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Addressing Critical Needs Through Innovative Social Impact Solutions in India

01 March 2022

By

Arushi Nanavati

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4 min read

Radha Goenka, Director of RPG Foundation is a philanthropist, mom and passionate writer. When she returned from the US in 2008, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was relatively a new concept in India. At that time, all CSR initiatives of RPG Group Companies were being run independently. She brought structure to this system and all social initiatives under the ambit of RPG Foundation. Today, the Foundation works under three pillars – Education, Employability and Heritage. What is common between these verticals is – identifying the need of the hour, scaling initiatives through government partnerships and leveraging the strengths of the Groups diverse businesses.

The first program that took shape was Pehlay Akshar. This initiative was founded by Radha, 14 years ago. What began as a volunteering program with one school, has now scaled to 71 schools impacting more than 8,500 students. The program has over 2.7 million viewers through its digital initiatives across multiple states of India.

The growth trajectory of Pehlay Akshar has a personal story. Radha noticed her daughter narrate never ending stories of her dolls and their activities at bedtime in English and Hindi when she was just two years old. Learning these languages came to her naturally. This sparked the idea of creating a conducive environment that would encourage children to keep their inquisitive spirit alive; known as “safe spaces.” Pehlay Akshar recreated this judgement free, immersive environment for children in classrooms, and teachers in trainings to create a positive learning association. This brought joy to the process of learning and particularly helped children with ‘Functional English’ language acquisition.

Today, Pehlay Akshar Foundation runs independently and works with children to impart 21st century skills, making them future ready. This was just the beginning. While growing up, Radha was surrounded with capable and smart women from her mother to her grandmother who were juggling many roles. She felt deeply about empowering other women. With this, the Foundation went on to include employment as its second vertical.

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In 2016, the Swayam Program was born. Swayam has trained more than 34,000 women in low-income communities. It has helped over 26,000 women find dignified employment. Most of these women trained in the past have shared that the respect that comes with having a job, has been a turning point in their lives. The program ensures 90% employment to everyone they train and has launched a digital platform ‘Swayam Connect’ that enables skilled beneficiaries to connect with potential employers. Transformation begins at home. The Foundation provides similar support to its employees. From policies that are pro-women to building a culture that is supporting the life transitions of a woman – the environment is gender inclusive. Today, 57% of the team at RPG Foundation and 83% of the team at Pehlay Akshar, comprise of women.

                               

       

Apart from her impact in the education and employability space, Radha is passionate about conserving and reviving India’s Heritage – the third vertical of RPG Foundation. ‘The Heritage Project’, helps masses engage with, relive, and experience India’s heritage through practical new approaches, keeping in mind the evolving, fast paced world. The team works to uplift the area and the community around Heritage sites and makes lesser-known sites in the city of Mumbai – more known.

       

In addition to this, the Foundation is on the constant look out to provide innovative solutions to support the community’s pressing needs. COVID-19 was such an instance where the Foundation felt the need to step in. During the pandemic, urban India faced acute shortage of hospital beds and rural India’s healthcare infrastructure required dire support – residents had to walk for miles to reach the closest healthcare centre – while they were unwell.

To strengthen India’s Healthcare system, the Foundation partnered with the National Health Mission (Responsible for strengthening healthcare systems across India) and set up 100 Fever Clinics across Rural Maharashtra, giving much needed respite and making medical care more accessible to its residents.

             

To conclude, according to Radha “For women everything is personal, including work and I view that as a huge positive because we bring just as much passion to our work”. At the end of the day, all initiatives converge to support the country’s ever-increasing needs be it education, employment or as a reminder to the masses to cherish their Indian Heritage and pass it down from generation to generation.

Additional links:


Supported by Asia Gender Network member:

Radha Goenka
Founder, Pehlay Akshar Foundation
Director, RPG Foundation

Radha is a committed development sector leader. She drives multiple programs through two organizations – RPG Foundation and Pehlay Akshar Foundation.

While RPG Foundation focuses on three pillars -Education, Employment and Revival of India’s Heritage, Pehlay Akshar works with children to impart 21st century skills, making them future ready.

Her degree in Business Communication from the University of Pennsylvania and experience in the social sector has helped shape, expand and enrich the programs and organizations she leads.

References

A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training

Author

Arushi Nanavati

Executive Assistant to Director at RPG Foundation

Global Leadership Program, Stanford Center for International Development, Stanford University Post Graduate Diploma in Management, Human Resources, Prin. L.N. Welingkar Institute of Management Development & Research, Mumbai, India

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We see social investment as a continuum that encompasses everything from philanthropy and venture philanthropy to impact investing, CSR and sustainable investment. We call this the “Continuum of Capital”.

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