our factory in Uttarakhand, we went up to the villages in the hills, recruited young girls and gave them a source of livelihood and their families a new lease of life. We train them so that they can hit the ground running. Whether it served a larger purpose or not was not on our minds, it seemed the right thing to recruit locally and we did the same. Apart from providing skills and employment we have always supported our people and continue to do so. For example, in Hosur, our work has extended to setting up our own township for our employees. We give them land at very subsidised rates, helping them build houses there and setting up a very good progressive CBSE school for the employees’ children. These children are now really doing well. So, it is almost throughout their entire life cycle, a whole generation that has developed and grown. We have been doing all of this, even though the terms CSR and sustainability have become prominent in the past five years or so.
We have also been working with self-help groups (SHGs) for under-privileged women in Hosur and the set up is called MEADOWS (Management of Enterprise and Development of Women). These are small groups of women who produce the simpler parts of the watch like the bracelet, under our supervision but through self-help groups. So, it is a source of employment. We now have over 20 such units engaged and employed who contribute to the making of both watches and jewellery. It was the right thing to do. It has helped empower the women, and has helped the company as well. We do some simple things through this mechanism where it becomes a win-win proposition. For them it serves as a source of livelihood and purposeful engagement. For us, this has proved to be a low cost and a sustainable business model. This is without compromising on quality as these women work under our direct supervision.
This programme has extended to a significantly larger scale today in jewellery making. Here, we work with the jewellery craftsman called karigars. The karigar is actually the most exploited in the jewellery industry. They work under harsh conditions in a hole in the wall kind of environment where their lungs can get eaten away by toxic fumes. To improve their working conditions, we came up with the idea of a Karigar’s Park and a Karigar Centre where we get them all under one roof, and provide them with industrial tables and tools. As a result, we saw that their productivity and earnings both have grown significantly as we pay them by the gram. For us it has become cost effective as our costs have come down. So, overall, it’s a win-win proposition and it does not even qualify under a CSR programme. There are a number of such initiatives and activities that we could classify as CSR but we don’t. They are an integral part of our business and are treated as such.
We started a scholarship program in Hosur, for helping poor and needy students through college. This has continued for the last 30 years and over 2,000 students have benefited from these efforts. Several of our employees in Hosur having seen this extraordinary transformation in their own lives, have in turn given back to their own villages with their own resources and seeking minimal from Titan. They often devote their weekends to go back either to their own village or to the villages around the plant to organise activities such as free eye testing, blood donation, and veterinary clinics. They are giving back to the society. All we do is give them an opportunity and facilitate by giving them a break from work or allowing them to leave early from office.
I think the sustainability piece extends not just to society but also to the environment. If you look at our office which uses natural lighting and natural air you can get a sense of my own thinking and that of the leadership team. Our office building is LEED certified. We use natural lighting as far as possible and avoid air-conditioning, thereby saving power with both endeavours. You see the greenery around the building and the open spaces. We aim to create a surrounding that our employees love and enjoy and feel inspired to become more productive. Again, it is part of our business.
Share your thoughts on the Design Impact Awards? How do the awards fit into the company’s contribution towards the society?
I believe that social change happens when the right design finds the right degree of support on both financial and promotional fronts. That’s why we support transformative design with financial grants, advocacy, mentorship and seed capital.
Hence, we aim to identify and mentor product design innovators who would like to upscale their products’ reach to a larger community. The programme will also recognise grassroots innovators, particularly those who have been able to design creative product solutions for contextual problems using whatever means available. Design Impact Awards by Titan in collaboration with Tata Trusts is a project-based grant award that aims to positively impact the underprivileged communities and needs of the society, by encouraging and inspiring bright minds to design for the benefit of the Indian society.
The programme is open to innovators across India. Innovators who finally qualify will be financially supported up to Rs. 65 lakhs along with advocacy, recognition, and mentorship. This year we received 993 applications and we look to scale it up even further in the coming years.
Our CSR mandate consists of three pillars (Education for the girl child; Skilling for the youth and differently abled; and, Arts, Crafts and Indian Heritage) plus responsible citizenship. And design sits in that space. One of the big competencies we have is design. And, therefore, we wondered how could we do something where we can actually use our design expertise for social purpose. So, the design impact award is for assisting social entrepreneurs and working with them. So, we are building an ecosystem in which we provide assistance to the selected applicants in many ways apart from the funding alone. The purpose essentially is to support these innovators so that their ideas can see the light of the day.
The best designs are a combination of form and function. Most people confuse design with aesthetics. So, for us, when we are talking of solving a problem in the society it is about functionality, how can a product work better and more effectively.
One of the major differentiators of this program is that we are not looking at/for only for the eventual winning idea. We have a thorough and detailed evaluation and engagement process-which engages the participants rather than being an eliminating exercise. The program will engage with top 100 participants in the form of boot-camps/workshops or webinars. The aim is to provide value to a large no. of participants than just the winners
It’s a start, and if the intent is good to begin with I am sure the results will follow.
In conversation with Mr. Bhaskar Bhat, Managing Director of Titan Company Limited. (Original Post)