Tech Mahindra Foundation works in 12 cities, has 100 smart centres, and 67 education and disability projects. It has three academies and the Tech Mahindra School of Nursing at Banasthali too. It has partnership with six municipal corporations and aims to reach out to 50,000 direct beneficiaries in 2017-18.
Anand Mahindra has been quoted as saying, “Education is the single most powerful intervention for transforming lives.” India is a young country compared to many developed nations. The median age is 29 years, and the majority of the population is below the age of 35. There has been a lot of buzz around India’s ‘demographic dividend’ waiting to be tapped, and an equal amount of concern about the same young people whose progress in life might be obstructed by a lack of access to education and skills at the right time. Set up in 2007, with the mission of “Empowering through Education”, Tech Mahindra Foundation has been at work on CSR much before it was made mandatory. Through its efforts, the Foundation hopes that India’s ‘demographic dividend’ pays off.
When the Foundation initially started its work, it focused chiefly on improving school education through its NGO partners. Over the years, the team felt the need to continue their intervention along the spectrum of education, beyond primary school. “What happens to those who fall through the cracks and dropout in Class VII or VIII? Where does that child who has not been able to finish his or her studies work?” asks Loveleen Kacker, the CEO of Tech Mahindra Foundation. “In 2012, when I came onboard, we quickly realized that education was not enough to get someone a job. Employability is the key.” And so the Foundation’s flagship employability vertical came into the picture.
A SMART Solution
Skills for Market Training (SMART) is an employability programme of Tech Mahindra. While skilling has taken centre stage under the current government, the SMART programme was launched prior to the Skill India mission. In 201213, Tech Mahindra Foundation began three centres providing job skills for young people. The curriculum included English, computer skills, and crucially, coached them in ‘workplace readiness’ so that the SMART trainees could walk into a new job prepared for what would be expected of them. Initially, retail and hospitality were the main sectors for which young people were trained.
The start was deliberately slow. Chetan Kapoor, the Chief Operating Officer of Tech Mahindra Foundation, says, “We built quality into the DNA of the SMART programme. It is very difficult to retrofit quality standards after scaling up. The initial growth of the programme was deliberately set at a certain pace so that our processes and monitoring were robust. We have invested a lot of time and effort into building capacity of our NGO partners and the training of trainers. There is a fixed curriculum, and we are confident in the quality of training provided across the country.”
As Kapoor points out, Tech Mahindra Foundation is a very hands-on CSR partner. Support goes much further than finances. In the initial stages of SMART, standard operating procedures (SOPs) were put into place for the entire programme, starting from selecting NGO partners, to the admission procedures for the young people in need of jobs. Capacity building of the partners and making sure that they follow the SOPs have been key elements in this process.
In just five years, the SMART programme has scaled up from three centres to 100 centres in 11 cities. The Foundation has provided employability skills to 50,000 young people so far, and is targeting reaching another 20,000 in 2017-18. In 2015, KPMG carried out an audit of the SMART programme. One of the key revelations of the study was the fact that KPMG not only vouched for SMART’s 70 per cent annual placement rate, but also assessed the Social Return on Investment (SROI) of the programme at Rs 13.29 for every rupee invested.
From the initial focus on retail and hospitality, the bouquet of courses offered has gradually been diversified. SMART-T is the technical training programme with longer duration courses such as air-conditioning and refrigeration maintenance, CNC machine operation, Tally, beauty and wellness and more.
Tech Mahindra Foundation’s own mandate states that 50 per cent of all beneficiaries must be girls and young women, and 10 per cent persons with disabilities. SMART+ is their skilling programme for persons with disabilities. Many of their SMART+ trainees work in hospitality with conscientious employers willing to promote inclusivity, such as the Lemon Tree hotels and Le Meridien hiring from them. Their hundredth SMART centre, which was recently inaugurated in Mumbai is a bold step for SMART+ as they plan to provide technical training like plumbing and maintenance to persons with disabilities. Run – in partnership with the Helen Keller Institute for the DeafBlind, the Foundation hopes that this SMART+ centre will become a model that can be replicated.
Buoyed by the success of its SMART programme, in May 2016, the Foundation inaugurated the very first Tech Mahindra SMART Academy for Healthcare at the Gandhi Ashram, New Delhi. The Academy is directly managed by the Foundation, without an NGO implementing partner. A visit to the Academy is something quite special. A little beyond the noise and chaos of the GTB Nagar metro station near Delhi University lies the Gandhi Ashram. Few people know that Mahatma Gandhi himself had established an ashram in Delhi, and fewer still that the purpose of this Ashram was to provide skills to marginalized youth. Gandhi had set up the Harijan Sevak Sangh in 1932 and the building in which the Academy operates, dates from 1936. It is hard to pinpoint what makes the campus so soothing — whether it is the aura of the great man which still lingers or the pleasant shock of finding a tranquil green area just beyond a very crowded, disorganized street.
Inside the old walls of the Academy though lies a thoroughly modern medical training centre — complete with a state-of-the-art training ambulance, mock operating theatre lab, dialysis lab, X-ray lab and basic skills labs. Loveleen Kacker, says, “India has a dire need for allied health care professionals and our youth are looking for meaningful jobs. A government report estimated a shortage of a whopping 64 lakh health professionals. The Academy aims at giving top-notch health skills to young people through its state-of-the-art labs.”
In the first year, the Academy ran courses to train general duty assistants, emergency medical technicians and operation theatre technicians. In its second year, it has started training dialysis technicians, hospital front office and billing executives and will soon launch courses to certify X-ray technicians as well. The coming months will also see the launch of the second Tech Mahindra SMART Academy for Healthcare, in Mohali, Chandigarh and the Tech Mahindra SMART Academy for IT & Logistics in Visakhapatnam.
The Road Ahead
The Foundation is now aiming to build links along what Kacker refers to as “the continuum of education.” As she points out, someone in their skilling programme has already been subjected to an educational programme to a certain extent. Providing employable skills is the final step of the education process.
Tech Mahindra Foundation supports several schools through its All Round Improvement in School Education (ARISE) and All Round Improvement in Special Education (ARISE+). Shikshaantar is another education programme run by Tech Mahindra Foundation which works to build capacity for educators i.e. teachers, school principals and even school inspectors. The In-Service Teacher Education Institute is a public-private partnership between the Foundation and the East Delhi Municipal Corporation. The Foundation currently has six partnerships with different municipal corporations in India.
Tech Mahindra Foundation celebrated the dual milestones of completing ten years and inaugurating its 100th SMART Centre in April 2017. As Kacker wrote on the occasion, “The road so far has neither been easy nor perfect. Through all these years, what has ensured that we persisted, even when we worried about the impact we were making, there has been the unstinting support the Tech Mahindra family has shown us. We now have a decade of learning and growth behind us, and are earning the trust of the communities we work with. We are quietly confident about taking on challenges of the next 10 years.”
She adds, “As the world progresses, it is all the more urgent that India’s young people at the bottom of the pyramid are not left out as in the past. We know that our work touches a fraction of the total number of people who need interventions like SMART to be able to take charge of their lives.” She affirms though that every small step makes a difference. As the Foundation’s own reports, and KPMG’s assessment show, when the most vulnerable in society are empowered, everybody benefits.