Seasonal Magazine recently interacted with Thomas George Muthoot, Director of Muthoot Pappachan Group, and Dr. Prasanthkumar Nellickal, Head - CSR, of Muthoot Pappachan Foundation to bring this inside story about how their various CSR programs are emerging as model programs in the corporate social responsibility sector. From a pragmatic vision, to transparent budgeting, to professional execution, to full engagement of Group’s human resources, the initiatives of Muthoot Pappachan Foundation, handling the CSR activities of Muthoot Pappachan Group, are rapidly emerging as the model that will attract partnerships from other corporates and NGOs. Powered by 2% profits of Muthoot FinCorp, Muthoot Capital Services, and Muthoot Microfinance Ltd, the mantra here is making a lasting impact in the four chosen domains of Health, Education, Environment, & Livelihood (HEEL). By identifying help where it is most needed, by tying up with only genuine NGOs, and by leveraging MPG’s infrastructure, human resources, and competencies, the Foundation is delivering life-changing interventions like free cleft-lip surgeries for poor kids, lifetime empowerments including back-to-school programs using sports as the enabler, impactful green initiatives, as well as livelihood training in buoyant industries.
Heard of Haringhata town? Neither had we, until we came across the inspirational story of 6 months old Yusuf. Heard of Nadia District? You might have, if you have a Bengal connect somehow. Bangaon might be more familiar to at least the politically aware, as it is often in the news as a parliamentary constituency. Well, Nadia is one of India’s border districts, with Bangladesh just across, falling in Bangaon constituency and having Haringhata as one of its lesser known towns.
Yusuf Mondal was born in a village hospital near Haringhata, and his birth brought first joy and then a little disappointment to parents Mehrum Bibi and Alihim Mondal.
Joy, as here was a boy after being blessed with two girls. Pain, as little Yusuf was born with the dreaded cleft-lip. It came as a shock as the elder girls were perfect to their tiny fingers on birth.
What could Mehrum and Alihim do? It is not a question of their’s alone, but a question thousands of parents face across India, in small towns and villages of the country like Haringhata. Alihim is the sole breadwinner for the family, as is the case with most families in rural India, and can make both ends meet in good months, but where are the resources for considering a complex procedure like cleft-lip surgery?
Suppose there is a philanthropist or corporate house willing to fund the surgery Mehrum and Alihim are looking for little Yusuf. Suppose there is also a medical charity of doctors who have the expertise and willingness to carry out such a surgery in some urban hospital as part of a camp. Even then, how could parents like Mehrum and Alihim come to know about it? This is where the role for something more than funding, something more than medical expertise, emerges.
CSR as the bridge:
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) when correctly conceived and effectively executed can fulfill that role perfectly. That is what happened in the case of little Yusuf too. Muthoot Pappachan Foundation (MPF) and ‘Mission Smile’ had joined hands to carry out a cleft-lip surgical mission in Kolkata in August of this year.
MPF handles the CSR activities for Muthoot Pappachan Group (MPG), especially for Group entities like Muthoot FinCorp, Muthoot Capital Services, and Muthoot Microfinance. The most integral part of this arrangement is that there is powerful stakeholder connectivity, with its main component of employee engagement.
The Group’s flagship company, Muthoot FinCorp has physical presence across 16 major Indian states including West Bengal. It has branches in 9 districts across West Bengal, including Nadia, the home district of Yusuf, as well as adjoining districts like North 24 Parganas, Bardhaman, & Hooghly.
Behind 768 smiles:
Muthoot Pappachan Foundation makes it a point to engage all MPG employees by spreading awareness among them about cleft, by training them to engage with local populations to identify cleft cases, and most importantly equipping them to allay any concerns the parents or families might be having about cleft lip surgeries.
When Mehrum and Alihim heard about this free plastic surgery from MPF, they too had apprehensions. After all, their baby was so small. But after hearing about the surgery in detail from MPF staff, they decided to give it a try. Baby Yusuf passed almost all pre-surgical tests with flying colours.
But there was one problem; he was yet to attain 6 months of age. Fortunately for the family, he was a bonny baby with more than adequate weight for his age, and the doctors agreed to do the complex procedure on Baby Yusuf.
The surgery was on August 3rd, and you should see Yusuf smile after that! There was only one thing missing from his handsome face, and when it was restored, he had that endearing smile with which babies win hearts.
|Baby Yusuf with Mom Mehrum Bibi|
Muthoot Pappachan Foundation is now 768 such smiles old, after the successful completion of their Kolkata mission recently.
Actions, not words:
When we met Thomas George Muthoot, Secretary of Muthoot Pappachan Foundation (MPF) for this cover story, after getting to know the kind of effective work they were doing, he was particular about one thing. “We shouldn’t be blowing our own trumpets,” said Thomas George, who is a key Director in almost all Muthoot Pappachan Group businesses.
Indeed, one of the Foundation’s slogans speaks for itself – ‘Actions…Not Words.’ In a world where Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is getting more to be of a mandatory work, this emphasis on actual groundwork signals a positive departure from the ordinary.
The ordinary in CSR we have all met. Either mega plans that are followed up poorly, or small plans that are talked up as great endeavours, leaving the observers wondering about the real miserliness of these companies.
If we are documenting the real actions on ground that MPF has already done, it was fine with Thomas George Muthoot. He and his two brothers – Thomas John Muthoot and Thomas Muthoot – head the Foundation much like they head the Group, splitting responsibilities among themselves according to their natural strengths.
|Thomas John Muthoot, Thomas Muthoot, Thomas George Muthoot (L to R)|
Thomas John Muthoot, Group Chairman and Managing Director, is the Managing Trustee of the Foundation. Thomas Muthoot who is the Executive Director on the business side is the Treasurer of MPF.
Heal through HEEL:
A sound vision is critical for the success and sustainability of any CSR program, and Muthoot Pappachan Foundation seems to have done its vision part pretty admirably.
The Foundation’s vision is aptly reflected in its HEEL acronym which stands for its focus areas Health, Education, Environment, and Livelihood. How it goes about this mammoth task is conveyed through its motto, ‘Sharing Success, Shaping Destinies’.
MPF started off with the identification of basic necessities to address. While there is no dearth of such basics that are still unmet for millions of Indians, the Foundation was particular in that its interventions should be life-changing for the beneficiaries and their families.
That is how MPF came to be associated with free cleft lip surgery for children, perhaps the initiative for which it is most known today. While clefting can be caused due to various reasons, it is more prevalent in poorer sections of the society, pointing to a role for under-nutrition. Cleft lip is not just a cosmetic problem alone, as it can also cause life-threatening complications for the afflicted.
When MPF looked around to address this issue, it wanted both a professional team with expertise in correcting cleft lips, as well as a genuine NGO to associate with. The Foundation found this partner in ‘Mission Smile India’, which is a medical charity as well as experts in providing comprehensive cleft-lip surgeries.
Stakeholder connectivity and employee engagement:
True CSR is never about donations alone, but about stakeholder connectivity and employee engagement. In all CSR initiatives of MPF, stakeholders are effectively involved, be it the company staff and their family members, beneficiaries and their families, civil society organizations, key people from the local populations, or volunteers etc. This ensures proper beneficiary identification and effective filtering down of the CSR program to the grassroots level thereby reaching the intended beneficiaries under a supportive and more enabling environment.
In stakeholder connectivity, employee engagement has been the key to the success and acceptance of MPF’s CSR initiatives. MPF has succeeded in creating effective awareness among MPG employees about the CSR causes that the Foundation is aligning with. This in turn, leads to public awareness through the various outreach programs undertaken by MPG staff.
For instance, awareness on the misconceptions on cleft lip surgeries and voluntary blood donation have spread nationwide, imparting information to public, supported through a rigorous process of staff training, extensive outreach programs, brochures in local languages etc.
The MPG staff members also feel proud to be part of this CSR program as they can contribute to their immediate society, which is different from their business contributions. The social repute they get through these activities are perhaps more gratifying and productive in the long run.
Employee engagement for ‘Smile Please’:
The ‘Smile Please’ initiative by MPF too was equally about engagement, as it was about funding. Cleft lips are found only in 1 among 700 of the population, and identification of patients itself was a daunting task. During the first phase of this mission which served Kerala and Tamilnadu, almost all branches of Muthoot FinCorp and Muthoot Microfinance swung into action.
All staff members were given intensive orientation and training on the cleft issue and were equipped to do outreach activities creating awareness on cleft, especially on the misconceptions regarding this condition and stigma towards those afflicted by it. Based on this, the MPG staff members could undertake extensive outreach which resulted in identifying the patients.
The staff conducted not only camps but interfaced with the local social fabric, by enlisting the support of all influential leaders like MLAs, religious heads etc.
But identification was only the first challenge. The MPG team soon encountered other challenges with regard to cleft. Many of these centered around the lack of awareness among parents.
For instance, parents don’t know how to take care of their cleft-afflicted kid in terms of feeding, choking etc. They don't know about nutritional deficiencies as the kid is not able to eat and drink properly. Parents also don't know where to go for good cleft lip surgeries. There is also lack of awareness about post-surgical steps - like what follow-up procedures need to be done after surgeries, and if there is a palate cleft, that speech therapy should be followed etc.
Thankfully, Muthoot Pappachan Foundation's service was designed as a comprehensive package including all these, with parent counselling, and consultation of medical specialists like oral maxillofacial surgeons, plastic surgeons, anesthesiologist, pediatricians, pediatric intensivists, speech therapists, psychologists etc.
Difference between free and truly free:
When MPF studied the cleft issue more, it also became evident that more than just free cleft lip surgeries would be sufficient for the families of these young patients. Often the families were so poor that they couldn’t afford to bear the expenses of a bystander in the hospital where the surgeries were being undertaken. To address this issue the Foundation decided to fund even the cost of one bystander, and even that was not all.
MPF also arranged for travel and food expenses, accommodation, medicines, lab tests, surgery costs etc. making sure that the patient’s family need not spend a single rupee for availing this service. That is how MPF’s cleft lip surgeries became truly free for 768 kids, as of now.
The latter ‘Smile Please’ Missions also saw the program being extended to Andhra Pradesh with surgeons from overseas countries also contributing their service, as well as Muthoot Life Brigade Hospital in Kerala playing a central role.
MPF recently took this program to North India, when August witnessed the successful execution of West Bengal Mission, with 92 surgeries undertaken successfully including that of Baby Yusuf. Doctors and specialists from five Indian states as well as USA contributed their talents during this mission, and was undertaken in collaboration with ‘Mission Smile’ and South Eastern Railway’s Central Hospital, Kolkata.
The Foundation is soon planning similar missions in states like Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Odisha, making their dream of pan-India toddler smiles a reality.
The effectiveness of any CSR program of this nature also depends on whether the most deserving patients received this care, both by way of their household income as well as the complexity or severity of their case.
An analysis of MPF’s cleft-lip beneficiaries reveals that majority of the beneficiary families (54%) were having an income less than Rs. 5000 per month. The second largest group, making up 35%, were in the Rs. 5000 - 10000 per month income group. In total, 89% of total patient families were below 10K income.
Obviously, it was the economically challenged families that couldn’t afford the surgery cost, and hence they were not able to do corrective treatments for their kids, until now.
Also of significance is the fact that successive cleft missions by MPF covered many severe cleft cases.
A directory for blood:
Furthering the Health focus of its HEEL Vision (Health, Education, Environment, & Livelihood) is Muthoot Life Blood Directory, another flagship CSR program by the Foundation that is fast becoming one of the largest of its kind in the country. The Directory has over 61,000 active donors registered with it, across 17 states. The innovative social media campaigns by the Foundation for this Directory has been a major factor in its success.
Muthoot Life Blood Directory's effectiveness is also impressive in that it is the first of its kind among the Indian industrial sector where a Corporate Group is engaging their stakeholders in contributing to the voluntary blood pool of the nation.
Muthoot Pappachan Foundation is also enabling those with disabilities, with the best example being their 24/7 Toll Free Help Desk for the Muthoot Life Blood Directory being manned by those on wheel-chairs who are arranged by Swashraya.
Back to school through sports:
MPF’s most ambitious program with an Education focus under its HEEL Vision, is a back-to-school program targeted at schools in backward areas. One element of MPF’s defining vision has been to reach help where it is most needed like coastal, slum, and rural populations. Cases of kids from economically challenged homes dropping out from schools were high in these populations, and MPF partnered with another genuine NGO, Magic Bus India Foundation, to start an ambitious program called ‘Sports for Development’ abbreviated as S4D.
Muthoot Pappachan Group and its promoters already had some impressive credentials in sports promotion and management, especially Director Thomas Muthoot who has been the name behind many of the state’s sporting successes like Muthoot ECC, Kovalam FC, as well as individual champions like badminton player Haritha MH, and cricketer KK Jiyas.
The S4D program that targeted 4500 children across backward areas of Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram, first succeeded in spreading awareness among students and parents that schooling should never be forsaken, and that school can also be fun, competitive, and engaging through participation in sports.
At its core, S4D is a 4 year curriculum based program using sports as a tool, in which the 4500 enrolled children will go through rigorous weekend sessions, and thus advance in spheres like health, education, right to play, gender, socio-emotional learning including life skills, community engagement involving parents, and child protection issues.
When it comes to the second ‘E’ under its HEEL Vision, which is for Environment, Muthoot Pappachan Foundation has two programs that deserve special mention, the Suchitha SWM Model and Reuse Flex for Growing Vegetables program, which also have some synergies between them.
Under Suchitha SWM program, MPF is supporting a novel technology in Solid Waste Management (SWM) which has been jointly developed by ‘Innovation Experience’ and Kerala Agricultural University (KAU), which can convert bio-degradable waste to dry manure in just 4 hours. The prototype has been approved by KAU and MPF is coming up with the pilot model operated by women’s groups.
The first plant under this program, supported by MPF, will soon be operational at Cotton Hill LP School, Thiruvananthapuram, by the end of September. Interestingly, the organic manure from this plant will be used in the Flex Reuse project which will help the Grow Bag soil to become rich with nutrients. MPF is studying on the functional aspects of this model and going forward, the Foundation will see how this can be adopted as a project for the women’s groups of Muthoot Microfinance.
A passion for urban farming:
The Reuse Flex for Growing Vegetables program intends to tap the newfound passion among masses for urban farming by converting used flex (for hoardings, signboards etc) into Grow Bags for cultivating vegetables. MPG and MPF are eyeing at least three objectives while pursuing this program.
Firstly, Grow Bags are in increasing demand now, and by reusing flex, MPF can limit the quantity of fresh plastic coming into the market in the form of new Grow Bags. MPG itself being a large conglomerate and user of flex, there will be a steady supply of used flex from various MPG branches to make this initiative meaningful.
Secondly, the program is being positioned as a livelihood project for rural women’s groups, and thirdly it can help thousands of MPG staff members to grow their own organic vegetables in their homes.
Proving their slogan, ‘Actions…Not Words’ yet again, the first batch of Grow Bags with saplings were distributed to the staff members of Muthoot Head Office. The project is now getting extended to all districts, and the flex from each district will be collected at respective hub branches and converted to Grow Bags locally.
Considering that Muthoot FinCorp itself has 3800 branches across 16 states of India, this is one urban farming venture that is not only going to succeed, but destined to be adopted by other corporates.
Teaching to fish, than giving fish:
MPF’s focus on Livelihood brings in the ‘L’ in its HEEL Vision. Leveraging Group’s professional competencies like in automotive & hospitality sectors, the Foundation is also training youth in job oriented courses by partnering with organizations like iLead and Aide at Action.
MPF is also coming up with its full-fledged Skill Building Academy equipping the youngsters to be ready for work in different skill sets with enhanced employability skills. This is the need of the hour as it brings in more productive individuals from among the youth.
Deployment of ad-hoc interventions during natural calamities also comes natural to MPF with not only the Foundation but the whole of MPG coming forward to help in such situations. Their coordinated action won hearts when they supported over 5000 families with food and water through their community kitchen program for multiple days during the devastating Chennai floods, early in the year.
The humans behind MPF:
Activities like CSR often fail or underperform due to lack of institutionalization. It is difficult to institutionalize these kinds of activities, unless a dedicated team is in charge of execution. At Muthoot Pappachan Foundation, this role is played by the Managing Trustee Thomas John Muthoot, Secretary Thomas George Muthoot, & Treasurer Thomas Muthoot, apart from Dr. Prasanthkumar Nellickal, a noted CSR expert.
Dr. Prasanthkumar has worked with governments, NGOs, and corporates, on high-profile projects aided by some of the world’s most discerning donors like UNDP, USAID, & APCASO. A postgraduate in rural management with additional specializations in CSR, counselling etc, he took his doctorate in Adolescent Life Skills, which is a domain where Muthoot Pappachan Foundation has done exemplary work. Dr. Prasanth is currently ‘Head – CSR’ of the Foundation.
|Dr. Prasanthkumar Nellickal, Head - CSR|
There are several reasons why MPF’s CSR Model has become worthy of emulation. Firstly comes a strong CSR Policy and approach for impactful implementation. Secondly, systems have been put in place and professional management is deployed. Thirdly, there is a systematic process of need identification and alignment with right causes. Then comes factors like right partnerships, stakeholder involvement, staff engagement, systemic monitoring and documentation, as well as impact assessments and social audits.
No wonder then that MPF bagged 2 Special Jury Awards for innovative initiatives in CSR viz. Rotary CSR Excellence Award and Kerala Management Association CSR Excellence Award.
MPF’s future plans:
The future plans of MPF are even more impressive. MPF wants to take Smile Please cleft-lip surgeries to truly pan-India.
The upcoming Skill Building Academy will enhance employability of youngsters. MPF is also planning a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center for paraplegics.
Other future initiatives include professional coaching in sports for children from deserving backgrounds. MPF will also continue scouting for more worthy and need-based initiatives.
The group behind MPF:
The Foundation’s ethical and service-oriented roots obviously lie with the Group and the philosophies of its Founder and current leadership.
Muthoot Pappachan Group (MPG) is a diversified business conglomerate founded by visionary entrepreneur Pappachan Muthoot who lived from 1927 to 2004, living through momentous transformations like World War II, Indian Independence, Bank Nationalization, Emergency, and Economic Liberalization of the 90s.
In good times and bad times Pappachan stuck to his convictions, and laid the foundations for a diversified group which was unlikely for many of his peer financiers in those times. On that solid foundation, his three sons – Thomas John, Thomas George, & Thomas – built up further diversifications resulting in today’s MPG with interests in financial services, automotive sales, hospitality, real estate development, infrastructure, alternate energy, IT services, precious metals, and healthcare.
The best known among MPG companies are the flagship Muthoot FinCorp Ltd and the smaller but listed entity, Muthoot Capital Services Ltd. While Muthoot FinCorp in itself is a diversified financial services player, its mainstay continues to be gold loans. Muthoot Capital Services is more focused towards auto loans like two-wheeler credit.
The genuine roots of Muthoot Pappachan Foundation, MPG’s philanthropic arm, can be ascertained from the fact the Foundation and its benevolent activities existed much before the new Company Law made it mandatory for corporates to have a well-defined CSR program.
Behind every compassionate activity there is likely to be a woman, and here too the case is no different. Even before the Foundation came into existence, Janamma Thomas was the face of the kindhearted activities by the Group. Wife of Founder Pappachan Muthoot, it was Janamma who always led the Group to be mindful of the less fortunate and marginalized in the world. In her early years, she has led all the community welfare activities of the Group.
Affectionately called as Ammama by all in this business family, Janamma Thomas continues to be involved in the Group’s contribution to society as a Trustee of Muthoot Pappachan Foundation.
When the new Company Law that mandated CSR came into existence, there were companies who thought it as another complexity or expenditure to outmaneuver. But at Muthoot Pappachan Group, it was welcomed wholeheartedly as it gave a corporate governance structure to CSR in companies like Muthoot FinCorp and Muthoot Capital Services where there were either public investors or a high likelihood of having public or institutional investors in the near future.
That is how Muthoot Pappachan Foundation was re-energized to work as the CSR initiative of these two prominent companies of the Group, and funded by 2% of their profit before taxes (PBT) each year.
From a pragmatic vision, to transparent budgeting, to professional execution, to full engagement of Group’s human resources, the initiatives of Muthoot Pappachan Foundation, handling the CSR activities of Muthoot Pappachan Group, are rapidly emerging as the model that will attract partnerships from other corporates and NGOs.