SAGE Foundation: Building a Legacy of Hope 

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SAGE (Shahani Academic & Global Empowerment) Foundation is a non-profit Trust focused on skills training. With a mission is to build sustainable communities which provide enlightened education and wealth-generating skills training to children and their families, the Foundation fosters partnerships among non-government organisations, corporate bodies and civil society — harnessing their expertise, resources, and passions — to turn good intentions into concrete results. CSR Mandate spoke with Dr Akhil Shahani, Managing Director, SAGE Foundation, to gain more insight into their worthy causes.  

Share the reasons why and when was SAGE Foundation set up.

SAGE Foundation was set up in April 2017. Known for his philanthropy, the patriarch of the Shahani Group, Thadomal Shahani, who is my grandfather, inculcated in us the virtue of giving back to society through education. My father, Kishinchand Thadomal Shahani, set up the Thadomal Shahani Trust in 1958 to help thousands of families who came as refugees from Pakistan during the Partition, by providing affordable housing, educating their children, and mitigating their pain through monetary aid. We accomplished all these through funds provided by the Shahani family with no outside donations.

As the need for financial support increased, we set up the SAGE Foundation in April 2017. The Foundation accepts donations and has FCRA clearance for getting foreign aid. This has facilitated us to step up our efforts in poverty alleviation, skills training and education of many more families.     

Our mission is to provide job skills training and placement for underprivileged youth into entry-level white-collar jobs in India. These types of jobs tend to give them higher income levels than regular blue-collar work. It substantially raises the economic position of their under-resourced families.

What are the Foundation’s key areas of focus? Is your work India-focused or are you working in other regions of the world as well? 

Our prime objective is to promote quality education, skilling and student employability, poverty eradication, women empowerment, healthcare, succour for the elderly, rural development, and environment. Most of our work is India-focused. However, we also work with an international partner, the Global Dialogue Foundation (GDF) in collaboration with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations to promote intercultural understanding across nations. GDF was established in December 2009 in association with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Our main initiative is to spread Unity in Diversity, to help us to understand that everyone is unique and special in their way with their own culture, beliefs, and ethnicity.

We have hosted a series of intercultural events with the help of various partners. These collaborations aim to work with all cultures and ethnicities towards increasing understanding, preserving the identity and cultural heritage. We value integrity, creativity and respect for our relationships with each other, our partners, and the world at large.

Due to our interventions, India is now the global headquarters for the United Civilizations Initiative by GDF. To take this forward, we recently launched the Unity in Diversity Internship Ambassador Program. Our Group of Ambassadors from prime institutes of the HSNC Board are spreading the message of unity in diversity.

The very first online event organised by the Intern Ambassadors is the Unity in Diversity Global Day of Love & Oneness will be held on February 14, 2021, to demonstrate and celebrate culture, cultural identity heritage and expressions of love and oneness from around the world. This is being organised with performances from five major Colleges in Mumbai along with shows and speeches from GDF’s Global Country Partners.

One of the other international programmes of GDF and SAGE is Unity in Diversity Companies and Campuses. It is a programme for certifying the contribution of businesses and campuses to social responsibility, inclusion, and diversity. GDF aims to work together with collaborators who support the same perspective to reinforce the role of organisations to promote cultural diversity and inclusion. Collaboration with GDF will help to connect with the best people across the globe working in this field. Participating companies and campuses receive a certificate of participation by GDF and get an opportunity of connecting with like-minded people, nationally and internationally, to help towards the cause of unity in diversity.

We have set up Peace Gardens in collaboration with GDF, and we will work on bringing in a culture of conscious leadership within campuses and companies. 

As education is one of your main focus areas, how do you help underprivileged students get the same privilege as the more fortunate ones? Where do you work mostly for this project? 

We provide scholarships for students to enrol in a range of courses in colleges. We work with NGO partners and grassroots organisations to identify and support underprivileged students. Most of our work is concentrated in Mumbai.  

More than 90 per cent of funds raised are used for implementing our skilling projects. We have trained and skilled nearly 6000 students in Mumbai to get jobs in the BFSI sector through grant funding from JP Morgan and other sponsors at incomes up to Rs 450,000/ per annum.

Skilling and training have emerged as crucial areas for a successful professional outcome. How does the Foundation prepare these students to be job-ready?  

Our mission is to provide job skills training and placement for underprivileged youth into entry-level white-collar jobs in India. These types of jobs tend to give them higher income levels than regular blue-collar work. It substantially raises the economic position of their under-resourced families.

We admit students into our Diploma courses in areas like BFSI, ITES, Digital Marketing. We use a blended learning platform which incorporates behavioural science & data analytics to develop the following employability traits which are in high demand by companies:

  • Professionalism
  • Pro-activeness
  • Team Spirit
  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  • English Communication Skills

Our employability model is capital-efficient as our technology infrastructure and admin costs are subsidised by our sister company – Smart Institute Pvt. Ltd. More than 90 per cent of funds raised are used for implementing our skilling projects. We have trained and skilled nearly 6000 students in Mumbai to get jobs in the BFSI sector through grant funding from JP Morgan and other sponsors at incomes up to Rs 450,000/ per annum.

We aim to expand our reach to train 20,000 students by 2021-end in Tier 2 cities like Nashik, Pune, Vadodara and Indore. We are looking for additional funding partners to help us achieve the goal. 

What are the other avenues the Foundation is creating for these students to attain higher education? Are you partnering with like-minded organisations or educational institutes to achieve this?  

Apart from JP Morgan who gave a generous grant to skill students in Banking and Finance, we have partnered with Buy1Give1 for raising funds for the education and healthcare of children and support for the elderly. A global giving organisation, Buy1Give1 partners with vetted, high-impact projects to support people and communities worldwide. The B1G1 philosophy believes in creating a world where every business transaction simultaneously results in an impact made in the world through a small donation which is embedded in their system as transaction-based spending.

We have partnered with the HSNC Board for educational synergies, and we are helping the Board in putting its courses online. The Bombay Mothers and Children Welfare Society works together with us for their Rural Development programmes. We work with Women Movement for Peace & Prosperity, an initiative of the Times Foundation for women empowerment by giving a voice to the voiceless women.

Our focus and motive is to create employable students. There is a framework in which our Foundation ensures our students’ education in a manner most appropriate for recruiters’ needs. With a 45-day job skill training and placements programme, a student is assessed for employability traits, trained to communicate in English, taught by industry managers, trained in soft skills, provided mock job interview sessions, and counselled at regular intervals. 

Mike Hancock, Chairman and Founder of Circle of Excellence Group, a global transformational company, is focused on assisting people to create prosperity, freedom and purpose. Through his interventions, we hope to start a Conscious Leadership Movement in campuses and companies in India. Mike has introduced us to Stuart Patton, CEO of Ace Edventure Schools and Co-Founder of Polkuni Education. He is one of Asia’s leading educationalists who is revolutionising education by making it relevant in an uncertain world. With these local and global partnerships, we get the opportunity to expand our scope and reach exponentially to benefit more of those in need.

Our focus and motive is to create employable students. There is a framework in which our Foundation ensures our students’ education in a manner most appropriate for recruiters’ needs. With a 45-day job skill training and placements programme, a student is assessed for employability traits, trained to communicate in English, taught by industry managers, trained in soft skills, provided mock job interview sessions, and counselled at regular intervals.  

Could you elaborate on the Banking and Finance Courses provided to students who are unable to do so on their own due to paucity of funds? What is the duration of these courses? How have these students fared now?  

We have trained and placed thousands of underprivileged students in high-paying job markets. The JP Morgan grant of INR 17 Crore is utilised to teach new skills in the Banking and Financial services industry using cutting-edge technology and innovative concepts to meet the employer’s requirements.

We have adopted new teaching methods to enable underprivileged youth to get entry-level jobs. This is through a blended learning model, a combination of online and classroom courses that develop students’ communication, sales and problem-solving skills while providing them with necessary domain knowledge. We have collaborated with our training arm, Smart Institute, for skills training.

I am happy to share some of the success stories with you.

Bharti Poojary 

I come from a background where my mother is a housewife, and my father is a contractor. My family income was never sufficient for me and my siblings’ education. But I am glad that with the help of SAGE Foundation, I got an opportunity to enrol in their Banking Course, and through their placement assistance, I got a job in HDFC Securities. I am happy to share that I have achieved two promotions in the past few years. I am now able to provide and take care of my family. 

Edwyn D’Souza 

I completed my graduation in vernacular medium. To be able to work for any bank was a distant dream. I knew that my dream to become a footballer was also not an option as my father was a rickshaw driver, and my mother a housewife. But my life took a big turn because of SAGE Foundation’s Banking Diploma Course which trained me to be job-ready in just a month. They did not even charge us any fees. After completing the course, I was in for a double surprise. I got a job at Standard Chartered Bank and an opportunity to play football in Liverpool, UK, for my bank. I am forever grateful to SAGE Foundation for helping young people like me build a career that we could not even afford to dream.

Shaikh Mohammed Minhaz

My brother and I were raised by my mother, a single mom. She works part-time as a tailor. I had to earn money by doing odd jobs to pay for my college fees and that of my younger brother. Without the Foundation’s support, I would have never had the confidence that I have today. I am happy to say that with the Foundation’s training programme, I got a job as a Sales Executive in ICICI Prudential. I am very thankful for the support given by the Foundation. 

What are the other major initiatives undertaken by the Foundation in the last 12 years? 

With the help of our students at Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management (TSCFM), we are working with Andy Steele of PATT Foundation, a global organisation, with years of experience in providing CSR programmes to companies who wish to either offset carbons or simply contribute for the betterment of our world through tree plantation.

We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with RISE Infinity Foundation, Secretariat of MahaPECONet, a coalition of development partners convened by UNICEF. Through this Agreement, our Foundation and UNICEF MahaPECONet seek to collaborate towards the skilling and upskilling of youth from migrant families impacted by COVID-19 and supporting them with employment opportunities in the BFSI sector. 

Daniel Priestley of Triumphant Events gave us a grant of UK £2500. We utilised it for tree plantation and construction of a shelter for the homeless at Shikshangram – a shelter home for children. We have adopted villages in Lonavala and Rajgurunagar areas at the outskirts of Mumbai and Pune.

We assisted in transforming a tribal school at Rajgurunagar with the help of Transforming LIVES Global and The Bombay Mothers and Children Welfare Society. It was so inspiring that many donors came forward to transform other tribal schools in the area. This way, we have created a snowball effect on our efforts to improve villages.

What were the activities undertaken during the pandemic? How do you think the road to recovery will be? 

We primarily focused on our Million Jobs project by migrating the job skill training online. We have effectively trained and placed around 960 students during the pandemic. We feel the environment will recover by mid-2021. 

Please elaborate on your recent partnership with UNICEF. Highlight the course details, study material, and types of placement opportunities offered under this partnership. 

Yes, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with RISE Infinity Foundation, Secretariat of MahaPECONet, a coalition of development partners convened by UNICEF. Through this Agreement, our Foundation and UNICEF MahaPECONet seek to collaborate towards the skilling and upskilling of youth from migrant families impacted by COVID-19 and supporting them with employment opportunities in the BFSI sector.

UNICEF MahaPECONet is a network of volunteers, corporates, government bodies and organisations that have come forward to help migrant workers and their families, affected by the socio-economic downturn brought about by COVID-19. We have pledged to contribute by providing training to the youth from these families to enhance their employability. The training will be provided free of charge at the Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management with placement support for employment opportunities in the relevant field. We aim to upskill a minimum of 300 students via this effort, through online and offline channels.

How has the journey been so far?  

The journey has been very fulfilling. We do not have detailed statistics of all projects, but we can confidently say that at least a hundred thousand people have benefited from our various activities around the world over the years.