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'Every Time The Success Bell Rings, We Think Of IBMers'

Engaging a consultant for a high quality business development strategy like this would have been prohibitively expensive for our organisation but that is only part of the benefit we received

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In India, disabled people are often considered a liability in our society. Some statistics indicate that the disabled population of India is higher than the overall population of the United Kingdom as per UN. In my state of Karnataka, 70% of persons with disabilities (PwDs) are unemployed, despite the revised Disability Act which guarantees them jobs coming into effect in 2015. According to the Association for People with Disability, of the 1.2 million disabled people in the state, 0.8 million don't have jobs.

When I was growing up with my disability, I realised that PwDs were not able to access education and jobs like their non disabled counterparts, largely due to inaccessibility and their socio economic background. Although I received extensive support from family and friends, I too faced obstacles which inspired me to starting a non profit that was inclusive in nature, focussed on empowering persons with disabilities via various initiatives driven by technology. Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled is a non-profit organisation that works for PwDs and is based in Bangalore, Karnataka in India. We are proud of our social business model and income generation programmes which are replicable, scalable and sustainable.

One of the many success stories is Samarthanam's rural BPO, 'Kirana' which improves career opportunities for PwDs and rural youth. We started the centre in 2007 with capacity for 105 people. It works as an inbound and outbound call centre offering services for companies like Coco Cola, Vodafone, ICICI credit cards and ING Vysya Bank. Through the Kirana centre, we are trying to change the notion of PwDs as a burden on society and challenge them to become tax-paying citizens with skills to offer.

Most of the employees at Kirana are the first people in their families to bring home a salary. They all have individual bank accounts and are respected by their family and society. Working with Kirana also trains them for better future career opportunities in the government and private sector.

We want to expand Kirana’s operations from employing 100 to 6,000 PwDs by 2020. While we are clear on this mission, we realised that we needed to enhance our business development skills and experience to make our vision a reality. That’s when I learnt about VSO, a trusted INGO that works through volunteers, collaborating with IBM to deliver its Corporate Service Corps (CSCs) programme in India. I talked at length with VSO and IBM to develop a plan for IBM pro bono consultants to voluntarily support us to realise our vision.

In April 2015, Three ‘IBMers’, as they are called, were placed with Kirana. After extensive consultations with our team, they drafted a comprehensive business expansion strategy and a clear road map to achieve our ambitious goals. They went on to build the capacity of our management team to be able to execute the plan. The IBMers met some of Kirana’s existing and potential clients and demonstrated the potential of the centre to deliver services at scale. As a result of these meetings, Vodafone committed to expand their work saying after the meeting “if you are ready, we are ready.”

This experience built our confidence to take the expansion strategy to more clients and to drum up more business. The IBM team developed power point presentations, an internal branding plan and trained our team to sharpen their presentation and client management skills. Not only this, they kept the Kirana staff engaged and motivated to take on new challenges and perform at their best.

One small initiative was placing a ‘success bell’ in the office which would ring each time a member of staff made a sale. Now every time the success bell rings now, we think of the IBMers who helped get us to this point.

The IBM team researched, interacted with different stakeholders, tested models and developed a robust strategy for us to move ahead. When we shared the strategy during the Prime Minister’s Digital India campaign event, some corporate partners felt that Samarthanam was ready to deliver what they were looking for.

Engaging a consultant for a high quality business development strategy like this would have been prohibitively expensive for our organisation but that is only part of the benefit we received. The young enthusiastic professionals from IBM not only supported Samarthanam with realising our mission but they really did it from their heart. Their passion and commitment is visible in their work. At Samarthanam, we look forward to engaging with more IBM CSC volunteers to help operationalise the strategy and build our capacity so that our dream of an Indian economy driven in part by the skills and passion of PwDs, can ultimately be made a reality.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Mahantesh G.K

The author is founder managing trustee of Samarthanam

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