For Matthew Spacie, the 51-year-old founder and executive chairman of Magic Bus, the transformative power of sports is unparalleled when it comes to children. A former rugby player, Spacie set up his organisation two decades ago with a small fund, largely put together with his own contribution and that of his friends. Today Magic Bus impacts 400,000 children in 69 districts across 21 states in India and has affiliates in the UK, the US, and Germany.
Just as fascinating is the work being done by Pradan, an organisation that has worked for three decades and more with livelihood and community development. Founded in 1983 by Deep Joshi and Vijay Mahajan, the impact of Pradan’s work has not dimmed with age and in 2017 alone, it counted nearly 250,000 families among its beneficiaries.
Or take the role of one of the country’s leading automobile companies, Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M), for instance. For decades now, M&M has built a strong foundation in the social sector in diverse fields such as education, road safety, farmer livelihoods, eradication of hunger, and many others.
These stories spark hope and optimism in a country that grapples with a set of problems as diverse as its people and topography. These were also the stories that won over the power-packed jury for the Business Standard Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Awards for 2017.
The awards for the best social entrepreneur, best social enterprise, and the most socially aware corporate for the year were selected by a five-member jury that was presided over by Tata Institute of Social Sciences Chairman S Ramadorai. The other members of the jury were Basix Group Founder and Chairman Vijay Mahajan, Pratham Education Foundation Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Madhav Chavan, Bain Capital Private Equity Managing Director and Tata Trusts Trustee Amit Chandra, and GiveIndia Director and CEO Atul Satija.
Deloitte was Business Standard’s knowledge partner in collating and processing the information on the candidates for the awards. The selection process for the awards was also made more robust this year by relying on applications and nominations received through a transparent system.
The jury members deliberated at length, often dipping into their vast repertoire of personal experience in the social sector to come up with insights that helped provide a perspective to the choices on the table. “The selection was extremely collaborative and made after constructive dialogue,” S Ramadorai said, after the intense two-hour long deliberations.
Spacie had a simple idea when he set up Magic Bus in 1998 that sports could change the lives of children, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, imbuing them with confidence and self-esteem. It was a community Spacie knew well, having interned with the Sisters of Charity in Kolkata as a student in the late Eighties.
A UK resident, Spacie found himself in India again in 1996 and within two years of his second stint, he began working with a small group of children in Mumbai.
As one of the jury members explained, the unique thing about its model is that a Magic Bus child is part of the ecosystem for 10 years. And now as the organisation moves beyond education into livelihood, the same children are being supported as they step out of their student lives. It takes courage and conviction to work in this manner and “Matthew is an innovator with an unparalleled ability to collaborate with various stakeholders in order to achieve the larger goal,” is how one of Magic Bus’ funders describes him.
“Spacie’s programme came up on top because of its innovative nature and also the places where it is being implemented,” Ramadorai said, as he congratulated all the winners.
Sustainability and scalability were among the qualities that the jury members discussed at length in their assessment of the most deserving contender of the social enterprise award. Pradan came up on top, not just because of the extent of its reach in terms of programmes underway, but also on account of the wide and deep network of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social entrepreneurs that it has built.
In existence for over 30 years, Pradan works directly with more than 589,000 families across seven of India’s poorest states today and supports 70 NGOs. The process of assessment and the jury’s subsequent deliberation looked at the organisation’s cross-sector experience and its work in sustainable livelihood programmes, women empowerment, and related sectors.
Pradan’s transparent systems that track the progress of its projects also won it praise from the jury. As did the fact that it has turned into a training ground for social entrepreneurs. Today nearly every major organisation tracks back to an association with Pradan, one of the jury members pointed out, explaining that its influence is much more than what can be measured. “The impact that it has had among the tribal populations of the country came out very clearly and we would like them to continue on that path so that the national impact and importance only scales up,” Ramadorai said.
What must be the character and value of a socially aware company was discussed at length by the jury that felt that the work done by M&M stood out by a mile. The company has been meeting the prescribed CSR spends steadily through the years, but its commitment goes back much further and far deeper than the numbers can capture.
The company has focused on eradicating hunger (22.4 per cent of total CSR spend), promoting education (47.2 per cent of total spend), and rural development (19.8 per cent of total spend), and touched upon most other critical issues. Among its most recent projects is the ‘Rise for Safe Roads – Zero Fatality Corridor Project’ that looks at minimising the loss of lives on the Mumbai-Pune expressway.
The expressway handles 2.5 million vehicles per month and the project has reduced road crash deaths by 35 per cent as of 2017. The jury was particularly impressed by the company’s focus on an area that is not only relevant to its core area of operations but also one that is most needed in a country were road accidents are among the major causes of death and damage.
The jury was unanimous in its choice as “the sustained corporate responsibility of M&M and the impact it has created has been of significance and it came on top without question,” Ramadorai said.