Editors Note: Guest Blogger Badhri is a hardware engineer at Synopsys India Private Limited, Hyderabad. He has formed a team for corporate social responsibility in his company and has been heading it for last two years. He strongly believes that awareness is the starting point for societal change. He writes at overtea.blogspot.com and is associated with targetingtheroots.blogspot.com. In this guest post he writes about the CSR efforts he initiated at Synopsys.
I am one of the numerous people who ducked the effects of recession at the turn of the millennium by going for a Masters education in the US instead of a software job in India. After seeing the effectiveness of the state apparatus (like the police’s response to emergency situations) and the trust people place in a public body (like the court of law), I have come to strongly believe that the same is possible in India too. I believe that the difference between the status of the two countries is dictated by awareness amongst us, the people; about our own rights, about the importance of our active participation in the society and most importantly the necessity to question our government. True, the change will not be instant, and awareness is not the only problem we face, but I sincerely believe that lack of awareness is the root cause.
After four years in the US, I returned to India to work for Synopsys. The time of my joining coincided with our management’s initiative to encourage informal interaction between various units of Synopsys by forming “employee activity committees” with different non-business objectives. One of them is a team for corporate social responsibility. Realizing that this is an opportunity to implement my “enlightenment”, I volunteered to head the team.
Our team initially set two goals: education and not surprisingly, awareness. We held weekly meetings to discuss projects to implement. From the meetings I realized that the biggest challenge we faced was to keep ourselves aligned to these goals. Our meetings were haphazard, characterized by suggestions unrelated to our objective (like old-age home visits) and lack of continuity with decisions taken in the earlier meetings. More importantly, none of us knew our individual responsibilities at the end of the meetings. So, we structured our meetings into “Last week’s work”, “Next week’s team goals”, “Next week’s individual goals”. This structured approach started paying off. Thereafter, we decided on our flagship project, The Science Demo. To kindle curiosity in young minds and to encourage them to question, we decided to regularly conduct demonstrations of simple science concepts using working models in under-funded schools. We completed the project in 3 month’s time and since then, our efforts have branched out to teaching speed mathematics, job-related training (Spoken English training for high-school students for improved job prospects), etc.
After a few months, we realized that employee participation in corporate social responsibility is low. So we included “Quality-of-life” as our third goal, which sensitized employees about need participate in activities addressing the greater good of society (like organ donation).
As we steadily progressed, I observed that a person who suggests a project is much more enthusiastic about the project’s implementation than those who subscribe to it. So, I offered a “suggest-and-lead” option. This not only delegated project co-ordination more evenly among the team, but also ensured good employee participation. Further this idea also ensured that the person who is the most passionate about the project always heads it. This not only fostered imaginative execution of the project, but also reduced the risk of the project “dozing off” midway.
But challenges remain and the objectives are hardly achieved. For instance, we conducted three demos over a period of one year. Though it is a good achievement considering that our efforts are limited by our regular work schedule, this is hardly enough to inspire kids into reasoning and exploration. Further, employee attrition, business-related travel and sometimes, sheer lack of motivation severely affect the continuity.
Apart from grappling with the challenges, we had our share of fun too! Be it ripping up a tiny electric motor or giving a voice to cartoon characters (see video), it is an experience no other engineer working for a software company would go through. And the sheer embarrassment of not being able to answer a 10 year-old-kid is not such a bad feeling in retrospect either.
Personally, I remember myself as a soft-spoken and innocent kid during school. To find myself leading a team of 20, getting projects to completion and talking on equal footing to senior managers of NGOs and government organization is quite surprising. And I cherish the lesson this has taught me on leadership!