Interview of Brig. Rajiv Williams

Interview of Brig. Rajiv Williams

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YSM (Retd), Corporate Head – CSR, Jindal Stainless Limited

Brigadier Rajiv Williams, YSM took premature retirement form the Indian Army in 2005 and has since been engaged in CSR. A Post graduate from Madras University in International Relations, he is a member of several strategic security related institutions and think tanks. As a member of the Governing Council of the Global Compact Network, Brig Williams has championed the initiative – ‘The India CEO Forum on Business and Human Rights’. He is a regular speaker / panelist at various forums and seminars and has been invited as a speaker to the United Nations offices in USA and Geneva. He also spoken at the Danish Institute of Human Rights,at Wilton Park, The UK and at seminars organized by Indian Industry Associations, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, GIZ, etc. He is also a regular invitee to various discussions and consultations organized both by the Government as also by private bodies. A prolific writer, Brig Williams has written articles on varied topics from conflict prevention and security to matters relating to Responsible Business & Corporate Citizenship. He has co-authored books on IMA and on Siachen, the latter one titled ‘The Long Road to Siachen the Question Why’ having been published by Rupa& Co. in 2011.

Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the CSR domain.

The principles of Jindal Stainless Limited Group’s CSR policy is aligned to the Vision statement of the Company’s CMD – ‘To be admired as a socially responsible Corporate’. With that as the bottom line of our CSR engagement, the focus is to empower communities through sustainable models of growth and development with a focus, though not restricted to, around our manufacturing and extractive facilities.

‘People” the first ‘P’ of the triple bottom line remains the key of all CSR engagement because the other two ‘P’s of CSR i.e. ‘Planet’ and ‘Profit’ are directly related to ‘People’. Women empowerment is a key driver of change and efforts are made toward empowering them with skill sets, which provide them opportunities for them to grow and become part of the family decision making process, because they share the financial burden as earning members of the family. The efforts are toward giving them a voice and encourage them to adopt a rights based approach. 

I am responsible for all CSR initiatives in the JSL Group of Companies from planning, coordination, budget and financial management, partner selection, monitoring and evaluation and all such functions to ensure that CSR impacts lives in a positive way in seeing marginalized sections of the society benefitting from the process.

Before CSR assignment, were you working in any other professional domain, if so, please describe?

My journey in this area is a complete shift from my previous military service, though in many ways with the same intent to ‘Protect’ – From protecting interests of the ‘Nation State’ to protecting ‘Corporations’ through CSR initiatives, which essentially focus on ‘Respecting’ communities and protecting the‘Rights ofPeople’ and engaging them through various CSR initiatives.

It has been a great journey thus far as the engagement is with individuals and not with machines and equipment operated by individuals and in the process the ‘How’ such involvement has impacted lives of communities in a positive manner. The joy you see on faces of the poor when they are empowered through some of our CSR initiatives cannot be described on paper. It is through such interventions that we see communities grow organically and improve their living standards.

I have varied experiences in facilitating communities in remote geographies of our country, where I was posted during my Army service. I would like to narrate a brief story on how a simple interventionchanged the life of young girl and changed the psyche of the entire village community. The place of the intervention was in the coldest inhabitated place in the world,Drass in the Ladakh Region of Jammu and Kashmir, where temperatures during winter plummet at an average to a low of minus 50 degrees Celsius (January 1996, the temperatures recorded was minus 60 degrees Celsius).

I was the Brigade commander at Drass in January 2001, and while touring the area came across a 13 year old girl in a poor homestead. She was almost bedriddenfor most of her life and her parents informed me that accidentallythe girl got burnt when she was two years and had since been almost completely dependent on her parents with a physical handicap of her chin attached toher chest. Despite having undergone a number of surgeries in Srinagar, her condition remained pathetic. The parents were very poor could not afford any other surgical intervention or treatment and were managing their daughter at home. It was over 11 years that the girl grew with the pain of her parents clearly visible.

After some rounds of counseling, I arranged for her surgical intervention and treatment at the military hospital at Chandigarh and got her flown to the hospital, which by no means was easy since a host of permissions were required from the military and funds arranged. The complete process of surgeries and rehabilitation, took over six months and all at the Army’s expense. The locals of the area became worried and repeatedly expressed their concern. However after regular interaction and assurances, the girl returned looking pretty and confident.

This fundamental right of the individual through timely and simple intervention has become a game changer in community relations, as Zebu Nisa, that young girl, who felt exceptionally shy and awkward is today a brand ambassador and a leader in her entire village. The village has also been transformed and such an intervention was a forerunner to many other initiatives in the campaign of ‘Winning Hearts and Minds’.

 

Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the CSR domain.

My role as the Corporate Head CSR has been to translate the Vision of the MD of being ‘Admired as a Socially Responsible Corporate’ into action through various CSR initiatives. This entails embedding the system amongst my colleagues in the CSR team and reaching out to the communities through direct and indirect sustainable CSR practices. Besides mentoring, I am responsible for all planning, monitoring and evaluation of projects. I am also responsible for all collaboration with Government and Non Government organizations and other stakeholders. I am also responsible for budget formulation and other processes, which go in project implementation.Reporting also forms an important part of my function and regular briefings and sharing information through presentations at different forums take away significant amount of my time. I also represent the Company at various National and international discourses and have been nominated as a member of various committees set up by industry bodies and associations.

Besides my Army service of over 33 years of which at least 20 years were in direct connect with communities, I immediately joined the development sector and have been engaged in CSR for the past 12 years.

 

How has the CSR & sustainability program evolved at your company?

The Company since its inception has been engaged in philanthropy and believed in the precepts of the traditional Gandhanian philosophy of trusteeship. It is with that back drop that the CMD’s vision of being admired as a Socially Responsible Corporate emerged. With that vision statement, the Business responsibility paradigm with a focus on communities around the manufacturing facilities through the CSR vertical commenced much before the mandatory steps as enunciated in the Company’s Act 2013 came to fore. Hence the shift in terms of activities as listed in Schedule VII of the Act was not necessary as the activities were already aligned to Section 135 of the Act.

Besides the above, it is also necessary to inform that the internal processes, which could mitigate problems in the larger context of environmental degradationand the like have since been taken seriously and equipment at exorbitant costs installed. This has demonstrated the Company’s resolve of being socially responsible and go into domains, which are ‘Beyond Business’.

 

Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who influenced your CSR & sustainability journey, and how.

While there have been some great influencers, but I was inspired by the work done by a simple ex serviceman, Mr. Anna Hazare, where he changed the social fabric of his village, Ralegaon Siddhi in Maharashtra. He toiled almost single handedly to ensure that the village he grew up and the village which sent him to serve the Nation, benefitted from his varied experience especially when it came to ensuring that water reached his village and the village flourished. He was a great motivator and his simple ways of achieving his mission are applaudable.

It is the like of Mr. Anna Hazare that during my service in the Army itself, in difficult geographies of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, I started different activities as the need was huge and hands few. Although it may have been the responsibility of the local Government, but sharing own resources with the communities to mitigate their problems was a rewarding experience.

 

What is the best advice you have ever received?

The advice given to me was to have a clear mission and work toward it. Philanthropy is the concept of the past and sustainability through the concept of shared value is the way to the future. I have tweaked the two of sustainable practices in community development.

 

Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of in your CSR & Sustainability role?

The engagement with the farming community in the area of doubling their income is a great initiative we have recently launched with our partners – ‘Gram Unnati Foundation’ under the name of M Asha. It is a cloud based solution to engaging with farmers from working on linking banks with farmers at low interest soft loans to the buyers directly procuring from famers. In this process, the middle man is delinked and the mandi system to a large extent is being addressed with direct funds going to the farmer bank accounts through a backend system, which takes care of various farmer concerns. This gives various options to sell their produce in a fair and transparent manner.

Between the production and procurement process chains are inputs provided to the farmers through cloud based systems, which enrich farmers with knowledge of various cropping systems and other agronomy practices. The warehousing receipt system is also being worked upon and a daily price point of a particular commodity through the mobile app is being shared with the farmers. To further facilitate the process, we are working on an agri practices incubation Centre, with a Co-working space. All such new technology based solutions, will ensure the farmers are not cheated and they get the right price for their crops. The Government, other institutions are very keen to collaborate with the project and this I am sure will help the farmers’ community in a positive and a productive way.

 

If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?

I think it is important to work on ‘Shared Value’. The Company is providing the support for communities to be empowered and work towards becoming entrepreneurs in various, and the company facilitates the process.

 

Describe your perfect day.

My perfect day can be described, when I see a smile on faces of the communities with whom we work on various programs. There are days when that invisible sign can be sensed through a long distance call made from a beneficiary even though my direct influence may not be visible.

Besides, a perfect day becomes rewarding when a challenge faced is accomplished and the outcome visible. I also feel my perfect day concludes, when I get a good night sleep dreaming that I have been able to impact lives in a positive manner.

About the author

CSR VISION
CSR VISION is India’s ( probably world’s ) first monthly magazine in print devoted to CSR and Sustainable Development for bringing together all stakeholders of SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT at a global and local levels and act as a platform for promoting strategic CSR and sustainable development practices through dissemination of information and knowledge.