February 2015

Upskilling the world

Anita Rajan is COO of Tata Strive, which aims to help group companies align to national and global standards. It will facilitate crosspollination of best practices across Tata companies

Corporate responsibility (CR) covers a lot of different areas. But, even in a group such as Tata, with a long history of philanthropy, it can sometimes be a disjointed effort.

Community engagement, volunteering, environmental commitments and the capability to respond to disasters often operate entirely independently of each other.

The recent formation of the Tata Sustainability Group is a recognition that these areas are related – and shows we see real value in integrating our efforts around them.

The Tata Global Sustainability Council, which is made up of CEOs from Tata companies all over the world, will deliver additional co-ordination around group policies and goals.

We're also developing Group CR Programmes GCPs) that will spread specific initiatives across a wide front. The first area we've looked at in real detail is communities.

Each Tata company already invests significant resources in issues that are relevant to the communities it touches. But we can also see synergies at group level, where initiatives cut across several businesses, sectors or geographies.

So the first GCP that's up and running is focusing on skills development, helping young people gain the knowledge they need to find jobs, set up their own businesses or come together to build an enterprise.

Called Tata Strive, the initiative also shows the value of a holistic approach to sustainability. Taking skills found within Tata companies out to communities fits perfectly with our volunteering theme, for example.

Skills development in the community isn't purely philanthropic. Plenty of people who develop skills through our schemes will also end up working for Tata group, or become part of the Tata supply chain. We can help our communities and individuals with skills development of genuinely high quality – the Tata brand is something we don't use lightly – while we are also serving a business need.

This kind of approach is already working. Take Taj Hotels: a group of women in Bangalore who acquired baking skills on its community programme have now set up their own bakery. Taj also gets the cream of the graduates from its hospitality skills programme. Community and businesses' imperatives can be met together.

In India, the focus has been on young people who perhaps dropped out of school, or who come from backgrounds that make it hard to find skilled work.

The challenge as we globalise is to assess how best to tailor this for countries such as the UK or US. It's clear that one size does not fit all, but, equally, we know we can find ways to deliver the same positive outcomes in a range of contexts.

Skills development really can change the world – but it happens one person and one community at a time.

This article first appeared in issue 2 of Perspective, the magazine for Tata in Europe. Read the ebook here