Friday the 13th is not a day that most superstitious people look forward to. But Rajnish Virmani, chief executive officer, Aviva Global Services (AGS), the business process and IT outsourcing arm of the world’s fifth largest insurance company, Aviva Plc., made it a memorable day for 1,000 underprivileged kids here when he announced that his company would commit £50,000 (Rs41 lakh) for their education.
The company will set up four schools and 12 education centres across the city, in collaboration with Akanksha, a non- profit organization that works with underprivileged children to improve their lives by providing education and basic life skills.
Aviva is among a host of companies in India that are working this year on projects involving primary education, which bypasses a vast majority of children, especially in rural India, and deprives them of a chance to improve their lives.
While the likes of the Tata Group have been involved in projects related to education for the underprivileged, others such as Infosys Technologies Ltd and Wipro Ltd have been working not just in primary education, but also by lending a helping hand to the youth by providing them technical education.
But with companies unanimous over primary education being the key to India’s future success, the corporate social responsibility initiatives of firms are starting to focus on the education of young children.
Aviva has been working with Akanksha and 11 other non-governmental organizations on an informal basis for over a year now, but Virmani says he decided to stop spreading the available resources too thin and focus on just one project that would make a difference.
“I think education is the single most important thing that will change people’s lives and that is why we decided to tie up with Akanksha,” he says.
Aviva will contribute more than just funds for running the education centres. At a recent meeting of key managers who run the company’s 2,700-strong operations here, Virmani spoke in detail about plans to adopt 1,000 children and set up the Aviva-Akanksha school. At the end of the meeting, he invited volunteers to support the project and was surprised when more than 70 of the 100 managers signed up. And as word of the project got around, staffers working under these managers also came forward to help out, he says.
Aviva will work out a flexible schedule for employees who want to help out at the schools in any capacity from teaching mathematics, science and English to just painting the walls or keeping their books, he said
“It is a great feeling to spend time teaching them English, brushing up their math, and playing with them,” says Suresh Amin, part of the human resources function at AGS and a volunteer at various Akanksha centres for two years.
Neelam Virmani, former teacher and part of the extended Aviva family, which Virmani heads, adds: “Every time they learn a new word in English and form a new sentence, I feel I have achieved something myself.”
Shaheen Mistri, founder member and trustee of Akanksha, says: “With strong partners like Aviva, Akanksha is attempting to bridge the wide education gap between those who are privileged enough to have a solid education and those who are falling through dysfunctional schools.”