The Social Awakening
Consider a situation, what do you expect when you are about to join India’s third largest e-commerce website which is about to be sold off. Welcome to the world of Snapdeal, India’s’ largest online marketplace.
So you enter a 450,000 sq. ft. arena was known as the Snapdeal centre in Gurgaon. The first interaction that you have with this majestic space makes you feel like a king. From a Gym to a spa, from a recreation room to a video games parlour, you name it, and Snapdeal like a genie presents it to you. You enter the office amidst the rumours of people being laid off and the firm having no money to pay off its employees and what you see is a complete contrast of your imaginative picture. A team of 1500 dedicated employees giving their all to make the company run. All that matters to them is how each of them individually as well as a team adds to the efficiency of Snapdeal.
I join and am asked to work in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team. The first question that comes to your mind is, a company that has INR 3,000 crore+ losses in the previous financial year, has rumours going around that it will be soon sold off, why does it have a CSR division? The entire interest of the internship was lost in one moment. I meet my manager who directly assigns me work. I do a decent enough job and present him with my findings. All he does is reject them all. This goes on for the next three days after which I lose my interest and the same shows on my face. It’s only day four and I have a one to one conversation with my manager. What happens post this is something that I cannot forget for the rest of my professional life.
We have a heated argument where I tell him that Snapdeal in its current situation should not even have a CSR team. What my manager replies are his finger pointing towards the dashboard in his cubicle. It reads, “Justify your being here.” All he says to me is that in the next two months I have the full freedom to do whatever I want to do in Snapdeal. Whether I want to work or not is my choice but what this environment in Snapdeal will teach you is something unique. The next day I discuss with him that my task for the next two months was to initiate new campaigns under the Snapdeal Sunshine brand.
Snapdeal Sunshine is the corporate social responsibility wing of Snapdeal. The program aims to use the Snapdeal platform to generate in kind donations for the underprivileged members of our society. Basically, the websites reach is utilised to run campaigns that create awareness for social causes. Through these not-for-profit initiatives, Snapdeal facilitates customers to donate products online, which is then directly delivered at NGO locations for distribution among the underprivileged kids. Their ongoing program was to allow people to donate daal online for world’s largest NGO-run mid-day meal program by Akshaya Patra. The campaign known by the name #OneMillionMeals is supported by Huawei and till date has raised close to 4 million meals worth INR 6 million.
The aim was simple, what should be the next initiative under the Sunshine brand. Our thoughts varied from the elderly care sector to the animal welfare sector. After much deliberation, we finalised on the health and the education sector. The next step was to find a niche for our campaign. In the education sector we decided to focus on the reading habits of underprivileged kids, and for the health sector, we finalised menstrual hygiene management as the area of interest.
Today multiple programs are going on in the country to enhance the level of education. Contrary to that is a fact that as India move along on its journey to become the most populated country in the world we also house the world’s largest illiterate population. As per census 2011, India’s literacy level was at 74.04% well below the world average of 84%. Snapdeal took up this challenge to enhance India’s literacy uniquely. We proposed a campaign wherein the focus would be on enhancing the reading culture amongst underprivileged kids of the country.
The first challenge for us was to figure out what sort of books would kids be interested in. Therefore we finalised that the target group for this campaign would be children in the age group of 7-13 years. The next task was to finalise a credible vendor who would be able to supply these books. We spoke to more than 15 publication houses in the country and finalised National Book Trust, India as the supplier. It is an apex body under the Ministry of HRD, Govt. of India and has been promoting books and the reading culture in India, since the last six decades. The major criteria for their selection were that the books they offered were not only affordable but also they gave a 25% discount on the entire range. For phase 1 they offered a catalogue of more than 600 books, which are available in four languages, Hindi, English, Urdu and Punjabi. They even agreed to bear the logistics cost for shipping the books.
After finalising the supply side, we went ahead to figure out the demand side, in this case, the NGOs. After a due diligence process, we on-boarded 14 NGOs, and they span across Chennai in Tamil Nadu to Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir. To promote the campaign we got support from Amrut Deshmukh, a social entrepreneur. He owns a platform called Booklet – Mission “Make India Read” wherein he reads a bestselling book and summarises in text and audio form. The same is circulated to more than 200,000 of his WhatsApp followers.
Another issue was how to manage live inventory for this project. As NGOs were asked to choose the books that they wanted, managing inventory was a huge issue. Using Google Spreadsheets, an ERP system was created to capture livestock of books. The same platform was used for delivery projections and ordering books by individual NGOs as well.
The campaign currently is live on the Snapdeal platform and has received donations for nearly INR 100,000. In phase 1 approximately 50,000 underprivileged students are expected to be impacted, and for Phase 2, National Book Trust has agreed to add Bengali, Tamil and Telugu books and already talks are in progress with ten more NGOs to become beneficiaries of this project.
How much progressive we may say that our country has grown, but the fact is that menstruation is still a taboo in India. Sanitary pads are sold in black poly bags or newspapers as though they are infectious themselves. A crucial fact is that there is close to 455 million menstruating population in India and 88% of them do not use any sanitary products during periods. This results in a drop of 31% in productivity levels of working women and improper Menstruation Hygiene Management leads to 70% increase in the incidence of reproductive tract infections. The further one in every four adolescent girls in the country, quits school post reaching menarche and this is when the entire nation is supporting girl child education.
We came up with a platform where users could come on the Snapdeal website and order sanitary pads that would directly be delivered to NGOs across the country. The aim was to improve menstrual hygiene management in India and provide underprivileged women and girls in India, access to sanitary pads. We partnered with Mr. Arunachalam Muruganantham, a Padma Shri winner and also known as India’s Padman as the supplier of sanitary pads for this initiative. Also, TCIEXPRESS was on-boarded as the logistics partner for this drive. The campaign was launched on May 28th, which is also the world Menstrual Hygiene Management day.
Today both ‘Har Haath Ek Kitaab’ and ‘STOP the SPOT’ campaign are running live on the Snapdeal platform. The Economic Time, India’s leading financial daily has also covered the books donation campaign, hyperlinked here.
Overall the two months I spent at Snapdeal meant something special for me. If I have to sum it up, I went through a social awakening. The ground reality in India is different. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to see this truth from the eyes of a company that was doing CSR for pure social good. Without any obligations, without any pom-pom, the team continues to make India for the underprivileged Indians a better place to live.
A piece of advice to everyone who reads this article, in whatever capacity you may during your corporate life, do try to do something that benefits the society overall.