Integrating ‘My Choice My Future’ into the CSR initiatives of Sopra Steria

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Spora Steria is a large European information technology consultancy based out of France. In this interview we talk to Gayathri Mohan who is Head of Corporate Social Responsibility – India at Spora Steria on their various CSR initiatives and their experience in using the Career Guidance tool ‘My Choice My Future.

  1. As the Vice President of CSR initiatives at Sopra Steria, what are the goals that you are trying to accomplish?

Sopra Steria CSR has its focus on ‘education’ – of children from the most deprived sections of society. We would like to do this by promoting computer education and digital literacy – primarily. We believe that the future will be increasingly digital, and it is important as a responsible corporate citizen to do our bit to equip our youngsters with the requisite digital skills to face the future – this said, our major emphasis is on the girl child, her well being, her education and her success.

We also strongly believe that ‘education’ is a great leveller, and it is only through a modern and comprehensive education that these children can come out of poverty to realise their hopes and dreams of a bright and prosperous future.

We believe that a conscious effort is also required for developing character, the correct mindset, and the competitive but caring spirit so that these youngsters grow up to be responsible members of society. Their example should bring in a gradual change in the community they belong and as we go along should usher in social transformation.

For us at Sopra Steria, our goals are encompassed in this ‘mission’ and we relentlessly follow this with passion and commitment.

  1. Could you talk about how the CSR programs are structured at Sopra Steria and why they are structured that way?

With our focus on education, we have a definite and clearly defined school model in place. There are two main aspects we work on. The hardware aspect i.e school infrastructure. Our engagement begins with setting up of the Computer Centre in the school and appointment of a computer teacher. There are smart classrooms installed with interactive boards, libraries, toilets, provision of purified drinking water, sanitary napkin destroyers and distribution of sanitary napkins, minor civil works, painting of walls and so on.

The software aspect includes English language skills, focus on mathematics and sciences, introduction to new technologies, preparation for competitive exams, spelling competition, summer camps, tutorials, counselling, mentoring, Science Fairs, and a host of other activities designed to stimulate interest and curiosity in the young minds. We also give away cash merit awards to bright students from Class 9 onwards as a motivation for them to study well and stay enrolled. These are the years when they are most vulnerable to dropping out not because they want to, but due to pressures from home towards boys to join work and help support family and girls to get married.

All this may sound ordinary, routine and even mandatory for a Don Bosco or a DAV but for a government school, located in the rural countryside, where the free mid-day meal the children get in school is probably their only meal for the day – this is indeed a big disrupter – a disrupter of the century-old status quo. Believe it or not, two of our kids cleared the much-vaunted NEET last year and are now in their first year of medical studies. All this is a carefully planned and structured intervention interspersed with sports days, football, karate for senior girls, dramatics, singing, outings and picnics.

We believe that our kids should get a superior all-around school experience comparable to that provided by the big city schools – the Don Boscos and the DAVs.

We go beyond school as well. We have the Sopra Steria Scholarship Scheme. This is our flagship initiative, where the entire Group Sopra Steria comes together to provide financial aid to bright kids passing out of our school, to pursue a college education of their choice, leading to a graduate degree and a job. We have supported over 500 such children in the last few years, over half of them being graduate engineers.

  1. What are some of the CSR initiatives that your organisation has undertaken in the past and what are your plans for the future?

Apart from the numerous school initiatives mentioned above and which is our PRIMARY focus area we also have

  • Run a Career Development Centre in partnership with the NIIT Foundation and Sopra Steria Norway, in the skill development area. This provides short term NIIT Certified courses with placement in entry-level jobs mainly in the hospitality, retail and QSR industries.
  • Sponsored cataract surgeries for poor village folk from western UP, in partnership with the Bhaktivedanta Group’s Sri Chaitanya Trust
  • Numerous eye camps, dental camps and blood donation camps again in partnership with organisations like the Max Foundation and the Wockhardt Foundation
  • Participated in various relief rehab work during natural calamities, starting from the tsunami in 2004 to the recent Kerala floods and the Gaja cyclone. This is mainly with our NGO partner Goonj.
  1. Could you give us an idea of how your organisation integrated ‘My Choice My Future’ (MCMF) into your CSR activities?

MCMF offered an excellent and natural fit for our twin objectives of –

Upgrading and enhancing the value of our Scholarship Program to make it more focused and impactful. Providing an excellent opportunity for our staff volunteer teams to play a wonderful and satisfying role in shaping the careers and future of our scholars.

We already had a five-step selection process in place for the selection of scholars, based on their Class 12 Board result. Bringing in MCMF ensures that the bright kids shortlisted as early as in Class 11, will be able to choose the right subjects, will have a career coach and mentor right through Class 12, in touch with them at least once a week. This should help these children begin to have a clear view of their future, their career goals and how to get there. You should keep in mind that these are kids from extremely poor families, whose parents mostly are illiterate, many with no parents or children of single mothers, broken families and so on. There is no one to guide them and show them the way. Only the most passionate, dedicated and committed Govt. School teachers will take on this role and this is a rare species.

Post selection, the award of scholarship and enrolment in college, we plan to also get them on to some of BodhBridge development programs that will improve their academic performance in college and make them eminently employable.

  1. The employees at your organisation were trained to administer the MCMF test to students. Tell us about that experience.

To be frank, we had never seen this level of enthusiasm among our staff for any other initiative before. They are relatively young, ambitious, all aspiring managers – they see in this program a chance to play a key role in the development of a deserving child and giving shape to his future. They also understand probably, as aspiring managers, that participating in this process, goes some distance in bringing them nearer to their own personal goals.

The MCMF program logged record volunteer hours among any of our other volunteer initiatives.

  1. What were the benefits of using MCMF as a career guidance tool in your initiatives?

The MCMF program is being implemented now on a pilot basis. We are still in the process of evaluating its relevance and most importantly it’s sustainability and impact. We are extremely enthusiastic and impressed about how well it has fitted into our scheme of things. Feedback with respect to benefits and other features, we can provide, only after we have completed this pilot study. However, that said, we are quite pleased with how MCMF has worked so far and will be taking this program to more children in the coming academic year.

  1. Was the regional language feature of MCMF, that is, its availability in Tamil make it more beneficial? Is there any example you can give us on this?

Having Tamil as the regional language feature of MCMF was helpful especially with the children from the Govt. school that we support in Chennai. The children were able to probably understand the questions better and answered them quite quickly.

Learn more about ‘My Choice My Future

Gayathri MOHAN
Head of Corporate Social Responsibility – India,
Sopra Steria

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