Women today have come a long way professionally. From driving auto-rickshaws to piloting planes, women have proved their worth in almost every industry.
Our history has been a witness to many social reforms initiated and led by women and the present time is witnessing another reformation. Having climbed up the corporate ladders, women leaders are not only working to bring about social equilibrium, but are also leading the way for social uplift.
Known to be more compassionate by nature compared to men, women are playing important roles in the social development sector of India. They aim to provide access of basic requirements to all using their corporate proficiency.
Heading the corporate social responsibility (CSR) arms of top-notch corporate organisations, these women are striving hard to make our country a better place to live for everyone, including the underprivileged. They are working at the grassroots to bring about a change.
Following are the ways in which these women are working in different social sectors to improve the conditions of society.
1. Equal Accessibility Rights Movement
Accessibility has been an issue in India for the longest times. However, it is only recently that social movements around it have grown stronger with the announcement of ‘Accessible India’ campaign.
Sminu Jindal, Managing Director of Jindal Saw Ltd and Founder & Chairperson of Swayam Foundation was merely 11 years old when she met with an accident that left her paralysed waist down. Having had to go through the trauma and difficulties of reduced mobility, she became conscious of the importance of equal accessibility for everyone in India.
She founded Swayam Foundation in 2000 through which she works to increase awareness and furthermore with regard to infrastructure and transportation mobility for all. “It is not just people with disabilities. Turn around, you may have your grandparents or recovering patients in your family and friends who may have reduced mobility and need accessible infrastructure. Access is a basic right for everyone, regardless of their age, gender and physical capabilities,” Jindal said.
2. Rural Development
Although rural India is experiencing a fast-paced change, there lies a huge gap between Bharat and India. Corporate foundations are taking up the task of bridging this gap.
Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF), led by Pearl Tiwari, works on rural transformation with a multi-pronged approach. They work to address issues like water crisis, infrastructural needs, healthcare requirement and agro-based livelihood, among other areas in rural India. The organisation works closely with the community, state governments and local NGOs to raise awareness and resolve crises. “When we first enter a rural area to set up a plant, the initial reaction of people is quite demanding. Seeing a big plant coming in, they expect and aspire for lot of developmental changes from us,” said Tiwari.
Nita Ambani-led Reliance Foundation, the CSR arm of Reliance Industries Ltd is another organisation that works for rural transformation. It tries to enhance livelihood opportunities in agriculture, marine fisheries and other farm and non-farm based activities.
Being the Chairperson of Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives, Rajashree Birla leads the organisation to develop rural India and equip it with access to basic amenities and change its social landscape. The organisation focuses on rural development activities through areas like education, healthcare, social uplift, infrastructural development and sustainable livelihood. Sudha Murthy's Infosys Foundation provides infrastructural help in the remote region.
We cannot stress enough on the fact that mindset transformation is the key to any social change we perceive. With changing times, approach to social development has also changed.
Prerana Langa is the CEO of Yes Foundation, the CSR wing of Yes Bank. Their flagship programme ‘Yes! I am the Change’ aims to transform mindsets using movie making competition. Participants are given 101 hours after their topics are declared to create short films. These topics have social relevance and it is during these 101 hours that the participants encounter many things, which have the potential of changing their outlook towards public issues.
“Mindset is the key to any social change. We can’t preach and tell youth what to do. But if we ask them to make a film, they will be interested. This film making process is when the real change happens. Their topics are based on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and real life heroes. This initiative has created many ripples of change in our participants and their lives,” said Langa.
3. Women Empowerment
Being women themselves, these leaders understand the feeling of being empowered. They carry out several activities to empower underprivileged women in their operational areas.
The social sector has time and again found it proven that impact of any type of social awareness on women is multi-fold affecting attitudes of their families and communities. Thus, organisations often prefer educating women first.
Presence of women employees in the workforce has been increasing but is far away from the desired 50-50 gender ratio. “In our company, we had hardly two per cent women about 10 years back; but now the number has increased to about 15-16% women employees. They are adding a lot of value and it will be great to see this number at equal levels,” said Rajshree Birla.
Her organisation deals with social issues relevant to women like widow re-marriage, dowry-less mass marriages, girl child education and reproductive healthcare among others.
ACF supports self-help groups that serve as platforms for women to launch themselves as entrepreneurs.
4. Education And Skilling
Education is undoubtedly one of the core sectors that needs attention. CSR foundations have also been investing a lot in education and skill development. Apart from supporting regular education initiatives, Sudha Murthy runs programmes for promoting science and mathematics among young students. To curb drop-out rates of school students, the organisation takes up the task of feeding them in school.
ACF works with around 390 education centres across states enhancing the quality of education through interventions like furnishing and functionalising libraries; establishing reading clubs; equipping schools with hands-on math kits; and starting math laboratories. The Ambuja Manovikas Kendra, a school, caters to the needs of special children and draws out their potential in more than one way. ACF also works skill training and entrepreneurship development for youth.
Nita Ambani’s Education for All initiative (EFA) works to provide access to quality education to underprivileged children in India. Birla’s facilitates formal and non-formal education for young kids and also for adults.
Access to quality healthcare has been a concern in India awaiting solutions for decades now. People in rural India especially are deprived of basic healthcare. Infosys Foundation has been involved in healthcare activities for people with vision issues and leprosy. Not ignoring the mental health, they are also involved in supporting patients with psychiatric and neurological problems.
Rajashree Birla, Pearl Tiwari and Nita Ambani drive initiatives for rural health with programmes like mobile clinics, maternal and child health initiatives for boosting access to health facilities.
Sports unite cultures and people across generations. Sports activities not only help the fitness wellbeing of children in their early but also mould leadership and team-bonding skills in them.
Chairperson of Reliance Foundation, Nita Ambani is frequently seen on television for her sports initiatives. Co-founder of Mumbai Indians, IPL cricket team, Ambani she is the first Indian woman to be a member of the International Olympic Committee. The foundation is involved in promoting sports at grassroots level in both rural and urban India.