Can CSR Based Skills Training Initiatives Make a Difference in Livelihood Creation?

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India has over 36 crore young people between the age 10 and 24 and also the largest youth population in the world. As per the National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, 2015, 62% of India’s population is in the working age group (15-59 years) and more than 54% of the total population is below 25 years of age. It is further estimated that the average age of the population in India by 2020 will be 29 years as against 40 years in USA, 46 years in Europe and 47 years in Japan. Almost 92% of the population is employed in the informal sector. However, India currently faces an alarming shortage of skilled workforce. As per a National Skill Development Mission report, only 2.3% of the Indian workforce has undergone formal skill training as compared to 68% in the UK, 75% in Germany, 52% in USA and 96% in South Korea. The Indian government has launched many schemes to provide skilling opportunities for our workforce and helping them join mainstream employment, effectively enabling them to participate in India’s growth story. I believe corporations can also play a significant role through their CSR initiatives to contribute through skills training in areas where they possess expertise. In this context, I share the Skills Training and Capacity Building Initiatives of the Taj Group of Hotels as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) focus.

Distributing Fish or Teaching how to Fish?

Given that they are in the food business, the initial approach of corporate responsibility at Taj was in the form of distributing excess food to old age homes and orphanages. Vasant Ayyappan, Former Director of Sustainability at the Taj Hotels recalled the transition from this approach, ‘We could have sat back relaxed thinking that we’ve done our bit towards poverty eradication by feeding the poor. But very quickly we realized that the people to whom we were giving food were becoming dependant on us. So it wasn’t really a nation-building activity. We needed to teach people how to fish.’ The Corporate Sustainability (CS) Team at Taj reflected on how they could contribute to nation-building. While the list of issues were endless, they wanted to use their core competence to make a difference. They mapped the Tata ethos, the Millennium Development Goals (The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ranging from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015, formed a blueprint agreed to by 189 member countries and twenty-three leading international development institutions at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000), the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Social Charter (a set of ten ideas that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shared in his address at the Annual General Meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry on 24 May 2007), and their core competence and decided that given their expertize in hospitality, they would focus on ‘Building Sustainable Livelihoods’ in areas connected with the industry. Their belief was that by economically empowering the youth, the company was actually empowering the entire family, and thus contributing to a stronger India.

In 2015, the travel and tourism industry contributed to 3.7 crore jobs (8.7 per cent of total employment) in India, and was expected to rise to 4.6 crore jobs (9 per cent of total employment) by 2026. Hence the opportunity to make a difference was enormous. An easy approach would have been to bring the youth below poverty line to the company centres, train them, make them employable, and send them back. However, the CS team decided to follow the difficult path of going into the community and establishing centres in very backward and rural areas. The focus was on the youth who did not have the opportunity or money to come to urban centres.

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The Typical Journey of a Rural Youth When He Arrives in a Metro City

An initial survey revealed that the average monthly salary of a family of five in rural India was Rs 1700. That meant just Rs 11 per person per day. So, by the time the male child was fourteen and the girl child was thirteen, there was huge pressure on them to move out of the home and start earning. Typically, the boy would move into the nearest town, and work at a bicycle shop or a dhaba. The monthly salary of Rs 2000 makes him happy and he sends Rs 500 home. Yet, very quickly, he realizes that he isn’t able to live within Rs 1500. So he moves out from wherever he is living, and starts staying in the motor mechanic’s place. To save even more money, he starts skipping a meal every day. Five months down the line, he’s disillusioned as the life before him isn’t rosy. This is the time that somebody approaches him and says, ‘I’ll teach you how to make a quick buck.’ This quick money could be through facilitating prostitution, or petty thievery, or drug peddling. With this, his income increases five times, and his parents are delighted to receive a few thousand rupees from him every month. They bless him immensely for his contribution to the family. This goes on for six months, until one fine morning, a police van turns up before his house . . . Once they get into jail, they’re finished for life. First, they get a police record. Secondly, they meet up with hardened criminals. Finally, even if they’re out of jail, the society does not accept them or reinstate them without prejudice. India’s future can be saved and demographic dividend truly reaped when corporations can help by preventing these able-bodied youth from getting into anti-social activities, and by giving them vocational training to become self-sufficient.

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The Beginning of the Skill Building Journey at Taj

Taj started its skill building journey in the tribal belts of India with the largest amount of poverty and backwardness, including the northeast, Jammu and Kashmir. These centres were started in collaboration with NGOs. Taj trained the trainers, provided curriculum and the vital resource material on areas such as housekeeping, food and beverage (F&B), bakery services and more. It was estimated that by 2012, the industry would need an estimated 3,00,000 spa therapists. To contribute to this, Taj Jiva Spa offered a three-month training course in spa services at the training centre setup at Dimapur in Nagaland. Besides the inputs from Taj experts, trainees would get an opportunity to briefly work hands-on at one among the many Taj properties across India. At the end of their training, the participants would receive a joint certification, which would help them gain quick employment.

Image: Jiva: The Flagship Taj Spa Brand Across the Globe

Since 2009, over 12,000 youth had received such training in hospitality-related fields, through 42 skill development centres. Over 90 per cent got jobs, while the remaining pursued higher studies or started their own venture. The CS Team observed that advertisements brought in only 30 per cent of candidates into the training centres. More than 70 per cent came through word-of-mouth. The large numbers were hence a proof of the beneficiaries’ positive experience. Among the NGO partners were Pratham, Don Bosco and Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) of the Government of India.

Collaboration with the Government during the Delhi Commonwealth Games

Image: Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010

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Taj also stepped in to collaborate with Central and state government projects. For example, during the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, at the call of the then Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dixit, the ‘Hunar Se Rozgar Tak’ (expertise to employment) project was started to train local unemployed youth in hospitality skills such that they could earn a living when guests for the Games thronged the national capital. A six to eight weeks intensive training module in diverse areas including accommodation, food and transportation was provided to enable the youth to get mainstream jobs. Subsequent to its success, the Ministry of Tourism initiated a nation-wide replication of the project model.

Preparing Tasty and Nutritious Food for the Mid Day Meal Scheme

Yet another project was initiated under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), a national programme for health and nutrition needs of children in the Nadurbar District of Maharashtra. It was chosen as a pilot location due to the high incidence of malnutrition in its migratory tribal population. The chefs of Gateway Hotel Nashik accepted the challenge of making a difference to the quality and taste of meals prepared for the target group—children less than six years of age, lactating mothers and pregnant women. The nutritious recipes were to be made using locally available ingredients, and at the same time ensuring an intake of 300 calories and eight grams of protein per day. Led by Ratnakar Prabhu, a Maharashtrian specialties chef at Gateway Nashik, forty recipes for breakfast and lunch were developed within the ICDS budget of Rs 1.98 per child per day. As a result, over 1.5 lakh children had six different types of food every week.

Interestingly, there was a 13 per cent rise in the number of children attending the Anganwadis as compared to the baseline. The Bhavishya Alliance, a facilitating agency for mother and child care is formed by leading corporate houses including HUL, HDFC, ICICI and Tata Group. This programme trained 12,000 SHG workers and local women in cooking, cash management and hygienic practices to ensure that the project was sustainable.

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