Daan Utsav: The Power Of Collective Kindness – Cognizant OutreachBloombergQuintOpinion
This #DaanUtsav, BloombergQuint brings you a series of first-person accounts on volunteering that narrate stories of how different organisations across India are engaging volunteers at scale, or in depth, and bringing about significant transformation.
It was in the bylanes of North Chennai eight years ago that volunteers of Outreach, the employee volunteering programme of Cognizant, met Divya and Alex* (name changed). The children of daily wage workers, Divya and Alex lived in flimsy makeshift shelters. Despite their circumstances, they displayed a keen aptitude for learning and determination to succeed. Thereafter, every weekend, under the tutelage of Outreach volunteers, the children learnt their academic lessons as well as a few valuable life skills.
Today, Divya and Alex are graduate students pursuing studies in colleges of their choice on Outreach Scholarships. As first-generation graduates in their families, they are role models for other children in their community.
Divya and Alex are just two heart-warming examples of countless Outreach success stories.
The Story Of ‘Outreach’
The year was 2007. Cognizant had just launched an enterprise blogging platform to enable its globally distributed workforce to virtually connect with each other. A recurring theme in these blog posts was community service, volunteering and social work, highlighting the robust social conscience that connected Cognizant’s employees. So when Cognizant reached the $2 billion revenue mark that year, the company decided to celebrate the milestone by launching an official platform to combine the force of employee volunteering activities. Born thus was ‘Outreach’.
What started as a fledgling grassroots initiative has since grown into a global movement with a vibrant presence in 29 countries.
Since the inception of Outreach, 1.8 lakh volunteers have clocked in more than 31 lakh hours of volunteering and impacted more than 6.9 lakh lives.
Outreach volunteers focus on a variety of grassroots initiatives in the areas of education, environment, community welfare and pro bono volunteering.
Also read: Daan Utsav: Every Indian Volunteering
Education Is The Most Powerful Weapon
Cognizant believes it has a responsibility to help scale up talent for the knowledge economy. Primary education for underprivileged children is, therefore, one of the key focus areas for Outreach. It has partnered with over 200 schools across India. Outreach volunteers identify gaps in learning levels and address these gaps by working with children and using innovative teaching aids.
As per the Annual Status of Education Report 2016, about two of three class VII students in rural schools are unable to read even simple sentences in English and more than half the students in class IV cannot perform simple subtractions.
To address such learning gaps, volunteers took baseline assessments in reading and arithmetic. Individual goals and objectives were drawn up for the participating students in accordance with the results. As many as 7,262 students were assessed and 3,578 were identified for a five-week teaching intervention. At the end of the programme, 69 percent of the participants cleared the post-assessment (scored 80 percent or above).
While working with schools, volunteers realised that many academically strong students drop out of higher studies due to financial constraints. In response, Outreach launched a Scholarship Programme in 2012.
Over 85 percent of these scholars are first-generation graduates. Watching these students go on to build successful careers in top companies, including Cognizant, has been a matter of immense pride.
Through our interventions, we aim to help 100 schools in India achieve a 100 percent pass rate, 100 percent graduation rate, and 100 percent employability– a vision Cognizant calls 1004.
Also read: Daan Utsav 2019: 10 Ways To Volunteer
There Is No Planet B
Protecting nature and the environment is another critical focus area for Outreach volunteers. They do their bit to protect and sustain the environment by planting trees, conserving natural habitats, restoring water bodies and public spaces, and supporting marginalised farmers.
Just behind the Cognizant office in Pune stands Quadron Hill. For the past four years, Outreach volunteers have been working on re-greening Quadron Hill, trekking up the slopes every weekend, nurturing saplings, carrying water manually up the hill to replenish the dry soil, and digging bunds to conserve water.
Their hard work is now bearing fruit with the first traces of green appearing on the hill.
We Are All Equal
In order to build an inclusive society, Outreach supports people with disabilities, and provides livelihood and vocational training to women and youth.
Additionally, Outreach volunteers also extend their support to seven para-sports—wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, Paralympic swimming, boccia, cricket, football and chess for the visually challenged. Volunteers have partnered with several NGOs to help organise large scale para-sport tournaments, including the T20 Blind Cricket World Cup, state-level swimming and volleyball tournaments for the visually challenged, and athletic meets for thousands of differently-abled children.
One of our most significant partnerships has been with the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India. Working with them, our volunteers have helped organise six editions of the National Championships and several training camps and regional tournaments across India.
Four of our volunteers have gone on to train in the tough wheelchair variant of the sport, so that they can help support the differently-abled athletes. Today, they have assumed roles such as coach of the Indian national team, players in the state team, manager of the state team, and city coordinator.
Skills Are Meant To Be Shared
Our volunteers use their unique professional skills, pro bono, to work with individuals, communities and non-profit organisations. Many of these stakeholders grapple with the inadequacy of formal skills and shortage of resources. Recently, volunteers in Chennai held a capacity-building workshop for 25 NGOs to educate them on applying design thinking methodologies to better access and engage funds, resources and volunteers.
Learning Leads To Growth
Outreach’s volunteering activities attract thousands of Cognizant employees every year. Key is to sustain and channelise the initial enthusiasm of employees into long-term commitment to their causes. Over the years, we have identified patterns in employee behaviours. Broadly, Outreach volunteers can be categorised as tourists, travellers and guides. While thousands of associates participate as ‘tourists’ to experience volunteering, only a small percentage of them – the ‘travellers’ – come back to volunteer regularly. It was essential that we motivated the ‘travellers’ and groom them to become ‘guides’. This led to the creation of Impact Index, a first-of-its-kind volunteering measurement tool. The Index records and reports the success rates and outcomes of all the projects and initiatives under Outreach. The Index also helps measure and quantify the level of volunteerism, volunteering hours, lives impacted and much more. Over the years, the Impact Index has helped harness the work of diverse volunteering groups towards a common vision.
We All Need A Greater Purpose
From the outset, Outreach has been powered by the enthusiasm, energy and commitment of the employees of Cognizant and their collective passion to make a difference. Their commitment has today made Outreach one of the world’s largest corporate volunteering efforts.
Deepak Prabhu Matti is Global Head of ‘Outreach’, at Cognizant
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.