Interview of Rajan Samuel

Interview of Rajan Samuel

Comments Off on Interview of Rajan Samuel

Rajan Samuel
Managing Director, Habitat for Humanity India

With over 30 years of experience in promoting and managing micro finance and housing micro finance; has set up 15 successful Micro Finance Institutions in 6 Countries; undertaken assignments for World Bank, USAID, IFAD etc., in over 25 Countries. A certified CGAP-World Bank Trainer in business and strategic planning, Portfolio management and new product development. Before relocating to Mumbai Mr Samuel was overseeing housing finance operations for Habitat International Asia-Pacific Regional office, based in Manila, Philippines.

Mr Samuel has submitted his thesis for a PhD on “Rebuilding Azerbaijan Economy through promotion of sustainable Micro Finance interventions”.

What difference you find in microfinance and housing for the poor as a sector?
Microfinance in India has hitherto largely focused on financing livelihood and livelihood related costs by the borrowers i.e. small working capital and small asset purchases for farmers, artisans, etc. all mostly in the rural and semi-urban areas in India. The target group for MFIs and NGO-MFIs has never been formally funded on a larger scale by these institutions. Government Schemes in the past also have not been successful in providing housing finance to the bottom of the pyramid anywhere close to the desired scale. Moreover, research conducted by Habitat for Humanity Technical Assistance Center (TAC) five years ago under the aegis of its Technical Assistance center over the 5-10 years prior to that revealed that a significant portion of the microfinance lending meant for livelihood was actually being spent by borrowers for their own home construction and renovations. Accordingly Habitat for Humanity India has over the last 5-7 years begun promoting housing microfinance to fund construction and rehabilitation of homes and sanitation units for the target group of MFIs and NGO-MFIs. MICROBUILD India thereby providing access to housing finance at the bottom of the pyramid.

What is a status in terms of demands and supply of housing for poor in INDIA? Elaborate
Habitat for Humanity estimated in 2015 that 1.6 billion people around the world live in “inadequate shelter”. Studies have shown that in India alone 78 million families or approximately 390 million people do not have proper shelter this means that India accounts for nearly 25% of the global housing needs. There is an increasing demand of homes in rural as well as urban areas in the country and it will only increase as the population increases. To add to this, migrating populations from villages to urban cities has also led to low supply of decent homes for families. Currently there is an urgent housing problem that existing in the country which we need to counter in a dynamic way.

How do we compare the housing for poor in India to the global scenario?
In India a rising concern is the presence of dilapidated or kachcha homes. Habitat India has been working consistently to convert these to pucca homes. However with limited resources given that many corporate donors do not have housing as part of their CSR objectives means that contribution of Corporate CSR funds to housing and shelter for the bottom of pyramid in India is not significant. On the positive side though, India does have a robust housing policy in India especially with the ‘Housing for All’ mandate by the Government of India. India is one of the very few countries with tangible policies when it comes to housing for the poor and the owner driven construction vertical. We need to utilize these in more efficient methods. In Philippines those who live in disaster prone areas especially along the river belts, including slum dwellers, are relocated to safer areas where they are not only provided better homes but also livelihood opportunities. In the coming years we too should look at considering livelihood options, institutional development and creating social networks for those who are relocated so that every citizen has the prospect to grow and advance within the society. We hope to see this happening soon with the many government initiatives that have come up in the housing space.

What are the key programs of Habitat for Humanity India?
78 Million families in India do not have access to decent shelter. Habitat for Humanity India aims to change the existing poverty housing landscape by building sustainable homes for low-income, vulnerable and marginalised families. Habitat believes that the right to decent shelter is a fundamental right of each and every citizen and is committed to create a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

564 million people in India do not use toilets. That is more than half of our country. The rampant culture of open defecation poses a major threat to India’s health. It is the main reason behind the highest number of diarrhoeal deaths among children under-five. Women and girls face shame, a loss of personal dignity and risk their safety if there is no toilet at home. Everyone should have access to sanitation, hygiene and safe water at home. This belief was the genesis of Habitat India’s WaSH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) programme.

Under its wash initiative, Habitat has developed a five pronged approach:

  • Behaviour Change Communication
  • Individual Household Latrines
  • School Sanitation, Health and Hygiene
  • Community Toilets
  • Access to Water

Habitat for Humanity India launched its ‘Sensitise to Sanitise’ (S2S) campaign in 2014 with a mission to build 1,00,000 sanitation units across the country. The campaign is aligned with the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ (Clean India Mission) initiated by the honourable Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi that aims to eliminate open defecation by 2019.

To provide improved sanitation facilities and address the eco-system of sanitation, Habitat for Humanity India has formed ‘Sensitise to Sanitise Coalition'; a coalition of nation-wide organisations with complementing skills and capabilities. The coalition impacts the lives of 93,95,173 people in the country.

Natural disasters claim lives and leave millions homeless each year. Habitat’s disaster response helps communities recover and regain the capacity to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. In the wake of a disaster, Habitat for Humanity India assesses options to respond as quickly as possible. Habitat collaborates with community leaders, local government and humanitarian aid organizations to place the affected families on a path to durable, permanent and sustainable disaster resilient shelter solutions.

Our Approach
Phase 1: Immediate Relief (Provision of Humanitarian Aid Kits)
Phase 2: Transitional Shelter
Phase 3: Building permanent homes

Global Village is Habitat for Humanity’s principal volunteer program. Every year thousands of volunteers from India and around the world come together to work with Habitat home owners and help them fulfil their lifelong dream of having a decent home. The volunteers make a real difference. They connect with the families, immerse themselves in new cultures and learn about Habitat’s mission and work. They raise awareness and advocate for improved housing and quality of life. With the support from volunteers, families can achieve the strength, stability and independence they need to build a better life.

Habitat for Humanity Young Leaders Build (HYLB) is Habitat’s largest youth movement. Held annually over a period of four months, HYLB brings together youth across the entire Asia-Pacific region and around the world to support families in need of decent housing. Young people volunteer, fundraise and speak out for the need of decent homes and sanitation facilities as a way out of poverty and towards self-sustainability. The HYLB campaign motivates the youth to take the lead in building homes on a Habitat ‘build site’ and to raise awareness online through their social networks.

22nd_March_2017_Habitat_for_Humanity_(1)Your “Sensitise to Sanitise” campaign is highly relevant program rather an area of weakness in India’s flagship program ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’. What has been your experience?
Habitat for Humanity India set out with the conviction that the Sensitise to Sanitise campaign will work to contribute to achieve the national mandate of making India Open Defecation Free by 2019. Towards this end we have collaborated with like-minded corporates in the sanitation sector and this has been the cornerstone of focus in the past year. All the partners of the Sensitise to Sanitise Coalition have agreed to accomplish our collective goals. Having passed the half way mark of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, a lot has been done and much is yet to be achieved. So far there has been a distinct role of the coalition implementation, advocacy and knowledge sharing to make an impact among target communities. Till date we have built 1,45,618 sanitation units across the country including in homes and schools. Our area of intervention includes building school sanitation units as well as community sanitation complexes. The thrust of our intervention is on driving behavior change to train people on how to use the toilets and maintain them to ensure sustainability of the intervention and lasting impact. We have also forged many government partnerships to cater to the need for sanitation facilities. For example we have tied up with the Governments of Uttarakhnd, Dadra Nager Haveli, Punjab and more recently with the Union Territory of Pondicherry to reach out to over 4 lakh people and train them about hygiene and sanitation with the ultimate objective to enable Pondicherry to become Open Defecation Free. Over 46,000 sanitation unites will also be built there in association with other partners.

Your area of work is highly relevant but highly constraint by funds. How do look at the CSR as a source of funding for your programs?
Habitat for Humanity has always been greatly supported by organizations globally. We have been operating in India since 1983 and have faced certain challenges when it comes to raising funds. Many corporates are of the opinion that housing is not a key focus area and that they would rather spend on issues such as education or health. However even with all these trials our achievements speak for themselves. This year we impacted the lives of 1 million people through our housing and sanitation work. We hope to continue this momentum with stronger backing from our corporate donors.

How do you react to the mandatory CSR law under section 135 of the company’s act 2013 making 2 % of profit to be spent for social development activities?
The recent CSR wave is certainly a welcome initiative for non-profit organizations which as per data published by the ministry of corporate affairs means that over INR 17,000 crores become available (in theory) for reaching out to the underprivileged and the economically weaker sections of the population. India does have a lot of social challenges which need to be addressed. The CSR law is definitely a good move by the government to show India’s commitment to solve these problems. However as per recent IICA published data: (1) A significant number of companies have not spent their CSR budgets at all and those that have spent have not met their budgets meaning that there is a significant portion of funds that have yet to be spent (2) Secondly and very relevant to our discussion here is that – housing does not feature in the CSR spends of companies at all this is a serious cause of concern. In the area of sanitation, though, we have certainly seen a lot of CSR spends and Habitat too has been able to augment our no of families served in newer geographies in the areas of sanitation, water and hygiene including in areas like school sanitation and community toilets for slums besides a stronger emphasis on driving behavior change in the area of sanitation and hygiene amongst the urban (slum) and rural population.

What is your impression about the process of mandatory CSR law in India after 3 years of operational in India?
The mandatory CSR law has pushed companies to spend time and thought on development initiatives. Companies have now begun to set up separate departments to cater to this. We see it as a positive step that will ensure companies to participate in uplifting the underprivileged and to contribute to the society. The CSR process orders that the funds are used to its optimum and that there are no wastages. This has allowed companies to focus and involve themselves more in this area and to engage with a project completely. However there are still certain loopholes. We have noticed that some companies use this law as a ‘tick mark’ exercise and initiate activities only because they have to, as a compliance push. This may affect the cause they pick to support or may lead to not focusing on those issues which need to be urgently addressed in the country. While the CSR law has been very beneficial to us when it comes to our sanitation efforts because of the government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan movement, housing and shelter are still seen as off-beat causes. Many companies see it as time-consuming or energy-consuming projects and may overlook these areas and support other causes to clear their CSR mandate. Along with aligning the processes I believe the CSR process must also highlight the issues that must be solved through corporate funding.

How do you see the housing for the poor in India including PM’s Modi commitment for providing housing for all by 2022?
Housing for All has been realized through the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana to provide housing to the urban poor. It is a mission that Habitat has taken up too. Our core focus is shelter and housing and we strive to ensure people have a decent place to call home. We firmly believe that when families have a good home, their living conditions improve and they take a stake in their community. By 2030, almost 60 percent of 8.3 billion people will live in cities, according to UN estimates and all of them will need a home. If we begin to support Housing for All today, we will definitely see a positive change when the time comes. It is a huge dream but a dream we can certainly achieve. If we all collectively realize the importance of a house not only to a family but also for the holistic development of the nation then this goal won’t be difficult to reach.

It is observed that large % of corporate leaders are responding to CSR law with a compliance orientation without integrating CSR spirit in the entire company, primarily due to the limited vision of the CEO. How can we motivate corporate leaders to get involved in national development goals?
Corporate giving or social responsibility for a corporate leader should allow interdependence between the society and the organization in question. A one dimensional approach to CSR will not last long. Therefore the role of the society or community should not be passive or neutral. Once an corporate benefits a cause, the community served must take the responsibility to sustain the investment put in. For example, Habitat for Humanity recently set up a community sanitation complex in Thane, Maharashtra in partnership with the Thane Municipal Corporation and part funding from SBI. The community members that have been served there have now taken the onus to maintain the hygiene and cleanliness of the complex. Once companies see the participation from the community, this will motivate corporate leaders to spend more on national development goals as this highlight’s the need that is prevalent.

What positive impact your Habitat for Humanity India has made through CSR?
Through our associations with various corporates over the years, Habitat for Humanity India has built and repaired 1,86,465 homes and 1,45,618 sanitation units across 20 states in India. We have reached out to families far and wide in villages, towns, cities, urban slums etc. Many of them lived in shanties and huts made of mud or leaves earlier. Today they have a home they can call their own. The coming of CSR has definitely contributed to all of this.

What is your personal level of involvement in CSR projects?
At Habitat for Humanity India the senior management is completely involved in the monitoring and supervision of the CSR projects. Since companies are spending a big chunk of their monies into projects, there is an additional push and pressure from them. All this drives us to partake in all the activities from the beginning of the project. We believe in transparency and through our projects look at the finer points of what the community needs and engage with the project entirely to create lasting impact. The MD and senior management of Habitat is also constantly monitoring and reviewing the sustainability and overall impact of our projects on the community and seeking ways of improving our delivery and efficacy aligned to the objectives of the project or intervention.

Anything you would love to share with CSR VISION readers?
Companies need to be open to supporting causes that would drive economic growth in a big way in India. As per a study by the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs, CSR money goes majorly into education and health; there is a need for orienting corporates about the existing challenges in the housing and sanitation ecosystems in the country. We need to educate companies to invest CSR money in development activities for these issues too. We will truly see a better India if these problems are solved in a sustainable way which I believe can happen with a strong CSR backing.

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.