October 2009 | Sujata Agrawal

Holding hands across the world

The software giant fosters a sense of community among its employees through TCS-Maitree, a unique initiative that traverses the globe

More than 120,000 employees, including some 4,500 foreign nationals, working in offices spread across 42 countries around the world. As with all things concerning Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Asia's largest software company, the numbers are massive. Binding this huge and far-flung family of people together is an adhesive called TCS-Maitree.
 
Maitree, which means friendship in a host of Indian languages, is the companion, counsellor and guide that TCSers (as members of the family are known) have come to rely on. The journey began in February 2002 when Mala Ramadorai, an educationist with long years of experience, decided to start an organisation to connect and support the spouses of TCSers, many of whom had to move outside India and adjust to a different culture at short notice.
 
"I met so many women who needed to just communicate with each other and share their experiences and problems," says Ms Ramadorai. "I believe that, besides giving employment, a company should also provide cultural moorings and help with assimilation. Care and support are very Indian values; they are rooted in our heritage."
 
TCS-Maitree which started as a forum for caring and sharing for TCS associates and their families has now blossomed into a 120,000-strong network. The organisation's activities fulfil needs at different levels and cut across various age groups, involving employees, their spouses, children and even parents.
 
TCSers, who work long hours and whose hobbies have to take a backseat owing to work demands, love the extra-curricular initiatives that include yoga classes, theatre workshops, flower-arrangement sessions, ballroom dancing classes, computer workshops. It gives them an opportunity to bring out their creativity and express their talents. Events such as festive celebrations or Kaleidoscope, a fair for children, bring the TCS family closer together. The events and activities also provide TCS associates a strong platform to leverage leadership abilities and develop team skills.
 
TCS-Maitree's counselling service has won the organisation plenty of praise. Interestingly, employees rarely discuss personal problems; they mostly talk about work-related issues. One reason for the popularity of the counselling services is Maitree's informal nature; employees feel more comfortable talking to counsellors rather than formally approaching their department heads. In turn, Maitree counsellors share some of these concerns with the TCS administration, so that issues can be resolved quickly.
 
Over the years, the organisation realised that many of its members were also inclined towards community development activities but did not know where to start. Maitree identified areas for them to invest their time and skills for the greater good. Today, TCSers are reaching out to the less privileged with the same essence of caring and sharing.
 
Through its many interventions, TCS-Maitree is helping TCSers and their families contribute and reach out to less privileged communities at all office locations worldwide. Volunteering their time and effort in initiatives of their liking has helped young IT professionals to mitigate stress levels and gain a measure of personal meaningfulness. It also fosters a bonding with the organisation and an opportunity to interact with colleagues on a social level. The skills learnt in the volunteering sphere by employees are sustained and carried over to the workplace, ensuring nurturing managers and leaders.
 
In 2008-09, more than 42,000 man hours were spent in volunteering initiatives in India. The initiatives ranged from rural development programmes to building entrepreneurship capabilities and sensitising children to the environment.
 
In 10 villages in four different regions Mumbai (Wazapur), Chennai (Nainar), Delhi (Challera) and Bhubaneswar (Padmapur) — volunteers focus on computer and conversational English literacy, women’s empowerment programmes and water conservation projects to give the villagers a better life. TCS-Maitree has also built up infrastructure for computer and science laboratories, classrooms, community development centres, paper production units etc.  The initiative Club Red — Let’s Talk! was created to have a platform for talking about HIV/AIDS within and outside TCS. It is owned and run by TCS associates who have trained as peer educators. The programme has been extended to TCS support staff and academic institutions.
 
TCS-Maitree also works to create suitable employment opportunities for the differently abled. In 2008, 34 individuals have been inducted into the organisation. They are now working in different roles such as infrastructure services (Internal IT), service management, BPO processes, learning and development coordinators and human resource managers. Through a pioneering initiative, more than 40 visually impaired persons were given advanced computer training at a state-of-the-art computer lab with screen reader software (JAWS) set up in Mumbai; 10 trainees were offered jobs in TCS and other IT organisations.
 
Sensitising children to the critical area of climate change, TCS-Maitree, in partnership with Sanctuary magazine, has set up ‘Kids for Tigers’ programme to educate them on the connection between saving the tiger, protecting forests and sequestering and storing carbon. Over 250 TCS associates have been trained to impart this education to youngsters along with the Sanctuary coordinators.
 
As the company looks ahead, it hopes to strengthen this commitment towards the community and increase employee involvement to reach out to more people in many more ways.
 
TCS-Maitree is proud of its journey from its inception seven years ago to its much-loved identity in TCS today. As TCS opens new offices or acquires new companies, Maitree is on hand to welcome new employees to the TCS family. Helping all these people connect and pull together in a common cause is the Maitree website (www.maitree.com).
 
It is said that the family that plays together stays together. Maitree is striving to ensure that the unusually large TCS family stays in touch through the sharing of experiences, dissemination of information, caring for the less privileged and, most importantly, spreading friendship.