In a candid chat with HerStory, Priti Adani talks about how the foundation worked tirelessly in the aftermath of the Bhuj earthquake and the impact they are creating across the country today.Dipti Nair
On the evening of the Gujarat state board exams for Class 10 in early March this year, there was unusual activity at Adani Vidya Mandir school at Bhadreshwar in remote Kutch.
The Class 10 students were staying at their school until the exams were over, and the prospect of sharing the space with their classmates added a new sense of purpose to the nervous energy that is expected on the eve of any board exams. Besides, which child will ever forget that their principal cooked dinner for them?
The call to keep the students and teachers in school until the exams were done was taken after the school authorities realised that the children were facing difficulty at home preparing. It was either because of lack of electricity at home or because they could not spare time to study as very often they would be drawn into helping out at home.
This was not the first time that the authorities of Adani Vidya Mandir had gone beyond their call of duty to help the children of the school, which mostly serves the surrounding underprivileged fishermen’s village and colony, Luni.
When the school was started by the Adani Foundation in 2012, Vice-Principal Mahendra Parmar and a few other officials of the foundation would go from door to door convincing the families to send their children to school.
(Watch the video below where Vice-Principal Mahendra Parmar is interacting with students of Adani Vidya Mandir.)
Parmar recalls that in the early days, they even had to teach the children how to brush their teeth and keep their hair tidy. “The days would begin with us helping them clean up. These families had not seen a school and the children were oblivious of what was expected of them. Many times, we would find dried fish coming out of their school bags along with their books,” he says.
The Adani Vidya Mandir in Bhadreshwar is free for children and is one of the projects that is closest to Priti Adani, Chairperson of Adani Foundation.
A dentist by training, Priti gave up practising dentistry to serve a larger cause. “I had two options presented to me -- I could either help a few hundred people as a dentist or I could help thousands through the work of our foundation,” she says. She chose the second option as she says it was a bigger opportunity. Thus began her journey of leading the Adani Foundation, which is intrinsically connected to the Adani Group by working with the local community wherever the group has its presence.
The foundation, established in 1996 as the CSR wing of the Adani Group, works across 2,250 villages in 18 states, and has touched the lives of 3.2 million people a year through its multi-pronged programmes in the areas of education, health, livelihood, and community infrastructure development. Its special projects, which include SuPoshan (right nutrition), Swachhagraha (cleanliness), Saksham (skill development), and Udaan (inspiring and motivating students to reach for their dreams), aim to focus on long-term behaviour change processes.
Though media shy, Priti is warm and approachable and believes in letting her work speak for itself. In an hour-long chat with HerStory in her office in Ahmedabad, she opened up about what drives her, the impact that they are creating, and the faith she has in her passionate team.
Initially, they were only a two-member team and Priti would often travel to Mundra where the Adani Group had developed its private port in 1998.
“The insights we got from our travels to the underdeveloped region was that if we wanted to see sustainable change, we had to start with health and education. Without basic literacy nothing can move. We opened Vidya Mandir at Bhadreshwar on the lines of the flagship school at Ahmedabad. We have another one in Chhattisgarh,” says Priti.
Her real test came when Bhuj was struck by a massive earthquake in 2001. “I remember the day. I was in Ahmedabad. We could connect with our offices in Mundra (which is close to Bhuj) only after 24 hours as all the telecommunication lines were down. We rushed to Bhuj and set up camp there helping with all the relief work,” recalls Priti.
She stayed put for a month as suddenly their scope of work had become large. “It was our karmabhoomi. We had to look after the people,” she adds. Priti initiated partnerships with government agencies and local NGOs. “We cleared debris, creating shelters, modular homes, and schools. The work continued for nearly two years. Every small thing mattered. That’s when we decided that we needed a sustainable model. For us, every beneficiary mattered. We did not want big numbers, what was important was impactful work that makes people’s lives better,” she adds.
(Watch the video below of Devalben Gadhavi, a social worker with the Adani Foundation, who provides leadership training to other women of surrounding villages. She herself studied till Class 5 but fought against all odds to make her two daughters graduates. The older one is an MA and wants to join the police force, while her younger one is studying CA. She herself appeared for Class 10 exams recently.)
Born in Mumbai and brought up in Ahmedabad, Priti also lived in the US for a few years while growing up when her father moved there. Coming from a business family, her marriage to Gautam Adani, Chairman of Adani Group, was arranged by family elders from both sides. “I was a good student and thus got into dentistry, though I completed my graduation after marriage,” she says.
Priti adds that she finds inspiration all around her and that motivates her to give her best. “My husband is the one who pushes me because he himself is so passionate. Even if we are discouraged, he’ll give us confidence and say it is okay, or sometimes, will give us new ideas and ways to approach a problem,” she reveals. However, she states,
“The best thing that motivates us is when we see success, even the smallest of success.”
In these past 20 years or so, there have been many successes. For Priti, besides health and education, it is the skill development programme that they run that has proved to be the most rewarding. “Skill development is the need of the hour. We have graduates, but no jobs,” she says.
The Adani Skill Development Centre has partnered with the National Skill Development Centre and has 65 centres across India. “We have around 54 different trades that we are linking with employment. We also teach many soft skills and entrepreneurial skills. The certificate that people get is a government approved one,” Priti explains.
Giving the example of Sarguja in Chhattisgarh, Priti says the local boys and girls learn tailoring and sewing on state-of-the-art machines. “Many of them have got jobs as far as Bengaluru at companies like Wellspun and Arvind Brands. They travel from Sarguja in groups of 10 or 15 so that parents are also reassured about their safety. They start with Rs 10,000/12,000 salaries and after six months or so earn upto Rs 20,000. Their aim is to work there for three or four years and save enough for them to go back home. The girls say, ‘apni shaadi, apne piaso se karenge (they will get married with their own money)’.”
Besides her work at the foundation, Priti keeps herself busy by reading up about the latest tech innovations. “I have read about startups like Niramai that have a low-cost and non-invasive tech solution for breast scanning. We hope to connect such startups with our network,” she says.
She is also a passionate gardener and a prolific reader. As the matriarch, she makes it a point to spend time with her family and three-year-old granddaughter. And right now, she is excited about meeting her second son in the US at his graduation ceremony soon.
Another important factor that probably defines Priti is the faith she puts in her team. Right from those on the ground to the leadership team of the foundation, everyone agrees that she is a hands-on boss who believes in leading from the front. But, as Pankti Shah, CSR Head in Mundra, tells me, "It is us she will push forward when the time for reward and recognition comes."
(Pictures and videos by the author)