?Rajashree Aditya Birla
A social mission is as integral to a corporation as a business vision. In fact, a social mission should form part of an organisation’s business vision. The late Aditya Birla, icon of Indian industry, who diversified India’s second largest business house, the Birla Group, from textiles to cement to metals and many other products, passionately believed in the spirit of giving and caring for people, in helping restore their dignity and self-esteem. He believed that business is not simply an end in itself, but that it must result also in the larger good of society. His philosophy is best articulated in the Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
One of the key areas is balwadi, providing non-formal education, supporting formal education in terms of infrastructure and material and sponsorship of meritorious needy students.
Aditya Birla soon realised that the Government cannot single-handedly tackle the issues of poverty and social deprivation. In the increasingly complex environment, which has led to a changed and new social ethos, the onus of social responsibility, which earlier rested solely with the Government, gradually moved to include the private sector. Aditya Birla viewed Birla’s social responsibility in a much larger perspective ?one that goes beyond philanthropy.
The Birla Group comprises ten units, mainly Hindalco, Grasim, Indian Rayon, Indo Gulf, Vikram Cement, Rajashree Cement, among others. In a uniquely collaborative venture with the State Innovations in Family Planning Services Project Agency (SIFPSA) and the State Health & Family Welfare Department, the Aditya Birla Group embarked on an initiative that aims to stem the population explosion. Its collective goal is to popularise the small family through a focused attention on the mother and the child.
Motivational programmes are carried out, encouraging the village folk to adopt small family norms. Villagers are encouraged to go in for deliveries at the local hospitals or clinics in the presence of proper paramedical staff, so that the infant mortality and maternal mortality rates can be reduced. Staging street plays, pasting of hoardings and posters and using the traditional form of Katputhli (puppet) shows have helped enormously to bring about an awareness in this respect.
Model couples from villagers act as a motivating force in encouraging fellow villagers to go in for the use of contraceptives. Regular nutritional programmes provide nutritional services to pregnant women and children. Healthy Baby shows are staged to stress the importance of "small family, happy family".
Hindalco evolved a population control strategy based on a holistic approach which encompasses education, women and their development, and maternal and child health care areas, apart from sensitizing men to the need for small families. In partnership with the Mahila Mandal (Renukoot), they fanned out to hundreds of villages. Over 6,500 people took advantage of their antenatal, post-natal and mass immunization schemes. Education was imparted in spacing methods as well as sexually transmitted diseases. From among the local population, 1,406 persons seemed favourably inclined to undergo vasectomy operations, which were successfully done. Hindalco has been able to persuade hundreds of couples to resort to Family Planning, adopting the two-child family norm.
Deep in the interiors, endeavouring to raise literacy levels has been quite a challenge for Hindalco. It espouses adult education and supports balwadis, which are non-formal education centres, apart from helping schools run by the District Authorities. Through 47 balwadis and 16 adult education centres, Hindalco has been able to spark the desire to learn, to be able to at least have the basic ability to read and write, among the villagers.
To enable men and women to stand on their own feet, Hindalco helped villagers start up small shops, particularly for cobblery and blacksmithery, by providing them financial assistance.
To change the lives of young widows for the better, Hindalco initiated a widow remarriage scheme, which is truly pathbreaking. Along with the help of village influentials, Hindalco has managed to get more than 300 widows remarried to date, thereby bringing the smile back on the girls?faces. Hindalco also stresses on increase in the age of marriage for girls.
Indo Gulf’s social projects straddle across 1,000 villages surrounding their fertilizer Plant at Jagdishpur and their copper Plant (Birla Copper) at Dahej. It touches the lives of more than 3,00,000 people.
In collaboration with the SIFPSA and the State Health & Family Welfare Department, Indo Gulf is looking at Family Planning and reproductive health in a broader context ?one which encompasses the well-being of women and child-care, besides offering easy access to quality Family Planning services. Adopting a holistic approach, Indo Gulf caters to the needs of the local populace of Jagdishpur where Rural Weekly Clinics are held in the village interiors. Apart from the distribution of contraceptives, antenatal and post-natal counselling and medical check-ups, immunization of children is also undertaken. To date, more than 14,200 couples have benefited from the Indo Gulf project and more than 11,000 children, aged one month to five years, immunized since it began in 1998-99.
Under the National Literacy Programme at Jagdishpur, Indo Gulf chose 121 women from five villages, spanning four blocks of the Sultanpur and Raebarelli districts, who showed eagerness to learn. A six-month training programme was designed, focusing on the basics, teaching them how to read and write.
To identify and nurture talented youngsters in the rural areas, Indo Gulf held a Talent Search Test. The students so selected have been recognised through conferring awards on them. The spin-off has been remarkable and has resulted in improvement of the standard of education as well. Indo Gulf also instituted a scholarship scheme for students in the rural areas who have secured a first class in their Board exams.
Indo Gulf provides extensive training to the youth of Jagdishpur in various skills. Its Vocational Training Centre is becoming increasingly popular among the rural youth, particularly tailoring, running of provision
stores, bee-keeping. More importantly, to empower women, women farmers of Jagdishpur are provided financial assistance to purchase seeds and can access government loans and subsidies.
At Dahej, the Indo Gulf Copper Unit (Birla Copper) has also forayed into Family Planning successfully persuading over 500 couples in 2001-02 to adopt the two-child family norm.
Education is an area of priority for Indo Gulf at Dahej too. Indo Gulf has taken on the responsibility of facilitating education of the poorest of poor students who live near the Plant. Remarkably, all employees contribute Rs. 100 every month for this cause, and reach out to 90 students. Schoolbooks have been distributed to 4,300 students, who belong to the weaker sections of society, across eight schools in the Plant’s neighbourhood.
To provide health care to the populace of Jagdishpur and Dahej, Indo Gulf also organised nearly 400 medical camps in the village interiors. More than 20,000 villagers were examined. With the help of Shree Bhagwan Mahabir Viklang Sahayata Samiti, Jaipur, and the National Institute of Orthopaedically Handicapped, 350 physically challenged people were given supportive aids such as tricycles, calipers, crutches, artificial limbs ...
Grasim’s teams at Nagda, Harihar, Kharach, Jawad, Malkhed and Raipur are in the forefront of the "mother and child-care" campaign. Grasim has been able to persuade hundreds of couples to adopt Family Planning measures.
Grasim, too, like the other Birla units, endeavours to spread literacy as it strongly believes that education is the key to population control. To upgrade the level of teaching among the teachers in balwadis, coupled with those in urban schools, teacher training programmes are being organised at Nagda, Harihar and Salav in Raighad. Eighty teachers who have participated in the programmes make learning an enjoyable experience for children.
To foster a character-forming, value-based education, Grasim organises residential camps during summer holidays at Dahej in Gujarat and other locales, where basic values such as integrity, respect, compassion, human dignity, perseverance and simplicity are reinforced.
To empower women by helping them become economically independent, Grasim hones their inherent learning skills through a number of vocational training programmes such as tailoring, making ropes, bamboo baskets, carpet weaving ... Women have now mastered the art of carpet weaving and are full-fledged carpet weavers. In an interview given to the ORG Centre for Social Research, Rajashree Aditya Birla, Director on the Board of the Birla Group, proudly claimed: "What is most gratifying is that besides creating a meaningful employment opportunity for women that affords them good monetary return, their products have gained recognition. Carpets made by these women are showcased in the best of the showrooms at Jaipur and Udaipur and are today exported to the United States and other countries in the West."
Grasim’s work with the physically impaired is also noteworthy. It has provided the Jaipur Foot to more than 1,000 physically impaired individuals, apart from organising medical camps.
Indian Rayon works in 500 villages surrounding its Plants in Gujarat, Renukoot in Uttar Pradesh and Gummidipoondi near Chennai, reaching out to more than 2,00,000 people. It focuses on areas of health-care, education and sustainable livelihood.
To date, Indian Rayon has been able to counsel and persuade 1,800 couples to resort to Family Planning, adopting the two-child family norm. In their own small way, they have begun an Aids Awareness campaign as well at Rishra in West Bengal.
The Intensive Care Unit set up by Jayashree Textiles at Rishra Seva Sadan in Hooghly, has been a boon to the local population. More than 800 patients have been its beneficiaries. Immunization camps form part of Indian Rayon’s medical camps. Hundreds of people have gained immensely. For example, 239 patients benefited from the Jayashree Textiles?Laparoscopic, Eye Micro-surgery and Lens Implant Camps.
To espouse the cause of the girl-child, Indian Rayon provides educational support. Distribution of textbooks to the Panchayat Schools, and financial aid to needy educational institutions also form part of their canvas. It has kindled the desire to learn among 5,000 children. It also supports a College library at Renukoot. A Science Block in the Serampur Girls College, West Bengal, has also been set up through the efforts of Indian Rayon.
Every year Indian Rayon selects a small group of farmers who are sent specially to Rajkot for training in bee-keeping, which has become quite a lucrative profession in Veraval. Indian Rayon has started a systematic programme of farm-well recharging, which has facilitated the irrigation process immensely. Its endeavours to equip villages with basic amenities, such as supporting infrastructure through better roads, check dams, drains and panchayat buildings, are ongoing.
It was an uphill task for Birlas. They had to overcome all kinds of problems. Teams had to work at two different levels. First, they had to convince the men that empowering the women was in the best interests of the family and that they should let them move out of the confines of the home. They impressed upon the men how they could rise above subsistence levels through these projects run by women. Convincing women to enlist in activities such as training programmes for handpump mechanics, was also a formidable task as handling tools and other mechanical equipment was, for them, inconceivable as that was the male’s domain.
The late Aditya Birla’s philosophy is meticulously practised by his wife Rajashree Birla, under the aegis of The Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives. The Centre’s Vision ?"To actively contribute to the social and economic development of the communities in which we operate. In so doing, build a better, sustainable way of life for the weaker sections of society." According to her: "Our social engagement stems from our fundamental belief that the organisation of the future will be judged by the values it stands for, for its contribution and for the benefits it offers to communities amidst which it operates ... The day is not far when an increasing number of industrial houses will realise the virtues of being good corporate citizens who reach out to communities far beyond the call of business."
The Birlas have always believed in the trusteeship concept of management. From this stems their unrelenting commitment to social involvement. Their projects mirror the moral conscience and values of their group. Their community work is a way of telling the people among whom they operate that they care. Their involvement in innumerable villages has made a palpable difference to the lives of its inhabitants. And as the Birlas watch the nation’s transition from helplessness to self-assurance, from pain and servitude to self-reliance, from illiteracy to a craving for education, they too experience an inner sense of fulfilment.
Courtesy: Dr. Pragnya Ram