Today, there is greater awareness regarding contributing to the society. In some cases, by providing employment to the underprivileged – be it socially, economically or physically – organisations have found a means to keep their business growing even while contributing positively to the society.
Bangalore-based Vindhya Infomedia (Vindhya) uses one line to describe the organisation: A business process outsourcing unit enabled by differently enabled.
The organisation offers loan processing, claims processing, human resources processing, scanning and web based processes services to companies such as Yahoo (NextWealth), Wipro, IndusInd Bank, Ujjivan, and MetLife among others. Started in 2006, it has 200 employees, and 100 per cent of its production staff consists of people with disabilities. “We work with physically challenged, hearing impaired, and some women from below poverty line families,” says Chief Executive Ashok Giri D.
While minimum 10+2 / Graduates are employed for floor operations and onsite operations, engineering and masters graduates qualify for quality and supervision level. “We work with lots of non-governmental organisations to do the recruitment and we also conduct our own job camps in various cities,” adds Giri.
Several companies including Vindhya infomedia, Tata Group and Frontier textiles have successfully merged some of their CSR initiatives with their mainstream business strategy. Employing the under-privileged is an area where they have shown tremendous progress.
At Frontier Textiles, in a way, it was necessity that forced the company to look for alternative sources of employees. This Kolkatta-based exporter of protective and safety clothing to the European markets – including for companies like Williamson Dickies U.K. and Wurth Germany, world leaders in personal safety – found labour a big problem. Anup Jaiswal, procurement head, explains, “We faced a severe worker problem. We would find contract workers but the moment we got orders, they would throw a tantrum, demand higher rates and not finish on time. Quality also suffered.”
Though the company experimented with having full-time employees, the problem did not cease.
At around that time, in 2004-2005, they found a unique alternative. Don Bosco Seri, a charitable institution in Kolkatta, ran a training school for destitute and poor women. Managing Director, Aniruddh Singh, found in this an opportunity to meet his need and to contribute to the society, all while finding a solution to the labour problem.
“We spoke to Brother Mathews and trained the girls on our machines. They then became part of the organisation,” says Jaiswal. Seeing their contribution in this area, Shri Kanti Ganguly, minister of state for Sundarban, West Bengal, who also was the secretary of the Helen Keller institute for deaf and dumb approached the organisation. Thus, the company started a training unit at the institute, and then started absorbing the trainees into the organisation.
For the Tata Group, the loyalty they experienced in the small towns where some of its companies operated was a tremendous responsibility. Places like Jamshedpur and Munnar, where Tata has a tea estate, had educated youth unwilling to leave the place where they grew up in and were therefore underemployed.
TBSS (Tata Business Support Services), a Tata group company that offers call center services to the Tata group, was encouraged to look at tier 2 and 3 cities to tap the available skills to run the call center. One of the successfully running call centers is part of the Tamil Nadu circle at Munnar. Says Jaljith Narayanan, human resources head, “Our call center operations were handled at Hyderabad. The children and spouse of the employees of the Tata Tea Estate in Munnar were trained at the Hyderabad center. Though they were qualified, they were raw, and this exposure was important to train them in how to handle calls.” The training began in January 2009 and the center went live six months later.
Because of the passion showed by the trainees, and the promise of improved services, Tata Teleservices has also become involved in the center more directly under the leadership of Tata Teleservices chief executive, G. Ramprasad. The Tata group undertaking such an initiative has reinforced the faith the employees had in the group.
One could describe such initiatives as being win-win. On the one hand, it boosts the self-confidence of the employees. Says Jaiswal, “They can no longer be called economically underprivileged as being on the rolls, they get all the benefits and are now financially independent. Their status in the family has also improved and their confidence levels have gone up – so much that they are able to tell us how they would like to grow within the organisation.”
While there is a limit to how women grow in this company – becoming a floor manager is not possible because of it requires overtime and a certain aggressiveness – they move quickly into quality control and training.
At Tata Teleservices, Jaljith has seen a similar increase in confidence level. “I saw one girl during the training who was as good as any in the city. At the time of coming up for promotion, she clearly told us she wants to become a training manager and not a team leader. Such confidence has come about because of the work they are doing.”
At Vindhya, the employees have grown like in a regular organisation, and therefore, the integration with the society is complete, boosting their confidence.
Though Giri says there are no extra expectations, both Jaiswal and Jaljeeth agree that attrition is down and quality much better. For the organisation too, there are some benefits – like in case of Tata Teleservices, they found tremendous improvement in customer satisfaction. “They work with a passion and treat customers as customers and not as numbers,” says Jaljeeth.
While sometimes the direct impact of employing the underprivileged may not be quantifiable, the fact that there is a clear quality improvement and ensured reliability of services can be attributed to the performance of such people. For instance, Frontier revenues doubled in the period from 2004 to 2009 to touch Rs 12 crore.
Tata too has upgraded the customer service group at Munnar to lead management. In the “8282” scheme it launched recently to call and buy Tata phones online, within a month and a half, this team managed to bag 70 orders. This is also the only team to have achieved this countrywide.
The way ahead
There are challenges to such a move in any organisation. For Vindhya, the challenges were more in terms of making employees understand and adapt to the corporate environment. With the right atmosphere and time, they mature and blossom. In an organisation like Frontier, which employs designers from NIFT too, the cultural milieu can be varied and needs adjustment.
But, for each of these organisations, the experience has been one of satisfaction and growth. Frontier plans to increase the number of challenged/women employees from the current 50 per cent of 350 to 70 per cent by December 2010. Vindhya aims to become a 5000-strong company by 2015 and Tata group is already exploring tier 2 & 3 cities for more such customer support services.
Any new step has its challenges. But, the fact that these organisations have made the move is a positive step forward towards fulfilling the dream of equitable growth across sections and regions.