September 24, 2019

Banking on Rural Development, with HDFC Bank

Nusrat Pathan - Head of CSR at HDFC Bank
In Oct 2017, ACF joined hands with the private sector banking giant HDFC Bank, to implement Holistic Rural Development Programs (HRDP) under their CSR initiative. HDFC Bank Parivartan's CSR philosophy of "Progress Begins When We Empower Communities" aligns with ACF's philosophy of supporting communities find sustainable means of livelihoods as the path out of poverty.

This month Thrive spoke to Nusrat Pathan Head, Corporate Social Responsibility, HDFC Bank for her thoughts on partnering with Ambuja Cement Foundation.

"Back in 2017, we were  looking to expand our CSR footprint and were scouting for credible and experienced implementing partners with the infrastructure and capacity to deliver and upscale large projects. Since ACF fitted that criteria we decided to forge a partnership to implement our HRDP program." Nusrat said.

The locations selected for project implementation were Haridwar (Uttarakhand) and Sikar (Rajasthan), due to the high level of distress in both these rural communities. The community in Haridwar is largely dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, the returns from which were poor due to the unscientific farming practices followed. Furthermore the menace of wild animals destroying the standing crop added to the communities' mounting losses. Since the community members lacked the opportunities and resources to obtain skills for other non-farm based livelihoods, the youth in particular were faced with a life of manual labour and low incomes. Another prominent issue was that a majority of men in these communities were addicted to alcohol, bhang or medical drugs. Sikar (Rajasthan), faced yet another set of challenges. Severe drinking water shortages, erratic rainfall in the region, poor quality of water and soil, crippling levels of debt and limited farming knowledge of the community rendered agriculture, the community's main source of livelihood, un-profitable and unsustainable.

ACF kick-started the first phase of the  project in October 2017 in Haridwar with projects  focused on financial inclusion, skill development and livelihood enhancement, health, sanitation and education. In Sikar the focus of the partnership has been on water resource management, agri-based livelihoods, education and renewable energy - building 'people's institutions' along the way to support the sustainability of the project. Nearly 22 months into the partnership and the community has already begun to see results - 10 village ponds (Johads) have been created as water harvesting structures. 2 SEDI's have been established at both Haridwar and Roorkee and 93 village level institutions, comprising both women's SHG's and Famer Groups, have already been established. 

Thrive asked Nusrat what she believed had been some key takeaways from this partnership. "Whilst there were teething problems, communication between lower level managers on the ground was crucial to bring issues to the fore so that they could be tackled, and timely decisions could be taken.  Going forward I feel it is important to capture cross learning between different project locations and centres." Said Nusrat.

"A very heartwarming outcome of the project has been to see the girls at the Haridwar Skill Development Centre, being trained in traditionally male dominated professions and breaking gender stereotypes," she said.

"For a partnership of this scale to succeed, both partners have to be flexible and must develop clear understanding on various aspects of the project. We are now exploring new project locations to expand our partnership with ACF" Ms Pathan said.   

Since writing this article it has been confirmed that HDFC Bank Parivartan's HRDP program in partnership with ACF, will expand into Ambikapur, Chhattisgarh.

Author: Nandita Dalal - Partnerships, ACF

September 24, 2019

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