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PwC India Foundation Has Sown The Seeds Of Change To Empower Local Communities: Jaivir Singh, Vice Chairman, PwC India Foundation

With the Companies Act, 2013, every company, private limited or public limited, which either has a net worth of Rs 500 crore or a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or net profit of Rs 5 crore, needs to spend at least 2% of its average net profit for the immediately preceding three financial years on corporate social responsibility activities. Big consultancies like PwC too, are a part of this CSR ambit, using their consultancy brainpower to drive social change. In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, Jaivir Singh, Vice Chairman of PwC India Foundation shares his vision of societal change, and PwC India Foundation’s attempt to use their consultancy brainpower to create blueprints for transformational changes across India. Edited excerpts:

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How has PwC India Foundation’s work benefitted by the corporate consultancy brainpower of PwC?

Many a times, we come across organisations that are doing commendable work in the social space but perhaps fall short when it comes to financial reporting or feasibility studies or even strategic planning for themselves. This is where our consultancy plays a crucial role. We bridge these gaps through our pro bono consulting framework. We focus on three dimensions - varied thematic areas, organisations with different capacities and more than one kind of consultancy services where we bring the varied skillsets and expertise of our people to address relevant societal worries. Pro bono, I feel, is a reciprocal arrangement where learnings for all stakeholders are immense and just as much as we provide expert advice, a fair amount of learning happens for our teams who are dealing with issues and institutions which themselves have immense experience in their respective domains.

How does the Foundation aim to enhance the capacity of mid-level NGOs?

In our experience, the most common issues faced by NGOs relate to transparency in fund management, impact assessment, and quality financial and non-financial reporting. Some organisations also struggle to effectively communicate their achievements. ‘Learning by Association’ – the simplest way in which an organisation benefits from associating with a professional agency is undeniable. Throughout our association with an NGO, we make sure it follows best practices in everything that it undertakes with respect to a project. Such learnings tend to stay on and start reflecting in their other projects as well. Moreover, our highly professional, result oriented approach towards pro bono ascertains that ‘what we create’ for the organisation is tangible and ‘how we create’ it is learnable and the organisation can draw benefits from it, in the long run, bettering efficiencies and creating a view towards sustainability which can stand the test of time.

How is the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) India, which is PwC-incubated aiming to transform society and address some of India’s fundamental challenges?

While there may be several schools for entrepreneurship, there aren’t many for ‘entrepreneurs’. SSE India’s prime focus is on the social entrepreneur – individuals who are or who aim to be the game changers of tomorrow - and how best we can provide them a conducive environment to thrive in while understanding that all of them have unique approaches and thus need a tailored programme to suit their individual needs. For an idea to address social issues and be sustainable at the same time, PwC makes sure social entrepreneurs have access to the brightest minds, best in class resources and focussed training to make their ‘idea’ sustainable.  The shared learning space makes for interesting pedagogy where entrepreneurs from diversified fields learn from experiences of one another. SSE caters to a wide variety of social issues, for instance, the 2017 cohort is working in fields such as promotion of indigenous and modern art, affordable healthcare solutions, access to technology by the disabled, digital education solutions, life skills for children and the youth, communities for the elderly, effective governance solutions, among others.

What are some of the Foundation’s efforts with respect to drought mitigation?

Like with many other environmental issues, drought mitigation is a prolonged process requiring sustained, a well timed intervention that will reduce the impact of droughts through preparedness and mitigation. The PwC India Foundation has begun to sow the seeds of change with a view to empowering local communities – we have initiated projects of varying scales in Aurangabad and Bundelhand, that are directly or indirectly aimed at water conservation. Through these projects, we plan to develop integrated water management systems for the communities, create new or rejuvenate old water structures, build capacities of the immediate community on soil preservation, teach them cropping patterns, how to efficiently use water for agriculture and also how to get the most out of using community level seed banks.

How is PwC India Foundation attempting to create blueprints for social transformation through its pilot programmes which can be replicated in other regions?

We, at the Foundation, firmly believe that in order to run a successful pilot the homework and groundwork have to be solid. For every pilot, we create a knowledge repository – a baseline study, so to speak – and brainstorm with our NGO partner and other stakeholders on what we can do to address prevalent issues. The pilots are replicable in geographies with similar terrains, cultural contexts and socio-economic conditions. For instance, basis an extensive study on the state of urban children in India in 2015, we initiated pilots in affordable door-step health services through a mobile healthcare van for children and their communities that are settled in low-income regions of Delhi and Haryana. Our Urban Child report also led us to construct sanitation facilities for students in rural schools, especially girl children. These pilots albeit new, have demonstrated favourable results and are already being replicated by us in other locations.

How is the Foundation attempting to transform the lives of underprivileged urban children?

Urbanisation, especially when rapid, can leave vulnerable groups outside its ambit. The burgeoning pressure on slow-growing economic resources and limited social infrastructure of a city is further exacerbated by in-migration, leading to a multiplicity of damaging effects on children. Children’s access to decent education, timely health services, quality of life, physical and mental health – everything suffers and this hinders them from realising their potential. The family’s need to attain subsistence pushes many children into labour. You’ll be surprised to know that in the year 2015, 68% street children were illiterate and 40% worked in the unorganised sector.

One of the focus areas for the Foundation is urban children. PwC India together with our NGO partner Save the Children India prepared a report titled ‘Forgotten Voices – The World of Urban Children in India’ that speaks of the various vulnerabilities that a disadvantaged, socially and economically weak child from an urban setting is exposed to. We drew learnings from this study and initiated projects in different cities that address one or several of these vulnerabilities at the same time (highlighted in the previous question).

How does PwC India Foundation assess which regions and programmes are in need of support and how is the outcome assessment done?

To make certain that our projects reach the most underserved populations across geographies, we have eight regional teams dedicated to driving PwC’s corporate responsibility initiatives across India. These teams are well versed with the local environment and are able to identify the most urgent issues that require intervention. Further, we feel that in order to achieve a material change through our projects, the efforts of the regions have to be aligned; so we consolidate our activities into identified focus areas of the Foundation.

We make sure there is periodic reporting of each project so we know the project is meeting its objectives and the outcomes are being monitored. Our central and regional teams, as well as volunteers from various departments of PwC India, undertake visits to projects and document the impact of our interventions.

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