Pearl Tiwari, Joint President (CSR), Ambuja Cements Limited, in an interview with OneWorld South Asia, talks about how engaging with communities and participatory approach are vital for capacity development. Excerpts from the interview.
OWSA: What is Ambuja Cement’s mandate in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility?
Pearl Tiwari: Ambuja Cements Ltd, since its inception has thought about social and environmental excellence in its own operations and in its neighborhood. Our focus is on social performance at our site, which essentially means connecting with the community and ensuring that the community members progress alongside with the company’s progress in the business. This gives us the license to operate and we believe that this philosophy has helped us to expand and grow within a short period of time.
OWSA: What are the core areas of work for the ACF?
Pearl Tiwari: Our major thrust is on making available good quality and sufficient water to the communities. In many of the geographies that ACL works in, water shortage is a perennial issue. Also ACL’s presence is mainly in areas where agriculture is a predominant. livelihood Therefore our work on water assumes importance as communities need water not only for daily use, but also for irrigating their farmlands. We have focused on setting up of water harvesting structures, emphasised on the judicious use of water and doing projects that can provide clean drinking water.
Enhancing livelihoods is our next major area of work at ACF. India being an agrarian economy, we have looked at agro-based livelihoods and provided training on agriculture, on improving productivity, and giving other support. Another thrust area is working on social development and looking at empowerment of women, better access to healthcare through grassroot workers and supporting education system.
OWSA: Water resource management seems to be one of the key focus areas of your work. How does ACF work in creating a systematic approach in terms of advocacy and action to conserve water?
Pearl Tiwari: Our approach is participatory. Firstly, the needs and priorities relating to water are addressed with the help of the community. A lot of capacity development is primarily done through a participatory approach. We also rely on receiving a lot of traditional wisdom from the communities. For instance, we can help in deciding what kind of water structure is needed but the capacity and the information about water aquifers are part of the traditional wisdom. We then work on a plan together, create committees that are relevant to the projects, create water user associations, create watershed committees. These panels are then made part of the planning, implementation and monitoring of the projects. Subsequently, these projects are handed over to the communities themselves and that’s how the sustainability is created.
OWSA: Being a woman yourself and heading ACF, do you think there are enough women in high-powered positions in the corporates sphere? If not, why?
Pearl Tiwari: More and more women are coming into high powered positions. It is evident in many sectors. They are also actively engaged in the banking sector. In development sector women have always been in the lead and in high powered positions.
OWSA: Does ACF plan to introduce some new innovative areas of CSR intervention in the coming times or new focus areas?
Pearl Tiwari: ACF is always introducing new areas of work within the development space. In 2004, ACL was one of the first companies to talk about HIV/ AIDS and has framed the policy on it. We are also looking at the alternate methods of cooking or non-conventional energy such as smokeless chulas, biogas and other technologies that are more ecological and people friendly and can be scaled up.
As companies are talking of alternative energy sources we are also in the process of finding a method of collecting agro-waste residues and using that biomass as an alternative fuel.