Corporate Focus features in CB have mostly been limited to large, legacy organisations employing thousands of individuals. However, a new breed of companies are equally, if not more, zealous about their CSR and sustainability work. Perhaps due to the fact that millennials and the succeeding generation (Gen Z?) are becoming increasingly aware and concerned about climate change and social justice issues, young companies are reflecting this change in values, in part or in whole. The jury is, of course, still out whether this newfound ‘wokeness’ is another form of greenwashing and fake activism or a genuine attempt to do good.
Brillio is a global technology consulting and services company that implements digital technologies for some of the world’s leading companies. It helps businesses with digital solutions through UX design, digital applications, big data analytics, cloud, security, and digital engineering. The company, which is slightly more than four years old, employs 2,600 people based in 10 global offices and 2 global innovation labs across three continents. In India, it has offices in Pune, Bengaluru and Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum).
Brillio’s sustainability strategy is based on the principle of ‘act responsible, think sustainable’ and operates on a five-year roadmap-planning model. It was adopted in 2015 and covered a two-year phase-wise rollout strategy. The strategy aims to: increase transparency; measure, track and minimise (resources); and provide a safe, healthy and motivated working environment.
Unusually (but pleasantly surprising) for such a young company, Brillio has made CSR a key focus of its corporate culture and strategy, along with the typical mandates around growth and revenue. Brillio’s CSR initiatives are collectively named Bringing Smiles and focus on helping underprivileged and disabled children through the power of education. The company has pledged to make monetary contributions to identified organisations as per its CSR policy document as well as facilitate volunteering by its employees to impart knowledge to children.
Launched in 2015, Bringing Smiles is the global theme of its CSR. The primary beneficiaries are young people in the 10–16 age group in the United States, Costa Rica, Europe and India. Brillio aims to help them build careers by providing funding and technical and training support. The focus on education for CSR was decided by its employees, as was the name Bringing Smiles. The company claims to have reached out to more than 63 schools and impacted more than 23,000 children globally so far.
The company works with various government schools and partner NGOs (for at least three years) to reduce the digital divide and promote STEM education. It hopes to achieve this through smart classes, e-learning projects, innovation workshops, interactive self-learning initiatives, and active skills sharing. The primary beneficiaries are children studying in K-12, the intention being to help each child for at least 3 to 5 years. Schools have been supported for two years, with plans to continue doing so and can be traced via this link.
- iMobile Lab: This is a mobile lab for science and computer learning that has helped about 1,000 students from 12 government schools in Bengaluru. Through a combination of 20 hours of digital learning and 20 hours of science practical classes, this programme uses traditional classroom methods and computer-mediated activities. The students are trained by skilled teachers and Brillio volunteers.
- Digital education: These classes are conducted in six regional languages. The company has implemented digital-literacy sessions and e-learning centres in more than 20 government schools in Bengaluru and Trivandrum, including an e-learning facility at Sahakari Vidya Kendra Primary & High School in Jayanagar, Bengaluru, with employees conducting weekly communication and personality development classes at this school. In 15 of these schools, science, technology and digital sessions are conducted along with hands-on science experiments to develop computer and computer-application knowledge. The company ensures that there is always someone during these sessions (typically from partner NGOs) to provide on-ground support.
Tech know-how has also been imparted to more than 100 teachers.
- Digital Day and Science Day: This initiative has reached out to about four schools in and around Bengaluru and Trivandrum. Digital Days are conducted for children from government schools – they get to spend half a day at Brillio offices. Sessions on concepts such as IoT, wearables, mobile technology, artificial intelligence and virtual reality are conducted along with games and activities.
- E-learning kits: These kits have been provided to children from six schools in Bengaluru.
- Tech labs and science labs: The company has donated 50 computers to Government Polytechnic at Hassan, Karnataka, 50 computers to Vidyaprakasha Vidyamandira primary school, and 10 refurbished computers to First Grade College, Bidadi, Karnataka. Infrastructure support is given in terms of building science labs and digital classrooms.
The company’s CSR service delivery is not outsourced to other organisations. All programmes are managed end-to-end and implemented by the CSR team and with the help of employees. The approach is not taking up one-off activities but supporting and investing in long-term projects. It follows a specific model (details unclear) to co-govern the projects where it has partnered with non-profits. In 2016, the global CSR team had two full-time members, supported by 10 volunteer leads at each location. Whatsapp groups have been created for each partner school where its team members, partner NGOs, teachers, block education officers and students are members, to ensure open communication and transparency in planning and implementation.
To date, Brillio’s volunteering programme has clocked 10,000+ volunteering hours. About 80–85 per cent of this is contributed by employees in India since a sizeable number of its employees are based here. Brillio’s employees have pledged to donate 100,000 hours of their time to CSR programmes by 2020 and, ultimately, reach 100,000 students globally.
Brillio’s employee-volunteering initiatives are programme-based rather than event-based. They believe in regular, frequent interactions that have the potential to translate into long-term impact.
One of the employee volunteering programmes is called TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday!). Every Friday between 2 pm and 3 pm, Brillio employees from all offices in India visit a government school close to their respective offices to teach basic English, math and technology. These are supplementary to their regular classes and designed to help them improve their grades and learning. The classes are conducted through a structured syllabus that was developed on the basis of feedback from the school and the company’s own internal assessment of the students. As part of this initiative, two schools in Bengaluru have been supported for the last three years with volunteers offering their services every Friday.
Another volunteering initiative is remote teaching where employees conduct Skype sessions to help students in rural areas of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal for a minimum of two hours per week. They take up the same subjects every week that the 300 students need help with. This initiative is being done in partnership with eVidyaloka. Another option offered is to record digital audio books that are then used by students in rural areas and government schools. Employees can do this every Saturday at the in-house recording studio. In the past one year, 1,500 audio books have been recorded.
The company’s continued enthusiasm for employee volunteering can partly be attributed to the results of the company’s annual corporate citizenship survey amongst the millennial employees. It had asked for the three things that inspired them to be a part of Brillio. CSR was among the top three reasons.
The positive response to volunteering was confirmed through the survey wherein a majority said that volunteering had improved their interpersonal skills and teamwork, and also helped them manage stress levels, improve their personal growth, and increase productivity. Volunteering gave them the opportunity to enhance their own knowledge and skills whilst helping those less fortunate than them.
Brillio considers employees co-owners of all volunteering projects. Aside from the standard R&R (rewards and recognition), every year the top 10 volunteers are taken on a fully sponsored hiking trip – called ‘Hike and Smile’ – as one of the rewards for their efforts. CSR orientation is a critical part of every new employee’s on-boarding process. Going forward, Brillio has put forth a proposal of a mentor-mentee initiative wherein every volunteer will be solely responsible for one child and her progress.
Sustainability, assessment and future goals
Since 2016, the company has made environmental impact a key part of its sustainability agenda and included it in its strategies, operations and risk-management practices. An Environmental Management System is being created and it has adopted a 100 per cent cloud-based approach to all internal IT requirements to reduce energy consumption.
Brillio has also started tracking its own resource consumption in terms of energy and water use, waste generation, and business travel, so as to improve efficiency and reduce its environmental footprint and carbon emissions. The goal is to establish baselines for future targets and become a green and sustainable company. As part of its environment policy, sustainability across its entire supply chain is another of its objectives. In 2016, its Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions were 27.34 tCO2e and 2032.91 tCO2e respectively, while carbon intensity was 2.56 tCO2e per employee. In 2016, energy consumption was 14872.2 GJ, water consumption 12305.6 kl, and waste generated was 40014 kg. Data for 2017 is awaited.
Currently, the company is encouraging employees to adopt green practices in offices, including cutting down on food waste (which is tracked every day) and reducing energy usage. About 30 to 40 per cent reduction in food waste has been achieved over the last one year. Other steps taken are carpooling and using LED lights.
Regarding assessment, a pilot was done to study the impact on 4 out of the 63 schools, conducted by a Dubai-based third-party organisation called Sustainable Square. The results are said to be positive (SRoI of 1:4). In 2017, there was a 12 per cent increase in enrolment in the 20 schools where digital learning was imparted. An assessment by IIM Bangalore on its iMobile programme found that 85 per cent of the students scored about 60 per cent, the baseline being 2 per cent.
Since most of its projects are relatively new, Brillio has stated its intention to conduct regular audits that measure both quantitative and qualitative aspects such as grades, pass percentage, digital literacy, fluency in English, interest in STEM, improvements in self-esteem and confidence, aspirational levels, etc.
For Brillio, CSR has to be culture-oriented and not charity-oriented. In its own words, CSR is not an afterthought; it is built into its culture and ethos. Both its CEO and CFO are board members of non-profits in the US and claim to take a deep interest in the company’s CSR work. As Abhishek Ranjan, global head, CSR, sustainability, marketing & employee outreach, Brillio, explains, ‘Right from the start, we wanted to build a great company, not just in terms of growth or customer acquisition but a socially responsible company. Leadership was cognisant of this and recognised that there is no “right” time to start doing CSR work.’
When it comes to Brillio’s enthusiasm and commitment towards CSR, there is much to be lauded and appreciated. For a young company, they have indeed worked hard to make it a part of their culture and made the necessary investments to give back to society. For a tech company, education as the CSR focus area makes complete sense and right now, they have taken the smart approach of not spreading themselves too thin by taking up multiple projects.
Aside from the goal of helping 100,000 children, it would help to get an understanding of the future roadmap and proposed activities. Since there are plans to scale up, the wise thing to do will be to cautiously expand the scope and focus more on improvement levels and future prospects for the targeted students. The greater emphasis should be on impact, not reach. Impact assessment is key to any project, and regular, verified reports that are publicly available should become the norm. This will reinforce its commitment to transparency and as any CSR wonk will tell you, data is the key to truly effective, transformational work. After all, course corrections and improvements cannot be made if gaps are not identified. Regular feedback from all stakeholders is equally critical to this process.
Also, while it is clear that employees are invested in the volunteering programmes, it is equally important to understand the response from the other side. Soliciting regular feedback from the children about such initiatives and how these can be improved should be taken up regularly. Within the Bringing Smiles programme, there are multiple moving parts and one suggestion will be to streamline them to bring in further efficiency. On environment and sustainability, tentative steps have been taken but one would like to see concrete targets for the next 5 to 10 years and regular assessments of the progress made.
As Brillio has (rightly) pointed out, CSR has to be authentic; leaders have to demonstrate their commitment to it, else employees will easily recognise that it’s mere lip service and won’t believe them. It has taken the right first steps in its journey towards being a truly sustainable company. One hopes that it doesn’t falter in the next critical phase and remains committed to the greater good.