A household brand name in India (and in tech circles across the globe) is HCL. Operating in 32 countries, this IT giant is one of the biggest success stories of India’s software revolution. Less known but equally important are their flagship education initiatives, all of which come under the banner of Shiv Nadar Foundation (SNF). Founded in 1994 by the HCL founder Shiv Nadar, the Foundation primarily focuses on the education sector, striving to build institutions of excellence and grooming the next generation of leaders, thinkers and entrepreneurs, especially among the poor and underprivileged sections of our society. Their vision, ‘Leadership for Change, through Transformational Education’, reflects this.

The ethos of inclusive education that places emphasis on high-quality, research-oriented and results-driven initiatives guides the Foundation’s work. The underlying belief is that education can change not just lives but also the nation’s destiny, putting it firmly on the path of progress. With these objectives in mind, the principle of ‘creative philanthropy’ has been adopted; this essentially means impacting as many students as possible in the next 10 years, with each one of them having a force multiplier impact on others – thereby transforming individuals, communities and the country. The approach, as they like to call it, is creative rather than corrective, and focused instead of being mass-based. ‘Long-term’, ‘substantial’, ‘time-bound’ and ‘ambitious’ are some of the defining characteristics of their institutionalised philanthropy.


SNF’s programmes
The various programmes of the Foundation can be broadly classified as:

a) K-12 education: The two initiatives under this are VidyaGyan Leadership Academy and Shiv Nadar School. The former is located in Uttar Pradesh, with its student base being poor children in rural areas (from families with annual income less than Rs 100,000) who lack suitable opportunities to utilise their intelligence, potential and hard work. Established in 2009, VidyaGyan currently runs two schools in Bulandshahr and Sitapur, with over 1,900 students in total. These are not just your regular schools; they are state-of-the-art residential facilities where the aim is to create leaders of tomorrow. The best and the brightest from 100,000 rural government primary schools covering 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh are selected on merit and given the kind of education that they deserve, absolutely free. Till last year, nearly 2,000 students had benefited and the plan is to get this up to 4,200 in the next three years. The schools have done well in national school surveys as well.


On the other hand, the two Shiv Nadar schools are based in Delhi NCR, both being not-for-profit and designed to deliver excellence in education for local children.

b) Higher education: The institutions for higher education include SSN Institutions and Shiv Nadar University. Set up in 1996, SSN Institutions comprise of SSN College of Engineering, SSN School of Management and Computer Applications, and SSN School of Advanced Software Engineering, all located at Kalavakkam, Chennai. Shiv Nadar University is a philanthropic institution established in 2011 in Greater Noida and offers multiple academic programmes at the undergraduate, post-graduate and doctoral level across various disciplines. The university’s first convocation was held in 2015. The standout feature of this university is the flexibility provided to students in choosing their subjects of interest. For example, an MBA student can take up liberal arts or music as their elective. The objective of both groups of institutions is to impart quality higher and technical education to aspiring future leaders.

c) Literacy: With the sole purpose of eradicating illiteracy, in 2012 the Foundation started a technology-driven primary school initiative called Shiksha, which is now operational in over 300 schools in rural Uttar Pradesh. The project uses information and communication technology (ICT) to deliver high-quality content based on State Board syllabus to more than 25,000 students; so far it has trained over 600 teachers. It has a three-step model to achieve its objectives: teaching imparted through interactive content and technology-driven learning aids, querying and assessment to evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching, and augmentation for students who need extra help. The entire programme is structured to generate a measurable and scalable model for future interventions. In 2015, the Shiksha initiative started its adult literacy project, with the pilot programme covering 20 villages in Uttar Pradesh. The 2023 goal is to cover 100,000 schools.

d) Art: India’s first philanthropic museum for modern and contemporary art, The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) was set up by the Foundation to promote the arts and make it accessible to all—art for the masses, as some like to call it. The two museums are located in Delhi NCR and have collaborated with leading global museums like the Met and Tate, putting Indian art at the front and centre of its efforts. Part of their outreach programme includes creating awareness among students about Indian art. This translated into KNMA working with 120 schools in 2015 for the same.

VidyaGyan’s main premise is that children can be moulded into leaders if given the right education and the right environment in their formative years. The numbers are kept small so as to give each child focused attention. The selection process is conducted annually across 75 districts in Uttar Pradesh to identify 200 toppers from 250,000 applicants. No stone is left unturned to give them the best education and facilities. The Foundation spends over Rs 15 lakh on each VidyaGyan student during their seven-year tenure at the school. Over Rs 100 crore capex has been invested in each campus. The results are promising: from the batch of 2016, four students were accepted at the London College of Fashion; their brightest student, Vaishali, is now at the University of Massachusetts.


Results and impact
The numbers speak for themselves. To date, the Foundation has invested $600 million in its programmes and this is estimated to have impacted almost 15,000 students—no small figure by any standard. More than 1,500 faculty and staff members work in campuses spread over 600 acres. All these numbers have seen a substantial year-on-year increase. Other fallouts of these programmes include increased health awareness, adult literacy projects, and issues related to gender equality.

The Foundation’s audited financials are easily found in the annual report, with a majority of the cash outflow being spent on capital expenditure on its infrastructure projects. Currently, the Foundation is funded by Shiv Nadar and his family’s personal wealth. The long-term view is to make these institutions self-sustaining through adequate fundraising and donations from concerned individuals and organisations. The plan is to spend Rs 1,000 crore per year on the Foundation’s work. Plans are afoot to spend Rs 1,550 crore on Shiv Nadar University from 2015 to 2018.

Shikha Sirohi, a student from VidyaGyan’s first batch, was from a village that traditionally discouraged girl child education. While it wasn’t easy for her or her family to take a stand against such regressive views, in the end it was all worth it. Shikha today is studying at one of the most prestigious colleges in the country and has inspired her peers from the village to follow in her footsteps. In all this, VidyaGyan, with its free, quality education, had facilitated her rise from poverty to a future filled with hope and opportunities.

The results of these manifold efforts are also showing – for instance, the first batch of VidyaGyan students passed out last year with commendable results. The average score was more than 85 per cent, making VidyaGyan one of the top 200 CBSE schools in India—an impressive start for a school that’s barely seven years old. Students from both Shiv Nadar University and SSN Institutions secured lucrative jobs in multiple organisations, while others have gone on to pursue higher studies at well-known universities across the globe. The Foundation also provides scholarships to hundreds of students every year; last year, SSN Institutions gave out scholarships worth over Rs 4 crore to 520 students. The total amount of scholarships disbursed till now is more than Rs 64 crore, going to more than 7,100 students under various heads – rural, merit, sports, alumni, etc. On the other hand, Shiv Nadar University provides fee subsidy instead of direct scholarships – students pay 64 per cent of the actual fee. While exact numbers on the impact of these programmes are unclear, SNF explains that its interventions, being long term in their nature, have a long gestation period but initial results are encouraging. Its alumni network is supported by their mentors at the Foundation as well.

HCL Foundation
HCL Foundation is the NGO arm of HCL Enterprise (comprising of HCL Technologies, HCL Infosystems, HCL Healthcare and HCL TalentCare). Established in 2011, the focus is on sustainability and employee engagement through employee and organisational contributions. The Foundation has pledged to commit Rs 1 billion towards CSR initiatives over the next few years. In India, two community projects have been taken up. Project Samuday aims to transform select villages into ‘model’ villages in a sustainable manner. The idea is to partner with 170 Gram Panchayats in Uttar Pradesh and work with the relevant stakeholders to achieve this.

The second is the HCL Grant that will work with NGOs and individuals who have the potential to transform communities through their work. This effort is seen as ‘enabling the rise of the fifth estate’, fifth estate being NGOs which, as this video explains, numbering at 3.3 million is double the number of schools in the country. HCL Grant aims to use a fund of Rs 100 million over the next 5 years to help selected NGOs in their respective missions and interventions as well as guide them in capacity building, tracking and measurement of impact and sustainability of their initiatives. They also hope to build a directory of credible NGOs to help other donors identify the right projects and organisations for themselves. Among the six finalists for the 2016 Grant were Association for Voluntary Action (Bachpan Bachao Andolan), which is a grassroots movement for child rights and has positively impacted 60,000 children, and the Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals, which works with farmers to promote sustainable farming and non-farm livelihood development through technology, market linkages, skill development and micro enterprises. For the second edition of the Grant, nine finalists out of 616 total applications were announced earlier in January. Three will go on to win the substantial Grant for their current and future work. The finalists are spread across three categories: health, education and environment.

Other causes that HCL Foundation has taken up include poverty alleviation through long-term investments in education and employability, environment, health, water, sanitation, and disaster preparedness and response. Within these, focus is on gender-inclusive approaches and youth engagement. Employee engagement is heavily encouraged and many projects are led by them with help from the Foundation.

CB thoughts
Currently, SNF has its hands full with their six initiatives and are focused on ensuring that they get these right, making continuous improvements to meet their stated goals. In their own words, they are right now in a phase of consolidation and not expansion, which is a sensible approach—quality over quantity in CSR is, more often than not, preferable. SNF believes that while one philanthropist cannot change the world or address all of its problems, he/she can facilitate the process of bringing about those much-desired changes by nurturing leaders of tomorrow who will go on to achieve exactly that. While their principles and overall strategy are worthy of admiration, one would like to see them expand their scale and reach in the near future.

Understandably, projects like VidyaGyan and Shiv Nadar University are not replicable, just in terms of the enormous funds and infrastructure that’s required. However, VidyaGyan can and should be opened up gradually to students from some of the poorest states in the country. And while bricks and concrete take time and money, collaborations with other institutions of learning require only steadfast commitment and well-designed projects.

Shiksha is one programme that can be (relatively) easily expanded in other locations and here’s where SNF can explore partnerships with other like-minded organisations. For now, SNF’s interventions in education and art seem to be on a steady path to success. The challenge will be to keep evolving while maintaining positive results with substantial, transformative impact. After all, that is the main reason why we do CSR.