Titan: Adding Values to Communities Through Responsible Corporate Citizenship

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Incorporated in 1984 as a joint venture of the Tata Group and TIDCO, Titan Company Limited is engaged in the manufacturing and sale of watches, jewellery, precision engineering components, eyewear and accessories. Titan’s community initiatives are committed to build a partnership for social development, focus on sustainable initiatives and improve the quality of life of the communities as well as add immense value to the community where the initiatives operate. The Company treats the Corporate Sustainability Function (CSR, Climate Change and Affirmative Action) as an intrinsic and essential part of being in business. We spoke to N E Sridhar, Associate Vice President & Head Corporate Sustainability, Titan Company Limited to know more about the various initiatives. 

What are the core beliefs and philosophy adopted by Titan regarding its CSR initiatives? How long has it been involved in CSR activities?

At Titan, we are committed to integrating environmental, social and ethical principles into our business vision of creating an elevating experience for the people we touch and significantly impact the world we work in. We believe that corporate responsibility begins with its employees. We ensure that harmony, peace and inclusive approach at the workplace is maintained. Efforts are made to engage employees in programmes designed to fulfil our ecological and social responsibility. Our Corporate Social Responsibility is more than philanthropy – it is an internal process that reflects the soul of the company.

The philosophy of engaging with the community can be traced back right from its inception when we recruited youth from the rural hinterlands of the States where our operations are involved. Simultaneously working with the marginalised sections of the society such as the underprivileged girl child in creating livelihood opportunities, through the creation of self-help groups, and making them an integral part of our supply chain in a sustainable manner.

We ensure that sustainability is given due consideration in all business decisions. This includes societal, environmental and good governance practices; clean and green technologies are introduced and implemented in our operations as well as promoting reduce and recycling practices, and we positively impact our stakeholders through our products and services without causing harm to health, enhancing and continuously improving safety throughout product lifecycles.

The philosophy of engaging with the community can be traced back right from its inception when we recruited youth from the rural hinterlands of the States where our operations are involved. Simultaneously working with the marginalised sections of the society such as the underprivileged girl child in creating livelihood opportunities, through the creation of self-help groups, and making them an integral part of our supply chain in a sustainable manner all point out to the fact that, in the words of the founder of the Tata Group, J N Tata, “In a free enterprise, the community is not just another stakeholder in business, but is the very purpose of its existence”, has been embodied in its letter and spirit at Titan.

Tell us about your flagship programme, Titan Kanya. What is the message that Titan is trying to send out through this programme? Why is this so close to your heart?

It is a well-known fact that education is the most basic form of empowerment. In a country like India, where many development indices about the Girl Child are pretty low, it was an obvious choice for us to engage with this segment. The subject is dear to all of us at Titan and resonates with every employee and stakeholder.

In 2012, even before the Company’s Act on CSR came in, we decided to bolster our efforts in education through a girl child education initiative. Titan Kanya – Empowered Girl Child, aims to support more than 16,000 underprivileged girl children with participation directly by Titan and through support from our employees and business associates. The girls hail from urban, rural and tribal areas of the country, sometimes deeply remote, with little access to a school. The programme takes a holistic approach to the cause of girl child education by not only addressing the needs of a Kanya in the Academic Support Centres and ensuring attendance and good results but also engaging with their families and other stakeholders to build ownership among the community.

We see them through their matriculation and also support them with augmented programmes such as science education and so on. The support has been so overwhelming that we even organised a marathon skating programme by one of our associates across the golden quadrilateral, christened Titan ECHO (Educate to Carry Her Onwards) which helped to raise funds to support 20,000 girl children for their education.

The smile on the girl child when she goes back to school or attends our classes is the most gratifying thing for us. As mentioned earlier, we have augmented this with several other initiatives such as engaging with the parents and community for holistic development, enabling gender sensitivity sessions, bringing in science education and sparking curiosity and other volunteer-led engagements.

How many States, regions and villages are included in this programme? Do share in detail about the outcomes from this project? Are you satisfied with the results thus far? Are they up to your expectations?

The Titan Kanya programme is stretched across Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Between the two partners, we cover more than 16,000 girls that spread across 361 learning centres and close to 126 government schools. Besides this, over 450 Titan employees contribute to supporting individual girl children. Our associates also participate directly with our partners.

Over the past many years of our support, we have mainstreamed children into schools and also seen more than 2000 children through their matriculation. The programme supports children from Class I through Class X.

The smile on the girl child when she goes back to school or attends our classes is the most gratifying thing for us. As mentioned earlier, we have augmented this with several other initiatives such as engaging with the parents and community for holistic development, enabling gender sensitivity sessions, bringing in science education and sparking curiosity and other volunteer-led engagements. We do track various indices such as an increase in learning levels, girls passed out of Class X, attendance, enrolment as part of their progress.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me, and I WILL learn.” This is a powerful sentence. Please elaborate about the Skill Development Programme that Titan is running for differently-abled youth in Chennai. Why is this particular project focused or concentrated in a particular city or cities when we have many special-abled people in need of skilling in various parts of India, in areas where other corporations are not even venturing? Are you planning to reach out to these regions and States?

Skill development for less privileged youth is one of the focus areas of Titan’s CSR initiatives. Unemployed youth from urban and rural areas are mobilised, counselled, assessed for their strengths and aspirations and put through training programmes which are aligned to job market requirements.

We have initiated the training of differently-abled youth in Bangalore with a reputed partner. Over the last three years, we have skilled and placed them across various organisations. The fact that these youth come in from rural areas and also belong to marginalised sections of society lends fillip to the Affirmative Action programme which we are pursuing.

All skill development programmes are conducted under the brand name of Titan LeAP, and during the year, our centre of excellence for skill development set up at Chennai, train 715 youth. A variety of programmes are offered for youth in the age group of 18-35 in the categories of educated unemployed and educated underemployed. Many programmes that are designed for the less-privileged disabled are also supported. All Titan LeAP programmes work towards empowering the youth to earn a minimum average monthly salary of Rs 12,500. Across all these programmes, we have skilled 12,000 youth last year. Our skill development programmes christened as Titan LEAP (Learn Apply and Progress) is focused on three levels:

Skilling for Employment: Our LeAP centre at Chennai skills and places youth across many trades through firm industry tie-ups.

Skilling for Employability: We skill youths in the Govt ITIs in TN (80 + ITUs) and also Tier 3 and 4 engineering colleges (13 of them) through online means due to the pandemic, and in-person when life was normal. We facilitate employment through job fairs wherever possible.

Skilling for Livelihood/Entrepreneurship: This programme has been initiated in Tiruvannamalai where more than 200 women have benefitted under various women empowerment programmes that include farm and non-farm-based initiatives.

We have initiated the training of differently-abled youth in Bangalore with a reputed partner. Over the last three years, we have skilled and placed them across various organisations. The fact that these youth come in from rural areas and also belong to marginalised sections of society lends fillip to the Affirmative Action programme which we are pursuing.

We will be taking up a similar approach in TN shortly for the differently-abled. Yes, we do agree this space of differently-abled is a less-ventured area. However, we are of the firm belief that wherever we go, we should create some impact, even if it is a small number. Our model – Titan LEAP – can be emulated by others as well. Hence, we have started it in Karnataka and expanding to TN in the coming months.

Skill development for youth is one of the major focus areas of our CSR initiatives. We have partnered with various implementing organisations of repute and have skilled and provided job placements for over 5000 of our youth. Unemployed youth from urban and rural areas are mobilised, counselled, assessed for their strengths and aspirations and put through training programmes which are aligned to the job market requirements. 

While still on this topic, what has been the feedback from these beneficiaries? What can you do to improve the present approach?

With Titan LeAP, we aim to reach as many underprivileged students as possible to give them an opportunity for a better life. The statistics to show the number of unskilled and unemployed population in our country is extremely alarming. This initiative is one of many endeavours to create better employment opportunities in the core States where we have a presence. The feedback has been excellent. Even during the pandemic, the number of enrolments or requests for enrolments has been overwhelming, and the employers where they go are quite happy with the quality of the skilled youth. In certain institutes where there had been hardly any campus recruitment, we are seeing encouraging signings in the recent past. Alumni from the programme do often participate and encourage more referrals and also motivate the students.

What are the other skilling programmes and courses offered in the technical and non-technical areas? Are these part of the Unnati programme? Are they just for the youth or for other age groups as well, for example, adults and the elderly whom you feel need more training to better their employment opportunities and productivity?

Skill development for youth is one of the major focus areas of our CSR initiatives. We have partnered with various implementing organisations of repute and have skilled and provided job placements for over 5000 of our youth. Unemployed youth from urban and rural areas are mobilised, counselled, assessed for their strengths and aspirations and put through training programmes which are aligned to the job market requirements.

We are offering non-technical courses at various skilling centres – Retail, Hospitality, Data Entry Operation, Animation, CAD, Tally + Excel and Advanced Excel. All the courses include components of digital literacy, communicative English and life skills. Apart from these courses, skill training is also being offered at the institutes. Currently, skill development programmes are implemented at various districts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

We have not formally focused on the elderly or adults through this route. However, our other livelihood programmes specifically focus on the adults and youth alike, in many far-off locations such as Uttarakhand, Cuddalore, etc.

How is Titan boosting the livelihood options and making craftspeople self-sustainable? Could you share each project in detail?

One of the important verticals chalked out in our CSR portfolio is the Indian Heritage Arts and Crafts. Under this, our primary focus is supporting the craft communities and revive or sustain the practice of heritage crafts as a livelihood option. The support that we provide is holistic, long-term in nature, covering various elements that a craft group requires, like design, marketing, skill up-gradation, process improvisation, infrastructure in some cases, etc. The core objective is to enable the craftspeople to become self-sustainable.

Some of the projects supported by Titan are:

Porgai, which means ‘Pride’ in the local dialect, is a group of 65 lambadi women based out of the Sittlingi Valley in Tamil Nadu. The group practices Lambadi hand embroidery and make products like garments, soft furnishings, fabric jewellery, etc. Titan’s support for three years for the group encompassed design, marketing exhibits, upskilling, skilling new women, and a centre for exhibiting their products, storage, conducting of trainings, etc.

Kashmiri Handicrafts – We supported CtoK (Commitment to Kashmir), an NGO, to handhold 25 craft entrepreneurs. The crafts range across textile and non-textile based crafts – Crewel & Chain Stitch, Aari, Tila, Sozni, Namda (woollen carpets), Pashmina, Leather, Copperware, Paper Mache Naqashi, Paper Mache Sakhta, Walnut Wood Carving. Design and technology collaborations were used as the key drivers for this project, bringing about a transformation in certain crafts by blending contemporary design with the traditional hand skills, thereby enhancing the marketability of the products, and in turn, providing a catalyst for improved livelihood opportunities to the entrepreneurs and the 10-25 artisans that they, in turn, support.

Kashika – Project Kashika from Varanasi aims at improving the socio-economic condition of 55 women by supporting them in learning and practising the traditional crafts of handloom weaving, Zari Zardozi and Gulabi Meenakari. The uniqueness of this project reflects in women being able to learn and practise crafts that are traditionally practised by men in Varanasi, namely weaving and minakari.

Charaka – One of our most recent collaboration is with the Charaka Group, one of the largest producers of naturally-dyed hand-woven fabric in the country. Set up in 1996 in Heggodu village in the Shivamogga District of Karnataka, it has a 600+ workforce consisting of 85 per cent women. They practice handloom weaving with 100 per cent ecologically-sustainable processes and zero wastage. The areas of intervention plan include design and development of home furnishings, apparels and textiles, reviving the traditional Udupi saree in naturally-dyed yarn, skilling and upskilling, management training by industry experts and market exposures.

The institution that has the biggest reach in our country is the government and its agencies. No entity can replace the government or substitute its role or work. Hence, it is pivotal to recognise this and collaborate with the government to further enhance the reach so that the poorest of poor are benefitted.

What are the initiatives Titan is undertaking to ensure women employment in rural areas?

We have also initiated tribal women development in five villages of Jawadhu Hills Block by creating Jawadhu Hills Women Entrepreneur Federation to provide livelihood and generating income through various activities. Under the CSR umbrella, we have undertaken several initiatives to empower girls by providing quality education and creating sustainable livelihood for women.

Our integrated village development programme in Uttarakhand, spread over six years, has successfully created self-help groups and who have organised themselves into federations/cooperatives over the years. They cover more than 1500 women.

Under our Kanya Sampurna programme, we created about 50 Model Anganwadis in Kattumannar Koil and Yadgir to be showcased to the government. As part of our support for education, we also invest in capacity building for teachers. We completed a teacher training programme in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, covering 325 teachers from government schools. We intend to cover 3000 teachers in government schools over three years.

Brief us about the different initiatives that Titan has undertaken to revive livelihood in rural and urban areas. What has been the overall impact?

Climate change is a major discussion topic in today’s world. One of the critical outcomes is natural disasters, wherein the impact is long-lasting, sometimes altering the landscape and changing the lives of the dependent communities. In 2013, the Uttrakhand floods caused devastation beyond comparison. While relief work was immediate, it was also about acting as a responsible citizen and giving back to the State.

It is with this intent that we partnered with the Himmothan Society, an initiative of the Tata Trusts to implement two projects: Integrated Village Development Programme (IDVP) in 20 villages, and Water and Sanitation in 15 villages in Tehri Garhwal. It is being implemented in flood-affected villages and is currently reaching out to 4000 primary beneficiaries. The water and sanitation project is in the hilly terrains where the villagers have no access to water or sanitation facilities. Both the projects are being supported by the communities.

The institution that has the biggest reach in our country is the government and its agencies. No entity can replace the government or substitute its role or work. Hence, it is pivotal to recognise this and collaborate with the government to further enhance the reach so that the poorest of poor are benefitted. Keeping this in mind, post the Tamil Nadu floods in 2015, we partnered with NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) and NAF (National Agro Foundation), Chennai to roll out a watershed programme in Cuddalore district (one of the worst-affected districts during the floods). As part of the project, 5000 hectares of land is being developed for watershed development thereby increasing the capacity of water storage for the villagers and their cattle. The project is being carried out scientifically and systematically under NABARD’s guidance.

Titan has a proven track record of providing quality products and solutions for decades. You keep building the brand and are committed towards social responsibility and sustainability. Share with us the other initiatives being implemented, the regions and peoples groups benefiting from them.

Our CSR focuses on working with the underprivileged girl child through education; skill development for the underprivileged youth, and working with arts and crafts and Indian heritage. We have a multitude of programmes being run with the help of NGOs across the four Priority States – Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Sikkim. Besides, we have initiated a unique recognition and engagement programme (Design Impact Awards for Social Change) that seeks to recognise design thinking in product design that enables social change.

The comprehensive eye care programme has been well established over the past six years with well-known partners in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and more recently in Bihar. We have been involved in supporting large-scale screening in the rural areas, support for cataracts and also providing subsidised spectacles for the needy. This project aims at the elimination of preventable blindness in adults and children of India. To continue providing effective eye care, we launched an eye care vehicle called the Mobile Rural Eye Care Vehicle in 2019 under the Happy Eyes Project. To continue providing effective eye care at the doorstep of rural India and addressing the vital concern of availability and accessibility, we launched Vision Centre in Ranebennur, Karnataka, in partnership with Sankara Eye Hospital who will be running the Centre.

There is a need to empower institutions which can impart the necessary skillset to build, strengthen and deliver upon the social responsibility obligation in the corporate. Businesses require individuals who can be engaged in fabricating the responsibility framework within the corporate culture and ethos. Notably, it is also crucial for companies to identify the area and then implement a customised programme followed by an impact assessment.

What are the challenges you have been facing while implementing your CSR programme during the pandemic?

When the world around us was collapsing, we took an important step in assuring the continuity of support to all NGOs, especially the smaller ones. This made a big difference in their approach towards our programmes with renewed vigour.

We started 2021 by addressing all our partners and reassuring them that we will continue to support all the programmes with all our partners, including any additional support due to COVID impact in the communities where we work. This was a great motivator for our partners who found many innovative ways to engage with the community, continue the programmes wherever practically possible, keeping all safety norms in mind though some of them did slow down a bit. Technology as a means of reaching out to the community as well as for deployment of some of our programmes was a major shift during the year.

COVID Support: The first many months of the year, thanks to the Board’s approval and our rapid internal responses, we were able to rise to the occasion to support the communities affected by COVID. Our response was of three types:

At the Corporate level:

  1. Funding Tata Trusts and contribution to the TN CM Fund
  2. Employee contribution
  3. Supporting local needs based on request and careful evaluation of the same across many locations in Karnataka and TN and partly in Sikkim by aiding hospital infrastructure, providing testing equipment to hospitals, PPEs to doctors and frontline workers or providing food to migrant workers during the early days of the pandemic.

Apart from this, we have extended additional support to many of our partners who work with the communities where our CSR programmes are implemented. We provide additional support, be it rations, medicines or even PPE kits. This gesture brought in goodwill in the community; for example, the parents were eagerly waiting for our education programmes to restart and consented in writing for their children to participate.

While Mission Gaurav Migrant Worker Support Programme with Tata Trusts in four States continues for a few more months, most other programmes are completed or nearing completion.

With a more recent notification about the extension of CSR support for the vaccination programme, we will be ready to do so if requested.

India is a vast country with an equally large population. There are many challenges in every aspect of its social fabric with innumerable unmet needs and expectations that the government alone cannot resolve. What should be the way forward for companies to act upon, apart from the issues that are being addressed?

There is a need to empower institutions which can impart the necessary skillset to build, strengthen and deliver upon the social responsibility obligation in the corporate. Businesses require individuals who can be engaged in fabricating the responsibility framework within the corporate culture and ethos. Notably, it is also crucial for companies to identify the area and then implement a customised programme followed by an impact assessment.

One other area which I would like to stress upon is for corporates to go beyond the typical definition of community in the nearby areas (of course including that), and look at collaborating across companies, well-meaning partners to solve issues that are in the nation. On the other hand, implementing partners, NGOs, institutions alike should also raise their bar of engagement and look at ways to co-create solutions with companies, even while maximising the expertise in the corporates.

What are some of the sustainable measures that Titan has planned for 2021?

From 2021-22, we will spend considerable time and resources in taking forward our strategic plans, on scaling up existing projects, and on working towards creating deeper impact across all our chosen areas for sustainable development. Our CSR programmes will continue to scale, even as we will focus on efforts to understand the impact they have created, and also long term sustainability of the same. Within the company, our initiatives towards sustainable development goals in the areas of energy management and, therefore, carbon footprint reduction, water conservation and waste management will continue, and we will shortly be putting out goals and targets towards these.