To impact a million lives. At once simple and powerful, that is the overarching corporate sustainability (CS) theme at Tata Steel. For over a century, the company has been making a difference to communities in and around its areas of operations in the Indian states of Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.
“Tata Steel’s vision is to set global benchmarks in value creation and corporate citizenship and this journey can never be complete unless our activities encompass and impact the community,” says Biren Bhuta, who heads CS at the steel major.
Continuous interaction with communities and detailed mapping of stakeholder expectations have helped the company zero in on its focus areas for CS: sustainable livelihoods, education, health and the environment. Earlier, the company’s activities were dispersed widely, and the impact of its interventions was less visible. There were no long-term plans or any well-defined manner by way of which support would be withdrawn. “The present shift is to make a much deeper impact on communities,” says Mr Bhuta.
It takes the concerted effort of several departments and societies at Tata Steel to make the kind of impact that the company aims for, including medical services, urban services, the sports department, the Tata Steel Rural Development Society, the Tribal Cultural Society and the Tata Steel Family Initiatives Foundation.
Quality of life
Land and water management is a critical part of Tata Steel’s activities aimed at fostering sustainability, where programmes for rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharging and improving agricultural yields have helped reduce distress migration. “Our efforts have helped bring more than 10,000 acres of land under vegetable cultivation that was not being cultivated after the kharif season,” says Debdoot Mohanty, secretary of the Tata Steel Rural Development Society. “In Jharkhand, where around 9 per cent of the total land is wasteland, around 13,000 acres of land have already been covered under horticulture crops, mainly cashew and mango, benefiting 4,600 farmers from 160 villages.”
Around 700 women’s SHGs are operating successfully today, with members’ savings amounting to about Rs35 million.
Making education work
For the girl child, Tata Steel conducts Camp School, a nine-month intensive residential learning course offered to students aged 9-14 years to qualify them for admission to Class VI. Run in partnership with the Jharkhand Education Society under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, India’s flagship programme for countrywide elementary education.
The camp school enables around 200 girls, who have dropped out of the formal education system, to pursue courses that can help them get back into the educational mainstream. Then there are adult literacy classes for women where, every year, around 3,000 women become functionally literate.
Affirmative action is yet another focus area where Tata Steel is working to build self-belief and self-esteem among the indigenous tribal communities. The Tribal Cultural Society promotes tribal art and culture, music and dance and works towards preservation of tribal languages like Santhali and Ho.
Tata Steel has a long and well-established reputation for pioneering corporate sustainability activities, an area that today is poised for a big leap forward. Says Mr Bhuta, “The paradigms have changed; we need to shift orbits as well. We need to take that leap of faith to ensure sustainability, in the true sense, for all.”