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A feature on Tata's volunteering programme

Cause and Effect

With one of the largest corporate volunteering programmes in the world, the Tata group clocked a record 36.7 lakh volunteering hours in FY23 — a 173% increase.

October 2023     |     1533 words     |     6-minute read

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For Coomie Kapadia, Head – Internal Audit, Rallis India, volunteering is a way to help remake the world around her for a better future. She started eight years ago, teaching street children as part of an initiative organised by the Tata Sustainability Group (TSG). “It was so fulfilling that I wanted to keep going,” she says. “The easy access to multiple opportunities, the ability to use my strengths in finance and interact with NGOs working in spaces as varied as wildlife preservation and rehabilitation of victims of child trafficking makes me participate in TSG projects year after year.”

Like Ms Kapadia, in FY23, employees from 54 group companies, spread across six continents, collectively contributed their time and skills to clock a record 36.7 lakh volunteering hours or 3.77 per capita volunteering hours (PCVH). This is a 173% increase from the 13.4 lakh volunteering hours and 1.5 PCVH clocked in FY22.

This massive increase was steered by companies across the group, with a record 17 crossing the 4 PCVH mark and 27 showing a marked increase in PCVH. Among the top contributors was Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which employs 62.9% of the group’s workforce, contributing 77.8% of the volunteering hours, with a PCVH of 4.66. Other significant contributors were Tata Power group (9.30 PCVH), Tata Coffee (9.70 PCVH), Tata Communications (5.59 PCVH) and Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL) (4.16 PCVH), which together contributed 11.9% of the group’s volunteering hours. 

“In FY23, the structured programmes at the group level as well as companies’ own initiatives helped us engage with a diverse workforce and boosted the volunteering momentum,” says Nupur Mallick, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Tata Sons. “Tata employees have continued to display undeterred commitment towards a unified purpose of driving positive change.”

This increase in volunteering hours brings the group closer to achieving its vision — “To be one of the preeminent global corporate volunteering programmes in the world by 2025, both in terms of quality and scale”. The vision, set by the Tata Group Sustainability Council in 2020, is complemented by an enterprise-level strategy to institutionalise volunteering and an aspiration to achieve 4 PCVH annually by 2025.

Developing group-level synergies

Several factors contributed to this record growth in PCVH, including making volunteering an institutional practice. With the formation of TSG in 2014, the group sought to consolidate, streamline, and fortify its purpose-driven volunteering efforts. An important milestone was the launch of the group-level flagship volunteering platform — Tata Engage — to mobilise volunteers and connect them with partner non-profits. In FY23, Tata Engage grew to contribute 46.5% of the group’s total volunteering hours.

At a nodal level, TSG has developed three formats — the biannual, event-based Tata Volunteering Week (TVW); part-time, skill-based ProEngage; and Disaster Response for humanitarian crises. Company Volunteering Programmes, which are mostly aligned to each organisation’s CSR programmes and curated to match employee aspirations, and Employees’ Own Initiative (EOI), ie employee-led volunteering efforts supported by the company, have enabled the group to embed scale in volunteering.

In FY23, TSG engaged with 600+ SPOCs from 57 companies across 150+ locations to drive volunteering initiatives and build a collaborative network of volunteering champions. It strengthened capabilities within companies by providing training modules, sharing of global best practices, and offering support in developing policies, guidance documents, and frameworks. In FY23, six companies rolled out an enterprise level volunteering policy, in line with the group’s aspiration. Of these, three saw a significant jump in PCVH in the last year — TajSATS Air Catering (from 1.43 to 6.27), Rallis India (from 4.2 to 7.58) and Trent (from 0.06 to 2.68) — which validates the strategy of institutionalising volunteering.

TSG also worked closely with TCS to expand the company’s flagship programme, Each One Empower One, into a group-wide EOI volunteering opportunity to impart functional, digital, and financial literacy to non-literates in the community. Since its launch in August 2022, 3,990+ volunteers have used the portal to promote financial stability and social inclusion.

Our structured volunteering programmes bring together a diverse global workforce to work towards a shared cause and make a positive, tangible impact on people as well as on the planet - AS Lakshminarayanan, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Tata Communications. 

Taking a cue from the TVW format, Tata Communications launched its flagship programme, the annual DRIVE Week, which has a company-wide tools-down day for employees, who contribute to curated activities, ranging from mentoring youth, working in food banks, to constructing community infrastructure. Over 7,100 volunteers participated in FY23. “Our structured volunteering programmes bring together a diverse global workforce to work towards a shared cause and make a positive, tangible impact on people as well as on the planet,” says AS Lakshminarayanan, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Tata Communications. IHCL too initiated IHCL Volunteering Week as a pre-cursor to each edition of TVW.

Aligning initiatives with core strengths

Another reason for this record growth is the identification and promotion of volunteering opportunities in areas that are closely associated to business objectives. This gives employees a chance to make a difference in ways that directly impact their work and develop a closer connection to the community around which they operate.

For instance, Tata Communications’ cause areas are deeply rooted in their core business competence, ie digital enablement, and the company undertakes initiatives in digital literacy and cybersecurity. Similarly, Tata Power’s volunteering initiatives are tied to its clean energy agenda, while Tata Coffee, IHCL and Titan focus on issues prevalent in their operating regions, empowering local communities. “We believe in deploying volunteering hours to address current community needs, with a large focus on rural India,” says Chacko P Thomas, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Tata Coffee. “Projects that play their part in creating a more equitable world, are planet-friendly and, most importantly, centred around causes that are close to our hearts, find greater acceptance amongst volunteers.” 

We believe in deploying volunteering hours to address current community needs, with a large focus on rural India - Chacko P Thomas, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Tata Coffee

IHCL’s initiatives are guided by its philosophy that volunteering encourages collaboration and helps colleagues demonstrate their abilities outside of a work environment, enhancing skills, self-esteem and strengthening Tajness among employees.

Companies across the group are committed to building sustainable businesses, adopting strategies centred around environmental protection, conservation, preservation and public awareness. In September 2022, Titan launched Go Green Run, a nature restoration programme. It intertwined a relay marathon with a goal to plant 1 lakh+ trees. Titan employees joined marathoners in a 3,000+ km relay marathon. Along the way, the company organised plantation drives and hosted 15 events to build awareness and inspire action, resulting in 1.4 lakh trees being planted.

Mobilising the workforce

In volunteering too, an important way to garner support is by keeping the ecosystem inclusive. Company programmes are designed to engage employees across different ages and ranks, and some companies, like Titan, even open participation for off roll employees. These efforts have deepened and broadened the volunteering culture, doubling the number of unique volunteers from 8.07% (FY22) to 19.17% (FY23).

In January 2023, TCS launched #millionhoursofpurpose as part of its HOPE (Hours of Purpose by Employees) programme to give employees the opportunity, means and motivation to volunteer, as a collective, 1 million hours every quarter. Excited to take on the challenge, employees contributed to a variety of causes, ranging from climate action, health promotion, to poverty alleviation and skill-based volunteering. TCS volunteers, 60% of whom
have joined the company in the last three years, created a new record by closing FY23 with
28 lakh (2.8 million) hours.

The 40,000-odd employees joining TCS every year volunteer through HOPE as part of their Initial Learning Program. “HOPE combines the Tata group’s ethos of community-first and TCS’ vibrant culture of service,” says Balaji Ganapathy, Chief Social Responsibility Officer, TCS.

Leading the way top-down

The effort by leadership in championing volunteering and cascading the vision to employees is one of the building blocks for the group’s excellence in this space. “We strongly believe leadership isn’t just about guiding a business but it’s about leading change in society,” says Himal Tewari, Chief Human Resources Officer and Head, CSR and Sustainability, Tata Power.

By the end of the day, I had helped test more than 100 children, a third of whom turned out to have an issue. The joy of giving time to help others was special. - CK Venkataraman, Managing Director, Titan

Leaders across companies, business units and regions are also part of the volunteering cadre. In FY23, 35% of TCS volunteers belonged to middle and senior levels, and 130+ members of Tata Communications’ leadership forum dedicated time to assist 3,000+ youth in honing their soft skills.

CK Venkataraman, Managing Director, Titan, recounts an experience that left its mark. “Last year, I was part of a 120-person volunteering team that conducted primary eye screening in schools in Tumkur, Karnataka,” he says. “By the end of the day, I had helped test more than 100 children, a third of whom turned out to have an issue. The joy of giving time to help others was special.” 

TSG volunteering landscape (FY23)

Tata Engage contributed 46.5% of the total volunteering hours, of these

  • 43.7% were from Tata Volunteering Week
  • 2.3% from ProEngage
  • 0.5% from Disaster Response

Company Volunteering Programmes contributed 41% of the total hours

Employees’ Own Initiative contributed 12.5% of the total hours

FY23 has been a landmark year for the group, marked by the highest total in volunteering hours, highest PCVH, highest percentage of unique volunteers, and a record number of companies crossing the 4 PCVH mark. The journey towards achieving excellence in volunteering is unfolding across the group and everyone is taking notice. 

- Esther Cabral

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