Home / Home-page / Runners on their mark to donate; NGOs see opportunities in sports

New Delhi: Ajay Bakaya has no qualms about turning himself into a human hoarding when he runs the Delhi Half Marathon later this month.

Bakaya, chief executive officer of Sarovar Hotels & Resorts, raised about Rs8 lakh last year, the most among individual runners. He is shooting for top honours again this year with a target of Rs10 lakh to be donated to Delhi’s Child Care and Development Foundation. He will wear Sarovar’s logo over his heart, but the rest of his body runs about Rs1 lakh per endorsement.

“The point is more than just to finish the 21km race, which is not a short distance for a guy my age, but raise awareness for a cause," says Bakaya, 51. “People respond much more to you when they know that you aren’t just asking them for money, but are willing to put in the effort to do something big to get it."

Ajit Rattan Mehra, owner of the Ritz Plaza Hotel in Amritsar, and a friend who donated Rs20,000 to Bakaya, a little more than what he gave the previous year, says, “It’s nice when people like us put in the time (and) effort to really go the extra mile—in this case, literally—for a good cause and I wanted to support him in that."

It is common for athletic events in India, from the recent Kingfisher Open in tennis to several golf tournaments, to raise money for charity. But it has generally been the domain of professional athletes or elite players who can afford hefty entry fees. Now, more companies and non-profits are using sports, such as the half marathons in New Delhi and Mumbai, or cricket tournaments for teams made of rank-and-file employees, to contribute to their favoured cause—boosting both workplace morale and corporate social responsibility efforts.

In countries such as the US, companies often partner with charities to stage races and slower-paced “walkathons". Participants go door-to-door asking for sponsors or send out emails imploring for donations from friends. The annual Revlon Run/Walk, for example, targets raising money for women’s cancer research.

Competitive runs, such as the ING New York City Marathon, one of the largest in the world drawing 90,000 applicants for the $700,000 (Rs2.76 crore) prize, guarantees admission for entrants who raise money for charity, from support for abuse victims to leukemia research.

The arrival of such events in India is significant because it represents a maturity of fundraising and philanthropy, and a wider effort among non-profits to market their causes and efforts—and selves—as any other brand.

Companies also say the sporting events are a fun way to draw more diverse people into social and workplace initiatives.

This past weekend, Wipro Ltd held its annual “Spirit of Wipro" run with 8,500 employees across the country participating. While the event did not raise money for charity, a spokeswoman said it was geared toward lifting up “team spirit" and a way to reinforce values as teamwork, competition and integrity.

Golf and tennis tournaments were getting “passé", says Chander Mohan Sethi, managing director of Reckitt Benckiser (India) Ltd, the maker of Dettol soap. “You’ve got to be more innovative to attract attention," he says. “Opening your purse from your armchair is hard,?but?this is a lot harder."

Some 50 employees from multinational consumer products company Reckitt Benckiser will embark on an arduous trek through the mountains of Himachal Pradesh this week. Drawn from all over the globe, they have raised £100,000 (about Rs80 lakh) to benefit Save the Children, the international advocacy non-profit, and are taking holiday time to be here for the event.

The minimum employees had to raise to participate was £1,000, a daunting task according to Ashok Manikandar, a 26-year-old supply chain finance manager in the firm’s Gurgaon offices. He will have to walk at least 15km a day, most of it uphill and through rough terrain, on the trek. In some ways, raising the money required even more ardour.

“The amount seemed so huge at the beginning," he said. This being the first time he ever did any fundraising, it took more than six months to reach enough colleagues, friends—and friends of friends—to meet his goal. “I was seeing all the cheques for Rs100, Rs500, and wondering if I was going to make it."

Though he had never been on a trek before, he says he is “into fitness generally" and did some volunteer work in college, so he found this opportunity particularly attractive.

On a more traditional front, companies and non-profits also use leisure activities and clubs already in place.

“When we were deciding what we wanted to do, we asked ourselves what would really resonate with people from all walks of life," says Amita Puri, a Delhi-based spokeswoman for national non-profit CRY, founded as Child Rights and You. “The two obvious answers are cricket and Bollywood."

So, CRY and Cadence Design Systems decided to organize a cricket tournament to raise money. Since 2000, the tournaments have grown to include teams from more than 100 companies and raised more than Rs50 lakh last year. The only caveat: No ringers. Only employees can make up the teams, which can’t have anyone paid to play, according to CRY.

Totals have been going up generally over the few years the half marathons have been taking place, says Vivek B. Singh, joint managing director of Procam International Ltd, the firm that organizes the races in New Delhi and Mumbai.

The Mumbai race raised Rs1.4 crore in its first year to more than Rs8 crore in the last race.

New Delhi’s total rose to Rs1.21 crore last year from Rs81 lakh in the initial race.

Employees say they like getting out into the fresh air and that the team draws those who might not normally volunteer for charity work.

“It certainly has a multiplicative effect," says Jaswinder Ahuja, vice-president and managing director of Cadence. “We have not only the 12 or 13 guys that that play on each of the 100 teams, but the 30 or 40 people who come out to support each team. They learn about CRY, maybe they volunteer maybe they don’t, but the message spreads."

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