The sight and plight of construction workers and their families is a common phenomenon ,these are migration workers who are like a boat without anchor and sail ,working in hazardous and accident prone conditions and devoid of crèche and decent day care facilities for their kids ,often have to station their children at the construction site in the most unfavourable environment ,their children grow amidst dust ,dirt .
Most of us are deeply touched when we encounter such situations especially when we go to inspect our under construction dream flats ,offices but we simply end up being mute spectator but there are few brave hearts who challenge the status quo and if such initiative comes from industry it is a commendable initiative ,as CSR in industry has reduced to a “Convenient Social Responsibility” .
Here is a story of a German MNC “HELLA” group which has a set an example in CSR. In conversation with Mr.Harka Thakur the Lead CSR for HELLA Pune and the key architect of project Aakar?
Q1 .Tell us in brief about yourself ?
I am with HELLA for past 5 years now and total work experience is 22 years in various domain and functions. Here I am responsible for Facility Management for our Pune Centerand Security and fire protection for all 5 HELLA Locations in India.
Q2. Lead CSR ….help us understand this terminology and about your CSR team ?
Lead-CSR is a perfect example of what we call ‘situational leadership’ in management courses. There is a team of around 50 young professionals and each one of them takes a lead in the task she/he voluntarily takes up depending upon the situation. We are driven by a passion to contribute to the society and bring a change in someone’s life for better. So you can say that there are 50 leads and yet not a single leader.
Q3. How did the focus shift to rehabilitation of construction workers children
When we started thinking about doing something for the society a couple of years back it was very clear that we didn’t want to just put a tick in the box or create a marketing propaganda. The idea was to –
- create a difference in the lives of thosewho badly needed support and
- to create a self-sustaining mechanism
During that time we read about a tragic incidence of an accident at one of the construction sites in Pune. As we did some research on the construction sites we discovered some startling facts. There are around — construction sites and more than —- construction workers only in Pune. More than 90% of the workers have migrated from near and far village. They live in absolutely unhygienic and deplorable conditions risking their lives every day. This is when we decided to focus our efforts towards rehabilitation, health and well-being of Construction workers and their children.
We focused on their health and well-being first and organized free health check-up camps which provided medical treatment and medicines free of cost.
Q4. Explain the birth ,evolution of project “Aakar”
It was during the health check-up camps that we came across kids with diseases and illness mostly related to hygiene, cleanliness and neglect. We noticed that they stayed on the construction site under constant risk of a mishap, played in dirt and mud and had no fixed time for any meals. We had to do something for them, not just for their safety but also to provide them basic hygiene and education. This is how Aakar, a day care cum learning centre, was born. In just a few months we could see the difference, the dirty, ill-manneredand neglected kids were transformed into disciplined and well-groomed kids who could read basic alphabets and words.
Encouraged by success of Aakar 1 we opened Aakar 2 at another construction site. Best part was that it was inaugurated by kids from Aakar 1 and they all performed on stage for the kids of new school. They also had confidence to talk on stage urging workers at second site to send their kids to Aakar for better future.
Q5. What were the early struggles ,constraints you faced while shaping the project ?
There were some initial challenges – the workers were a bit apprehensive as they had to trust us, complete strangers to them, with their health.This was the first time any organization was showing concern for their plight and it took some time to build the trust. Our volunteers talked to workers and their family members to understand their health issues. Once that was done we started health check up camp and during these camps we could build that trust and good bonding with kids and women on the labour camp. Starting Aakar was a smooth affair as by that time we had a good bonding with the workers but we needed to get the construction company also on board for support like space and a class room.
Q6.Aakar has scaled newer heights of success in such a short time span .. share the reasons for the commendable achievements?
There are a couple of reasons, first is that we took a lot of efforts to understand their situation. Our volunteers interacted with the kids and women on the site in their language and put together a plan to do what they needed the most and not focusing only on what we wanted to do. Second, the commendable efforts of the volunteers. Each and every volunteer is committed to the project and is driven by compassion. Its incredible and sometimes seems unbelievable that our volunteers, the youngsters of today, get up at 5 am on a weekend to spend half of their Saturday at Akaar for absolutely nothing in return. We don’t have to motivate them because they are inspired..
Q7. Today the organizations are grappling for employee engagement and they seem to find answers in wrong places and initiatives ,how has Aakar supplemented employee engagement ?
While employee engagement was never the focus when we started with the CSR activities, it has surely had a great impact on the connect we have with the employees. This is like touching their emotional side. Almost everyone has a desire to contribute to the society, but don’t know what, where and how. We as a company provided them an avenue where they can do it. And in return they get satisfaction of giving back to the society. We have made it as part of induction program also. We take the freshers who join us to the site to make them aware about the work we are doing.
Q8. What are plans for the project Aakar in near future ?
Plans are on to identify bright students and then support them with tuitions or extra curricular activities. Here challenge is to track the child for longer period as their parents shift jobs or move out to their hometown during monsoon period.
Q9. Its a benchmark initiative and with infrastructure development in full swing ,we need multiples of Aakar in every city ,are there any plans to replicate the model ?
We already have two Aakars and we will surely build further. But this is not enough. We want this model to be adopted by corporates and other organisations also as we can only support a few sites. We are happy to share our experiences and our model to anyone who is interested.
Q10. What has been your personal experience ?
It has been enriching and lovely two and half years. I have visited them with my family also quite a few times and the team makes it a point to be there on weekends. It gives you satisfaction to see them smile and develop. Every small thing they learn is like an achievement.
Q11. How does the organization support this initiative ?
We could not have done all this without support from our Management. We have like-minded seniors who are compassionate about doing good for the society. Our Managing Director, Centre Head for Pune and our Director HR have been our inspiration and support. Their participation in the events at Aakar is always appreciated by volunteers.
Q12. Have you mapped /noticed the change in the employee’s relatedness with Hella through this unique initiative ?
A recent opinion survey showed an increase in positive score on the question ‘pride to work for HELLA’ compared to the scores 3 years back.
Q13. Is there any other project in pipeline ?
We would like others to join and start supporting for this cause. As for HELLA we have formed an NGO Bal Swavlamban Trust in NCR Region providing technical education to school kids and running a computer learning centre for the needy free of cost.
Fire gave us power ,Agriculture made us hungry for more ,mythology maintained law and order ,money gave us something we can really trust ,contradictions created culture, gossip helped us to cooperate and science made us deadly.
We are more powerful than ever before but somehow our concept of growth & development is sometimes skewed to building monuments ,buildings ,bridges ,flyovers ,stadiums or engaging into endless debates and knowledge sessions which is slowing building compassion and empathy fatigue . Its time to rejuvenate spirituality which is yawning and gasping for oxygen ,time to integrate and replicate Hella and Harka’s Akaar in our own cities ,if done it will be something more than CSR ,we will be actually constructing future !