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Bridging the Gap: HCLTech Grant’s Contribution to Nation-Building

Tracing the evolution and impact of HCLFoundation’s philanthropic initiative, spanning nine years, which underscores the growth, emphasis on knowledge sharing, unique selection process, and significant social impact, and introducing the global expansion of the initiative into the Americas, reflecting its adaptability and commitment to promoting positive change.

The Inception

The journey of the HCLTech Grant, now spanning nine years, was conceived to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and not-for-profits to the noble cause of nation-building. The journey began in 2015-16 with a noble vision and a passionate leader, Ms. Roshni Nadar Malhotra, the Chairperson of HCLTech. It was a pioneering endeavour, setting a new benchmark within the corporate social responsibility (CSR) space. In an era where such recognition was lacking, the HCLTech Grant aimed to be a source of inspiration for NGOs and social purpose organizations. The inaugural felicitation of the Grant by the late President Pranab Mukherjee underscored its significance in the country.

In the subsequent years, the Grant expanded its scope by introducing categories like Health and Environment, aligning itself with the entire spectrum of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Dr. Nidhi Pundhir, HCLFoundation“In 2015, when we launched the Grant in the Education category, the kind of response we got from the NGOs inspired us to add categories and by adding Health and Environment we broadened our coverage of the entire spectrum of Sustainable Development Goals”, said Dr. Nidhi Pundhir, Vice President, Global CSR, HCLFoundation.

The Grant isn’t just about the financial commitment, which grew from INR 15 crores to INR 16.5 crores. It is a transformative journey of 365 days where NGOs across India are encouraged to apply, interact, and collaborate. The focus is on the process, and the HCLFoundation team is driven by the belief that the journey is as vital as the destination.

The Grant’s Geographical Footprint and Reach

HCLFoundation’s commitment extends beyond urban centres and into the heart of rural India. With more than 20 states visited each year, the Foundation embraces the diversity and beauty of India while deepening its understanding of the country’s challenges. “My team and I travel to more than 20 states each year and I don’t think there is any kind of boredom which has settled in because India is such a beautiful country, diverse in all forms and the HCLTech Grant has really helped us learn and enjoy the diversity. Each year we travel to new districts and new villages”, added Pundhir expressing the Foundation’s driving force.

What makes the HCLTech Grant unique is its emphasis on knowledge sharing. “We conduct symposiums every year for the NGOs to come and understand not only the Grant but also the larger nuances of the CSR law. How can they strategize their not-for-profit agenda within the law; how do they understand the intersectoral conversations within their own State and how do they apply these conversations from the district level to the block level to the village level?”, added Pundhir highlighting how the Foundation build a relationship and nurtures the NGOs. This dedication makes the journey addictive, fostering a desire to continue and do more for the nation.

The impact of this journey has been profound. The Grant has touched thousands of NGOs across the country, with a commitment to ensure that no organization, small or large, working in various categories, is left behind. Highlighting the all-inclusive motive of the Grant, Pundhir stated, “The methodology of the Grant is such that the universe is huge and when we started, we were trying to gather the data for how many NGOs are there, and we learned that there are 3 million NGOs and maybe more. And the members have only multiplied ever since because more and more NGOs have come forward and younger organizations have come forward. Name a database and we are working with it, be it the ministerial database, the state-level database, the Manthan database, and the Darpan database. We try to make a wide and far outreach so that every organization gets an opportunity to apply for such a Grant”. HCLTech Grant has become a beacon of hope, lighting the path for NGOs to create a meaningful impact on society.

Over the years, Grant’s geographical footprint has extended to even the most remote areas, with NGOs in Manipur, Sikkim, Jharkhand, and Jammu & Kashmir being discovered. The relentless efforts to reach these organizations ensures that they too have a chance to make a difference.

Community Influence

The success stories within the Grant are as diverse as the nation itself. They include life-changing initiatives such as aiding children in conflict zones, transforming public health centres, promoting green governance in villages, changing cropping patterns, and enhancing maternal and child healthcare in challenging regions. These are stories of perseverance and dedication that illuminate the path to nation-building. Below are the snippets of some of the experiences that Pundhir recounted:

“Something which was quite heart-touching was when I made a visit to Baramulla in Kashmir. I saw a very young child being aided. The child had lost his limbs because of the mines left unattended. It is a conflict zone and children just go out looking for play equipment. So, if the child was not being aided by our partner ‘She Hope Society’, he couldn’t have walked. The child is still with the program and each year the walking aid has to be changed because they are growing children.”

“We were visiting the villages next to Anand. Our foundation has set up a wide campus for ecological security there. When I saw it, I realized it is possible to include environmental action in the village development plan. It is possible for panchayats to prioritise biodiversity and green governance of the land, which means if there is MNREGA and other panchayat resources, then how is it that they can plan and divert the resources to bring about the greening of the village and take ownership. Today, acres of land have been brought under green governance. Another one is from a farmer community. We visited parts of Madhya Pradesh where the farmers have been able to completely change the cropping pattern by just rearing bees using natural farming methods and that’s under our partner, ‘Under the Mango Tree Society’.”

“The latest one where we really think that a significant difference a program like HCLTech Grant has made is Shardol, a district in Madhya Pradesh which still experiences the highest maternity mortality rate. We are working with each mother and the health minister and have been able to equip the Anganwadi workers and Asha workers with the best training and capacity building, but also technology-enable equipment, a kit which they can carry and do the testing on the ground. They can test whether the mother is anaemic or not and how that has brought a change in the number of ANCs and identification of high-risk pregnancies. This program is running in partnership with the University of Manitoba and the ‘India Health Action Trust’ (IHAT) is implementing it.”

Due Diligence Process of the Grant

Saying “The process has now become a carved-out-in-stone kind of a thing; it is cultural”, Pundhir elaborated on the selection process of the Grant.

The HCLFoundation initiates a call for abstracts for a period spanning 50 to 60 days, inviting participants from diverse corners, including NGOs, start-ups, and budding organizations. The Foundation is flexible with the abstract and provides room for creativity. It is a balancing act, emphasized by the organization – neither to embellish nor understate but to craft the abstracts appealingly and creatively, allowing the best to shine through in the words. The shift from detailed proposals to abstracts was prompted by the increasing number of submissions, which required enormous effort to evaluate. The Foundation also recognized the hard work put in by NGOs. Thus, they introduced the concept of abstracts as a preliminary stage.

Once an abstract makes the cut, the organization requests a detailed proposal. This is the stage where the NGOs could delve into the framework, development indicators, alignment with NITI Aayog indicators, SDGs, and block-level indicators. The organization urges NGOs to examine the Panchayat’s plan. The applications are scrutinized by experts and subjected to analysis, especially concerning whether the NGOs have engaged with the local Panchayat, as the success of rural development hinges on this partnership. The success is gauged based on whether NGOs take a holistic perspective encompassing the micro, meso, and macro levels.

The impact of the Foundation’s work extends to more than 27,000 villages, a testament to the program’s influence. The proposals undergo a rigorous evaluation process, involving the scrutiny by subject-matter experts, the HCLFoundation team, and Grant Thornton, who examines the governance aspects. Once these evaluations converge, the top 45 proposals are selected for field visits.

Field visits are a critical part of the assessment, emphasizing the importance of trust. They are aimed to ascertain the NGO community’s involvement, its relevance, and the opportunity for mutual learning. These visits allow the organization to interact closely with the NGOs. Sharing her experience of the field visits, Pundhir stated,

“It is another opportunity to engage with the NGOs. Many NGOs come and tell us that it is the first time somebody’s visited them, let alone being recognized and seen. That by itself is motivational for them and for us as well. We go there and we learn and spend time with communities, eat local food, witness local cultures, and meet the tribes – it is so humbling”.

After these visits, 10 proposals per category are chosen for inclusion in the compendium. This marks the most stringent phase of the process, involving the sub-jury and the jury in their deliberations.

Distinguishing Factor between the Editions

As the journey continues year after year, the HCLTech Grant’s approach evolves, staying in sync with the changing dynamics of the country and the CSR landscape. It remains dynamic, challenging, and inspiring, always encouraging NGOs to adopt fresh approaches to their work.

“Each year is a new journey. The country is also changing very fast. In the last 5 years, we stepped into the Amrit Kal and we’ve just celebrated our 75 years of independence. Within the context of the CSR law, we have seen a kind of maturity which is coming up in the corporates and NGOs. This year, the flavour was the G20 Presidency. So, from Civil 20 (C20) to Women 20 (W20) to The Group of Twenty (G20), our symposiums have evolved”, added Pundhir.

While there is a distinguishing factor between the editions of the Grant, Pundhir pointed out the need for stability, consistency, and continuity in the development sector to achieve the goal of sustainable growth.

Global Expansion

On 19th September 2023, the Grant went Global and the Foundation launched the ‘HCLTech Grant on Climate Action in the Americas’. This initiative entailed a commitment of USD 5 million spread over 5 years. Each year, three organizations would be honoured with a one-year project, with the first recipient receiving USD 500,000 and the others receiving USD 250,000 each.

For this edition of the Grant, eligible NGOs from ten countries are invited to apply. These countries include the United States, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Brazil, Panama, Peru, Argentina, and Colombia. The choice of these countries is underpinned by HCLTech’s business presence in these regions, facilitating close collaboration with local communities and governments. Their outreach is focused on grassroots level, community-led initiatives, and nature-based solutions for climate action. The primary emphasis is on innovative ideas that have the potential for scalability and replication, irrespective of their size or whether they were in the early stages of development or had already proven their concept.

Similar to the Indian version of the Grant, the Grant in the Americas also has a selection committee, comprising both internal and external experts, playing a pivotal role in the evaluation process. The registration for the Grant is open to NGOs with a base or registered offices in the specified countries.

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