Award: The Good Samaritan Award
Why She Won: For bringing a sense of focus, purpose and outcome in Cognizant’s volunteering efforts in the education space. And for not losing the essence of the grassroots connect between volunteers and students.
Her Trigger: A desire to build a platform that can convince either a fence-sitter to volunteer even for a few hours, or enable a passionate volunteer to deliver more effectively.
Her Mission: To create a self-sustaining and evolving programme that straddles primary school, college education and vocational training.
Her Action Plan: Keep things distributed and bottom-up, not top-down. Work with partners where possible so as to use their expertise to deliver better outcomes.
Her Next Move: Focus on bright students so that they complete college education and land successful careers.
The son of an elephant mahout in Topslip, a scenic spot hidden within the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu’s Anamalai Hills, Ajith walked 12 kilometres daily to attend the Topslip Tribal Residential School. His first visit to a city was at the age of 12, when he went to Coimbatore to participate in a talent competition a few years ago. There, he won the second prize for his painting of the Great Indian Hornbill, a magnificent bird that is found in South and Southeast Asia, and specifically in the Western Ghats.
But more important than his craft was young Ajith’s motivation—he drew the bird as a manifestation of his sorrow at finding female hornbills and their young dead inside their nests in the forests where he lived. He considered himself the protector of those in his forest.
In the normal course of life, employees of Cognizant were unlikely to come across this wonderful boy. However, since late 2007, due to the tireless efforts of Archana Raghuram, 40, and her band of super-motivated volunteer colleagues, Cognizant has been spearheading a successful and large-scale school education initiative that promises to nurture children like Ajith.
In just its sixth year, Cognizant’s CSR programme, Outreach, has already partnered over 100 schools across India and worked with more than 400,000 students. Over 45,000 of its employees have volunteered 460,000 cumulative hours of effort till date, helping schools and students work towards a better future.
iPods to Outreach
Cognizant’s Outreach programme began to take shape toward the latter part of 2007. Thanks to a newly formed culture of internal blogging and informal conversations within the company, many ‘virtual water coolers’ were being formed across the organisation.
Raghuram, then a delivery manager for a large offshore client, used to run a blog called ‘Legends of Cognizant’. While scouting for interesting people to profile in her blog, Raghuram met employees who were engaged in community service of various forms. “In 2007 alone, we came across over 200 employee-run projects,” she says.
And though the company’s blogging platform had loosely connected various such efforts, Raghuram felt the company ought to provide employees with a volunteering programme. Since most of the existing efforts were already in the space of education, she decided to retain that character. She also concluded that volunteering should never be mandated at any level.
Raghuram put forth a formal proposal before CEO Fransisco D’Souza and President Gordon Coburn. Both immediately agreed, with D’Souza saying, “Each of us in Cognizant, in one form or another, have received the gift of a solid education, which has given us entry into the service industry—one of the best platforms within the global economy. Through the Outreach programme and other CSR initiatives, we will have an opportunity to give such gifts to others.”
Outreach was launched on November 15, 2007, “as we hit the $2 billion revenue mark” as a company, says Raghuram.
Interestingly, Cognizant had given all its employees an Apple iPod when it touched the $1 billion revenue figure. Now, with Outreach, recollects Raghuram, the company had found a way to “give back” to local communities.
Raghuram’s intent was to retain the grassroots passion and personal interest that employees had for their projects; this could not be achieved by passing directives from the top. Instead, Outreach councils comprising 7-10 employees were formed in each Cognizant location; these were empowered with budgets for activities. All the proposals would be supported through volunteerism and approved via these councils.
“In the first year, we had over 200 volunteers from across levels. In many ways, those passionate and motivated employees set the tone and built the momentum for the whole programme,” says Raghuram.
Today, Cognizant has 41 such councils across all its offices.
With the infrastructure and initial teaching taken care of, the programme moved towards bringing together the schools it was associated with under the TalHunt inter-school competition. Nearly 30 schools would participate in 2008, allowing children to sample extra-curricular activities like chess, elocution and dancing. A championship trophy was instituted for the school winning the maximum prizes. “For many of our volunteers, it was like winning their own ‘Project of the Year’ award!” says Raghuram.
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(This story appears in the 13 December, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)
congrauts archana mam im really proud of u i want to be live like you & i want to be a part in cognizant outreach.....on Aug 24, 2014
what you are doing is goodon Feb 19, 2014
Congrats Archanaon Dec 20, 2013
Congratulation Archana. :)on Dec 19, 2013
Hearty congrats Archana. You are the visionary for us.on Dec 19, 2013
Congratulation and proud of CTS Employee..on Dec 18, 2013
Hearty Congratulations Archana.. You have been doing great work.. I am proud to be part of Outreach.-:) -:)on Dec 13, 2013
Congratulations Archana, It\'s a proud moment to you and to all the volunteers who have supported this noble cause.on Dec 13, 2013
congrats!! keep up the good work:-)on Dec 13, 2013
Congrats Archana!!!on Dec 11, 2013
Congrats Archana..:)Gud one..Its happy and proud to be a part of outreach.. :)on Dec 11, 2013
Congrats Archana, I am one of the proud people who had seen Archana in action throughout the day of the TALHUNT 2012... Well Deserved Award...on Dec 10, 2013
Congrats Archanaon Dec 10, 2013
Congratulations to Archana Raghuram and all the volunteers involved in this success! This makes every cognizant employee proud of being part of cognizant.on Dec 10, 2013
Proud to be associated with Cognizant and with this initiative in particular. Congratulations Archana!!on Dec 10, 2013
This is commendableon Dec 10, 2013
Wow.... Sounds Great !!!on Dec 10, 2013
Happy to be a part of this change making family of volunteers!on Dec 10, 2013
Hearty Congratulations to Archana !!! You are a big inspiration to all of us !!! So proud to be part of Cognizant Outreach Team !!!on Dec 10, 2013
This is really a good news for Cognizant voluteerson Dec 10, 2013
Commendable initiative. Good to see that Infosys, CTS are going beyond business and creating a ecosystem for it\'s employees to contribute to the society. What about TCSon Dec 8, 2013
An article which serves not only to inform but more importantly to instruct as to how CSR can be leveraged to make a change. Happy to note that our CSIM had a role in this project of Cognizant.on Dec 6, 2013
Happy to read this article.My hearty congrats to all the Outreach Volunteers.We from Do or Die Trust express our gratitude to all the Cognizant outreach volunteers through which we were able to help so many deserving children.Love you all so much.on Dec 5, 2013