Not that long ago, the Taj group’s approach to corporate sustainability (CS) found expression largely in various acts of charity — for example, offering food to old age homes and orphanages. But, around five years ago, the hotel group realised that it had the reach and the opportunity to do something much more meaningful for society.
“We began to see that charity only made the beneficiaries dependent on us; also, they often just took us for granted. We realised that there was greater meaning and value in helping people become self-reliant,” says Vasant Ayyappan, director, CS, Taj group.
With ‘Building Sustainable Livelihoods’ as its company-wide CS theme, the Taj group has now zeroed in on its key aim — providing access to skill-based education and training to India’s underprivileged youth.
The group also leverages its core competencies in hospitality to look at ways to reduce malnutrition, promote indigenous artisans and craftsmen and increase employability.
Much needed skills
Taking this training model further, the Taj group tied up with several government Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) in rural India to offer skill-based training to local youth. The group helps the institutes update their curriculum and make it relevant to the job market, facilitates the infrastructure required for the training programmes and also helps students find internship opportunities. “At the end of this year, we would have trained over 3,000 students through these tie-ups,” says Mr Ayyappan.
“These training courses prepare the students for entry-level jobs in the industry,” says Foram Nagori, manager, corporate sustainability, Taj Hotels. “More than 90 per cent of those who have undergone training so far have found employment, while the rest have either chosen to study further or help with family occupations.”
Hunar Se Rozgar (expertise to employment) is a project born during the Delhi Commonwealth Games. In the run-up to the Games, the Delhi government had asked hotels in the national capital to train local unemployed youth in hospitality skills; with the success of the pilot, the tourism ministry is now keen on taking this model nation-wide. “Taj is a key member of the national advisory team on this initiative, which will see millions of underprivileged youth getting a chance at skill-based, industry-relevant learning and potential employment,” says Ms Nagori.
The inclusive approach
The Taj group’s Safari ventures — in the national parks in Madhya Pradesh — which showcase a unique and responsible way of enjoying nature and wildlife, also have livelihoods as an underlying idea, along with environment conservation. All safari properties are built around locally available, environment-friendly materials and local skills — terracotta walls, interiors done up with local handicrafts, structures that blend into the natural landscape and so on, and more than 60 per cent of the staff are locals who have been trained to take on various hospitality roles.
In Goa, the Taj group has tied up with Goa-based NGO Anyay Rahit Zindagi (ARZ, stands for A Life Free of Injustice) for the unique Swift Wash laundry project that is a response to Goa’s increasing sex tourism problem. The project aims to socially and economically rehabilitate sex workers who are looking for a better life. Taj supports the initiative by providing training in operating the laundry equipment, running the machines at optimum levels without wasting water and energy, maintaining high standards of hygiene and managing distribution and account books. Today, Swift Wash is not only one of Taj’s Goa vendors, it also handles laundry requirements of other companies, hospitals and commercial establishments.
The CS team of the Taj group is now looking to engage in new areas for community development — energy and water management, safety management, etc. But the big idea is still the same — creating a larger impact, scaling up its efforts and making a difference in more lives.