Interview of Priya Kapadia – Head, Marico Innovation Foundation

Interview of Priya Kapadia – Head, Marico Innovation Foundation

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priya kapadia

Priya Kapadia is the Head of Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF), a not- for- profit organization in India executing the Corporate Social Responsibility for Marico Ltd. The Foundation aims to nurture innovation in India across the business and social sectors alike.

Priya has been with MIF since 2013. She is responsible for transforming the flagship program- Scale-Up Program as we see it today. She has played an instrumental role in conceiving and implementing properties within MIF such as MIF Awards, MIF Talkies and Innovation Report project.

Priya has fortified MIF making it capable of playing a catalytic role in the business and social ecosystem and establishing thought leadership around innovation.

With nearly 14 years of experience in Business Planning, Brand Management, Promotions and Marketing Operations, Priya has extensive experience in Advertising, Media Marketing and Financial Services. At MIF, Priya focuses on ideas, data-driven, measurement-oriented with a strong work ethic, continuously striving for improvement coupled with excellent administrative aptitude.
In the past, Priya has worked with The Economic Times, Citibank and Rediffusion.

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

A. I began my journey spearheading Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF) three years ago and in my role I set out to identify, acknowledge and nurture innovation in the blossoming Indian social ecosystem. As a core member of the Marico CSR team, I work alongside several business units in the organisation to ensure that Marico’s CSR agenda is in line with the overall vision and objectives of the company.

At MIF we strongly believe in harnessing our strengths as an organisation in order to create a lasting impact for a greater social cause. Marico Limited, globally, is known for its commitment to empower its people and provide opportunities for success. MIF is cut from the same fabric of beliefs and therefore places innovation as the core objective for every social initiative we evaluate and consider supporting. We truly believe Innovation is a new and unique solution to a problem or a substantial improvement on an existing product, service, business process in a way that adds significant value to stakeholder(s) in the value chain and that as an organisation it is the meaningful way to give back to the ecosystem that we exist in.

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

A. I started my career as a marketing professional and spent nearly two decades accumulating experience in the areas of advertising, marketing and brand management. These years of observing the markets and acknowledging gaps is what first prompted me to look at innovation in a new light. An often used term in boardrooms and in larger business context, took on a larger meaning for me, as I strived on in the marketing world. Through multiple brand campaign experiences I realised just how much I value innovation and nurturing its sparks. It was then that I made the transition to the social innovation sector and naturally I found myself very much in place at MIF. In my role at MIF, I amable to leverage my years of experience in the marketing field and apply the same principles and measures of success to social causes. It was here that I realised that aharmonious symbiosis between business principles and social innovation, in fact, can be the surest way of creating lasting impact for the betterment of the society as a whole, as it enables us to bring in greater accountability and a stronger focus on benchmarking to all our causes.

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

A. Back in 2013 when I joined Marico Innovation Foundation, we were a very small team that primarily focussed on the Marico Innovation Foundation Awards. However, at our core, we always knew that innovation needs far more than only annual recognition. For us at MIF, we have always viewed innovation as an element that requires constant tangible and intangible support. Over the years we have successfully built a platform that enables the organisations that create a significant social impact by leveraging our in-house capabilities and the brightest minds in the business space to ensure that causes we support come to fruition. As a country, India has no dearth of creative and intellectual innovation, however often times, there is a slip between the cup and the lip due to the lack of support and infrastructure required to implement those ideas and that is where we step in.

MIF has witnessed an interesting growth trajectory where we have committed to the cause of inspiring people to think outside the box and then nurture those creative and intellectual ideas. All three of our core programs have been customised to enhance the aspects of innovation that we see as buildable:

1. The MIF Scale-Up programme – A sector-agnostic program designed to identify business challenges faced by innovative businesses and provide implementable solutions for sustainable growth of these businesses

2. The biennial MIF Awards – A platform instituted to recognize innovations across the business and social sector and inspire a new generation of innovators.

3. MIF Involve – A knowledge dissemination platform to spread awareness of radical innovations that are currently present in India

We ensure that all the good work that MIF is supporting is amplified appropriately in today’s connected world though social media, because we don’t want to just create impact in one isolated space, but also engage, inspire and drive conversations that will further prompt innovations that the country desperately needs today.

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

A. After becoming a part of the MIF family, I am lucky to be surrounded by remarkable people who are experts in their fields, so I never had to go too far to find a guiding hand or a mentoring spirit. Members of MIF’s governing council like Dr. R A Mashelkar, Rajeev Bakshi, Ravi Venkatesan, Anu Aga and several others are all exemplary examples of pioneers in their respective fields of expertise and are the epitome of forward thinking and determination to achieve excellence. The lessons to be learned from each one of them are endless, but it is Harsh Mariwala, the founder of MIF, who I think has had the greatest impact on my journey so far.

The leadership skills that Harsh embodies cannot be learned from any B-schools because he speaks from a position of great experience. His style of leadership is very unique in the sense that he will guide you in the direction you are seeking and then give you all the support you need to take off on your own. In that sense, he has always been the wind beneath MIF’s wings, allowing us to soar high and explore as much as we wanted to.As leaders we are often tempted to micro-manage but from Harsh I have tried to inculcate the habit of giving people the space to discover their own paths, make their own mistakes and then learn from them.

Q. What is the best advice you have ever received?

A.During my first week at MIF, I was conversing with Harsh Mariwala and he asked me to think of MIF as my very own and see how I wish to take the MIF vision forward. That is what we now try to incorporate in our MIF family- to look at the organization as a representation of our own passion and to really invest our energies into furthering our own goals to grow alongside the organization. At the end of the day, be it in a corporate or in a social impact organisation, it is the people who are the ambassadors and the torch bearers of your company’s purpose or cause. Having a team of enthusiastic and energised people is therefore likely to stand in good stead on any given day for an organisation, as much during the highs and especially more so during the lows.

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

A.When I first joined MIF, the MIF Scale Up programme was being outsourced to a professional. But internally, we always recognised the kind of potential the organization held in terms of being able to nurture innovation and convert it to add immense value to the society we exist in. Converting that potential into tangible results became very high on our priority list because we wanted to be there on the field, understanding the problems that plague our society and then come back with relevant, affordable and innovative solutions.Our journey reflects this learning curve for us where we have been able to make great strides in terms of executing our vision for social innovation into a reality. Today, we have worked closely with over 25 organisations in 13 different sectors that we work closely with to help overcome their scale up challenges. With over 90+ Marico mentors,30 CEO Mentors, collaborations with consultants and enthusiastic student teams, combined with our diverse internal team, we have been able to nurture innovation across the board.

One such example of a strong collaborative effort that comes to mind is the Zaya initiative which is a learning software platform for schools, after-school centres, and vocational training centres that runs online or on-device called ClassCloud. It has helped bridge the gap that exists in the educational system by delivering personalised learning to students at a very low cost because of which its reach has been far greater. Zaya also has a free mobile application called EnglishDuniya where children can learn how to read, write and speak English in the form of a game so that they can learn while playing. While the innovation was the brainchild of the founders, what we at MIF helped them achieve was on ground success through a sound supply chain strategy and refined KPIs.

Prior to MIF’s engagement, Zaya saw 85% of their units being returned due to damage, this figure has now dropped down to 0.33%. 2017 is slated to be a big year for the company withprojectedrevenue of Rs.10 Crore as compared to Rs 2.5 Crore in the previous year.

For us at MIF, not only did engaging with Zaya give us a chance to play the role of a catalyst of change in India’s education challenges, but it also gave us an opportunity to understand the magnitude of work that is required to create a sizeable impact.

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

A. In the corporate sector one learns very soon how much businesses depend on each other and work with each other to take their goals forward. So when I moved to the social sector, I was excited at the prospect of seeing how units within the social sector collaborate with each other to bring out a larger change. But I was surprised to see that in the social innovation sector, most organizations tend to function in isolation.Itis easy to understand this is not a reliable model for any ecosystem to operate in, especially one where the primary goal for the entire sector falls along the same lines. Thus, my mission for the social innovation sector would be to pull forth the strengths that exist within the sector by connecting the dots I already see around me

Q. What is the level of involvement of CSR Head in India in CSR strategic formulation?

A.At Marico, we have unified business objectives and several stakeholders who are involved in different aspects of the organization. We choose to view CSR as an organic extension of our operations, our business and our brand. It was critical for us to formulate the CSR strategy in such a way that it resonates with our multiple stakeholders and bears the values that we stand for, as individuals and more importantly, as a company.

In leading this function, a leader must necessarily have a holistic approach to formulating the agenda that an organisation wants to move forward with, or simply put, arrive at a purpose that the organisation and its people can stand behind. The next step is to align that agenda with relevant problems in the environment in which the business functions. This ensures that the CSR efforts are sustainable and fit in well with the overall core values.

Q. Describe your perfect day.

A. Since I have joined Marico Innovation Foundation, the concept of Monday Blues’ has become almost non-existent for me. One of the most exhilarating perks of being a part of MIF is the great scope that it offers to learn something new every day. It becomes impossible not to be infected by the energy and zeal of the countless inspiring entrepreneurs that I meet every day. At the Foundation, we pride ourselves on the diverse types of task that we undertake right from identifying innovative organizations, formulating plans for them, recognizing and encouraging raw talent; each and every mission is dynamic in its own right and thus requires the utmost attention and an eye for detail. I believe that when you are truly and completely invested in your work, your passion will shine through. At the end of the day when I sit back and realize the difference that we are making as an organization, every day spent working towards this larger purpose, becomes a perfect day.

About the author

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.