Young talent is mouldable, willing to experiment and take risks: Pearl Tiwari

In an exclusive interview with BW People Ms. Pearl Tiwari – Head, Ambuja Cement Foundation talks about the social corporate responsibilities and its evolution.


1) Share your thoughts on how CSR has evolved over the years in India?

The advent of The Companies Act, particularly schedule VII, has provided immense opportunities for corporates to adopt CSR in a systematic manner. In fact, most companies are embracing it very positively.

It is incredible to note that many organisations, who have put in sincere efforts to achieve development objectives, have accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge. What we need is more authentic forums to share our experiences and learnings and explore better opportunities to collaborate. In the absence of this arrangement, corporates have to generally rely on external consultants and management groups. For a larger, long lasting impact experienced organisations should come together, brainstorm and co-create solutions.

2) You have been in this organisation for more than 15 years, what are the changes or progress you’ve witnessed since?

When the Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) was established in 1993, CSR did not even exist as a concept. The founders of the Company firmly believed that with business’ growth, our neighbouring community should also prosper.

ACF’s journey since inception has been rather evolutionary. In the absence of best practices, systems and protocol in CSR, we experimented and incorporated learnings as we moved along. However, our commitment towards people’s growth and empowerment was as robust as it is now. Witnessing ACF’s dedication and enthusiasm, several organisations partnered with us which further helped us streamline our processes and systems.

3) How crucial to have private-public partnerships and like-minded parties’ collaborations to attain greater results in CSR?

The issues and challenges by rural India are multifaceted and it is practically not possible for a single entity or a few players to bring in real transformation and long-term solutions. At the same time, with years of experience working in the social sector, organisations have created this rich pool of knowledge and best practices, which if used collaboratively can create a huge impact.

While we need to encourage and strengthen the public-private partnerships (PPPs), there is also a major need for more collaborations between corporates. What is important is that more collaborations would lead to better and faster outcomes.

4) What are the socio-environmental activities that ACF is indulging in? What are its impact on the society?

With a focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), ACF is consistently working to enhance our environment friendly approach – particularly through climate smart initiative in agriculture and water management programs. With a direct farmer outreach of 1.3 lakh, we aim to make environmental friendly agriculture an integral part of our program.

In agriculture, ACF works closely with farmers to introduce an improved package of practice that not only helps enhancing farm yield and profits for farmers, but also reduces water and chemical consumption. Under the water management program, our efforts are directed at harvesting water by creating structures and also ensuring effective water usage in agriculture.

5) Niti Aayog recently raised alarm over increasing water scarcity in India. Elaborate your role in preserving water?

Cement does require a significant amount of water and therefore water sustainability has always been a priority for us. By adopting a holistic approach we have extended the water management efforts to the neighbouring community too.

ACF has been making its best attempt to conserve water not only now, but right from its inception. The model focuses on Water Harvesting, Drinking Water and Water-use Efficiency.

And the efforts have yielded some encouraging results, making Ambuja Cement 5.5 time water positive company.

6) Elaborate your skill development initiatives? What social and economic impact of training and skills development have on individuals?

Focusing on the holistic development of the most underprivileged youth from rural areas, our Skill and Entrepreneurship Development Institute (SEDI) aims to achieve sustainable livelihood by strengthening their vocational skills through quality training. In the last few years, SEDI has trained more than 40,000 youth in various trades. Currently, there are 27 SEDI centres in 11 states.

With our robust partnerships under skilling, ACF has partnered with different organisations – The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and other Government departments – which are helping us with certifications and guidelines, funding partners and industrial partners for curriculum and placement.

7) What’s your plan for the near future for the CSR of ACF?

We strive to ensure the last mile reach and generate livelihood for the community. ACF focuses on the 5 sets of capital:

Physical Capital – basic infrastructure for health, education and access to resources etc.

Natural Capital – ensure the benefits of nature and natural resources.

Human Capital – upgrading people’s knowledge, education and skills.

Financial Capital – access to market, finances and schemes, income generation activities and upgrading the skill set.

Social Capital – strengthening people’s institutions, network and collectives etc.

With over 25 years of closely working with the rural communities in extremely remote and challenging locations, we have gained some significant experience in rural development. Our partners, definitely, have played a very crucial role in this entire process with their support and trust.

We believe that with more meaningful partnerships, we can use this experience and replicate the models, thus impacting several other communities with sustainable livelihoods.

8) How do you feel like working with freshers as compared to working with experienced professionals?

Working with both experienced professionals and the young talent is equally exciting. And we need both sets of people to work for us. What I particularly like about the freshers and young talent is their agility. At the same time, they are mouldable, embrace new ideas better and are willing to experiment and take risks. ACF is partnering with several reputed educational institutions to hire the right talent and create a platform for them to provide the right exposure and opportunity to apply their theoretical learnings in the field.

9) Whose advice do you seek when you’re in a dilemma? What is that one thing that helps you in decision making?

ACF has never been driven by a single person, and all decisions are taken in consensus with the related team members.

For decisions related to operations, we have constituted an Executive Committee comprising of competent senior members in the organisation. For organisation and governance related perspectives, I closely work with and seek the advice from our Chairman Mr. Narotam Sekhsaria and ACF’s Director Mr. B L Taparia. Of course, Ambuja Cement’s MD & CEO Ajay Kapur has always been accessible for any support. With the kind of extremely rich and diverse experience all of them have, I am confident that under their guidance ACF can never go wrong. For me, Ambuja Cement has been a dream company to work with.

10) You have been associated  with ACF for so long, what is that one thing that makes you the happiest at work?

One thing that makes me the happiest at work is visiting the field and engaging with my team and the community. Nothing gives you a better motivation than witnessing the enthusiasm with which our team is working for community transformation.

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