The Rio Tinto Award for Long-term Commitment
The Winner: ICICI Ltd.
ICICI - it stood originally for Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India - has always been an institution with a conscience. Owned mainly by private investors but also by insurers and other government agencies, it was formed in 1955 to fund industrial development. But it was soon involved in vocational training and, in the 1970s, it financed water and education schemes for 16 tribal villages in Bihar and an irrigation scheme for small farmers in Maharashtra.
It made an agreement to borrow from the German development agency Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau (Credit institution for reconstruction) under which part of the interest would be devoted to social projects. Over 30 years it has invested two billion rupees in India's social development. It has a special team, the Social Initiatives Group, to work on development initiatives.
In 1994 an investment banker with ICICI helped to form Pratham, a Mumbai (Bombay)-based agency to bring together the local corporation, business and voluntary bodies to promote primary education. Pratham began with ten activists, mainly slumdwellers, and now has 5,000 in Mumbai alone. ICICI is Pratham's leading financial backer. Narayanan Vaghul, ICICI's chairman, realised Pratham's potential and has taken a big personal interest. He now chairs Pratham Mumbai. Two ICICI people work full time on Pratham's executive team.
ICICI's aim of promoting universal primary education chimes with Pratham's. Pratham runs balwadis which provide pre-primary education for 53,000 children from Mumbai slums, helping to prepare them for school. Balwadis are a focal point for community self-help and organisation. Pratham also runs classes for 12,000 children who dropped out of school or never went. It recruits enthusiastic young people, mainly women from Mumbai slums, to help pupils who are falling behind at municipal schools. It also provides opportunities for computer-assisted learning for 8,000 pupils.
An ICICI employee along with the Pratham Mumbai team launched Pratham in Delhi in 1999. Pratham seeks to be a model which can be copied in new areas. Apart from Delhi, Pratham activities have spread to Pune, Patna, Vadodara, Bangalore and elsewhere.
Eklavya, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, is also backed by ICICI. Its aim is to make science fun, so that pupils' spirit of inquiry is aroused and they do not lose interest. It has been working with rural as well as urban schools. Eklavya promotes field trips and laboratory experiments and teaches maths through games. Students and lecturers from Delhi University have been helping it.
In Orissa on India's east coast where thousands of people died in storms in 1999, ICICI has been funding the building of schools and storm shelters. In rural Rajastan it backs Seva Mandir which has provided schooling for thousands of children, developed land and irrigation, protected watersheds and persuaded rural people to form organisatilons and take part in local councils.
ICICI's way of working is to provide funding and management advice to organisations active in the community, leaving the community work to the organisations themselves. However, many ICICI employees help blind people, leprosy patients and others in their spare time.
ICICI publicises voluntary efforts on a website, www.icicicommunities.org, the first Indian website enabling online donations. Those benefiting include the charity which supplies the Jaipur Foot, an artificial foot specially designed at Jaipur for injured farmers, manual workers and others, enabling them to work instead of beg. The ICICI website includes a resource centre for primary education and one aimed at preventing the death of infants, another ICICI priority. It will soon add one on micro-finance, plus a shopping mall displaying the products of non-government organisations and a section on volunteering and careers in development.
Lalita D.Gupte, joint managing director and chief operating officer, says: "ICICI is committed to the betterment of society. We believe that our desire to make a difference, backed by a combination of financial assistance and technology, will help improve the quality of life of the underserved sections of Indian society."