Prittle Prattle’s exclusive dialogue with Ms. Shaina Ganapathy, Community Outreach Lead at Embassy Group.
In a realm where corporate social responsibility transcends mere philanthropy, Embassy Group’s “Corporate Connect” initiative stands as a beacon of collaborative and strategic social engagement. Ms. Shaina Ganapathy, the spearhead of Community Outreach at Embassy Group, sheds light on the intricacies and objectives of the Corporate Connect programme, which aims to amalgamate corporate efforts for amplified social and environmental impact.
- Can you explain the philosophy behind Embassy Group’s Corporate Connect programme and its primary objectives?
Today, most corporates have realised that a business cannot succeed in isolation. Direct engagement in environmental and social issues, as well as with the communities they work in, is necessary for sustainable growth, employee retention, and shareholder satisfaction. As companies have recognised the challenge of promoting change as being beyond the scope of a single organisation, identifying common mandates for collaboration is the key to ensuring effective implementation of CSR initiatives. Driven by this idea, the Community Outreach team at Embassy Group introduced the ‘Corporate Connect Programme,’ which champions collaboration between corporates with the aim of achieving social, environmental, and economic progress. It has a vision to rekindle the spirit of collaboration among like-minded companies and channel social investments into projects that are scalable, measurable, and impactful.
We found that identifying common mandates for collaboration is vital to avoid duplication of efforts. For example, a single government school receives the same kinds of ad hoc support from multiple corporate partners and other stakeholders.
Further, we have found that corporates working in isolation from government departments and agencies prove to be less effective. In many cases, the government has existing networks and infrastructure and has carried out needs-based assessments on the ground. Utilising their expertise ensures greater efficiency. While executing CSR campaigns, companies invest a great deal of time in identifying and selecting beneficiaries. Supporting government programmes, which are often more credible, saves precious time and effort.
- How does this model facilitate collective action and social impact through partnerships with corporate occupiers?
Through the Corporate Connect Programme, companies implementing similar CSR programmes in silos come together to identify the larger social issues and arrive at a collaborative solution to address them sustainably. Some of the challenges we address with Corporate Connect are programme duplication, non-alignment with state and national priorities, and how to deepen our impact on our existing projects. By joining hands, this model ensures corporates come together to share knowledge, exchange learnings from the past, develop best practices, and partner to undertake projects aimed at collective impact. By adopting the Corporate Connect model, corporates can increase their ability to support a larger number of geographies and beneficiaries by converging goals with another corporate.
At present, 76 projects have been completed through collaborations with 42 corporate partners. Edu-Infrastructure, our primary domain, has witnessed the maximum number of partnerships. With a collective investment of around Rs. 50 crore, the programme goes beyond business and has engaged 16,000+ corporate employees in volunteering activities across multiple cities.
Challenges in Social Transformation:
- What are some of the key challenges in achieving social transformation in India, and how does the Corporate Connect programme address these?
The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated to us that our efforts can be multiplied if we join hands with like-minded organisations. While we navigate this ‘New Normal,’ collaboration should become a cornerstone of our CSR policies. Partnering with other corporates ensures greater innovation, the creation of successful and replicable models, and harnessing the strengths and skill sets of each company.
Moreover, addressing some of the enormous challenges facing us as a nation, such as our ambitious net-zero targets, necessitates a collective response. A net-zero target can only be achieved together. By bringing like-minded entities together, the programme mitigates the issue of duplication and ensures a unified approach towards addressing significant social and environmental issues.
- How does the programme navigate the balance between individual corporate goals and the shared vision for community development?
The programme recognises and respects the unique priorities of each participating corporate entity. Simultaneously, it encourages corporates to identify common ground and shared challenges, fostering a collective vision for community development. Through facilitated discussions and collaborative problem-solving, the programme ensures that individual corporate goals harmonise with the overarching objective of sustainable and impactful community development.
Impact and Innovations:
- Could you share some success stories or major impacts achieved through the Corporate Connect programme?
One of our standout success stories has been Embassy’s multi-year partnership with ANZ that began in 2018, when we partnered to build the Government Kannada Model Primary School in Hegdenagar, Bengaluru. The build included a total of 21 rooms, with classrooms, staff rooms, a library, a science lab, a kitchen, a toilet block, and a covered play area that also serves as a dining and assembly area. The school is also made to be disabled-friendly, with ramps and accessible handwashing areas. It initially had around 450 students and has grown to a strength of 1044 students.
In 2020, Embassy and ANZ partnered once again to build the Government Urdu Model Primary School in Hegdenagar. It houses 19 classrooms, a staff room, a library-computer lab, a multipurpose hall, toilet blocks, a handwash, clean drinking water, rainwater harvesting, solar power, and a fully equipped playground. It initially had around 550 students and has grown to a strength of 986 students.
In 2023, we partnered for a third time with ANZ and Bangalore North Round Table Trust 25 to build the Government Kannada Higher Primary School in Thanisandra, Bengaluru. It houses 20 classrooms, 24 toilets, and a handwashing station, benefiting 1240 students.
Our joint initiative has leveraged each of our unique strengths, with Embassy providing turnkey management services for all projects with expert guidance from the ANZ Real Estate team. Our partnership has flourished over the years to go beyond business, engaging employees to give back through volunteering and community upliftment efforts together.
- How does the programme encourage innovation and the creation of replicable models for CSR initiatives?
The Corporate Connect Programme stimulates innovation by bringing together diverse corporate entities with distinct expertise and perspectives. Through collaborative discussions, corporates share insights, best practices, and innovative approaches to address social challenges. This knowledge exchange promotes the emergence of novel ideas and solutions. Additionally, the programme emphasises the importance of scalability and measurability, encouraging corporates to design projects that can be replicated across different contexts and locations.
We had introduced the Embassy Engage series as well, which is a series of forums and round tables that invites corporates, NGOs, and government representatives to deliberate on a variety of social challenges. Previous forums and round tables have been around Making Sport in India, employee engagement, disability inclusion in the workplace, child safety, accelerating community vaccines, and much more.
Corporate Partnerships and Collaboration:
- How do partnerships within the Corporate Connect programme lead to more effective and sustainable CSR projects?
193 countries, including India, have adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which operate as a future global development framework to end ‘Poverty’, protect the ‘Planet’, and ensure ‘Prosperity’ with collaborative action by the government, businesses, and civil society. Achieving this is a colossal undertaking.
To reach SDG 4, ‘Quality Education’, by 2030, for example, is a challenge. At a national level, educational inequality gaps between public and private schools are wide and growing, with lower outcomes for students from low socio-economic backgrounds.
By working together to achieve progress on large issues such as this, companies can help the government and its citizens, through their CSR initiatives, reach the scale and impact required to lift millions of Indians and people around the world out of poverty. Different companies bring different sets of expertise to the table; when our resources are combined, we can achieve much more than can be done alone.
- Can you discuss a specific project where corporate collaboration led to significant community benefits?
Another project that truly highlights why collaboration should be a cornerstone of CSR is our joint efforts during the second wave of the pandemic. Faced with a crisis whose scale was immense, officials within Karnataka were appointed to assess the immediate and crucial requirements in terms of critical care infrastructure. With the support and expertise of the medical community and other relevant government departments, they were able to devise an actionable plan. The Chief Minister of Karnataka then appealed to corporates to partner with the government to combat the virus. As a home to many MNCs, Bengaluru rose to the challenge. Using the government’s assistance to identify public hospitals in need, organisations including the Karnataka chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) brought together consortiums of corporates that allowed for funds to be effectively channelled in the right direction.
The proactive initiatives to mitigate the damaging second wave of the pandemic in Bengaluru set the benchmark for public-private partnerships and demonstrated the effectiveness of collaboration when responding to a crisis.
Future Goals and Vision:
- Looking ahead, what are the long-term aspirations for the Corporate Connect programme?
Fostering a sustainable ecosystem of collaborative outreach initiatives that go beyond individual projects is the programme’s main objective. It aims to become a dynamic hub for continuous innovation, knowledge exchange, and impactful social transformation, be a driving force behind systemic change, influence policies, and serve as a model for effective corporate collaboration in addressing societal challenges.
- How does Embassy Group envision evolving or expanding this programme to further its impact?