CSR. Sustainability. If you’re in the corporate world, these words have become part of our everyday vocabulary, but outside of that space you may be met with a lot of cynicism.
People are discerning, and claiming that CSR is part of your corporate culture is often met with an eye roll. I’m a skeptic by nature, raised to always question everything, and that’s translated into every part of my life. So it’s refreshing when I see organisations that are clear about their purpose and put actions to their words – particularly when it’s not just about getting ‘likes’ on their social media pages but rather about making a real impact. It’s hard to be able to make that assessment unless you work in the company yourself. Globally, Omnicom Group has made concerted efforts to align themselves with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), particularly around education and the environment. Working in Dubai, I’ve been lucky enough to see how these goals are being achieved at a local level.
At the end of March, to mark World Water Day, I joined colleagues from Hall & Partners and Omnicom Media Group MENA to travel to India, volunteering at two projects in line with two of the UNSDGs: quality education (goal #4) and clean water and sanitation (goal #6).
Our journey started in Mumbai, where we partnered with Planet Water Foundation to build a water filtration tower for a village outside the city as part of Project 24. Every year on World Water Day, Planet Water builds 24 water towers in 24 hours in countries that need them. Access to clean water is still a massive issue in many third world countries, and the aim for Planet Water is not only to provide access in the direst areas but also educate on the global water crisis and the importance of sanitation.
The day started with us putting together the water filtration system at the village school, working alongside volunteers and members of Planet Water. We found out more about the community, a tribal village called Mahalaxmi which is home to over 1,000 people whose children attend the school. The villagers only speak a local dialect, Marathi, and earn a living as labourers on farms or brick factories. Their only source of water for drinking and cooking is a local well, so the water filtration system would benefit the whole community. We then spent the rest of the day teaching the children about hygiene and how the water tower would help them.
We then made our way to Delhi and spent two days with The Bucket List, an organisation that helps street children by building important life skills through art and sport. We visited their main learning centre which is located in the community where a lot of these children live, and were struck by the stark poverty of families living under a bridge in a crowded part of the city. We spent time with the kids, playing, dancing, doing arts and crafts and talking to them about their hopes and dreams. They want to be teachers, astronauts, police officers, and much more.
Generational poverty is common in India as many of the poor don’t have birth certificates or ID, a requirement in order to receive many of the government’s social benefits. Omnicom’s work with The Bucket List has not only helped them expand and support more street children but also to grow their programme. This year The Bucket List went on a massive drive to ensure all children had ID cards so they could enroll in school, also helping them overcome the social stigma that’s attached to many of their station. It was humbling to play a small part in helping these children achieve their dreams, simply by lending a kind ear or giving them advice.
Being faced with such stark circumstances gave my colleagues and I a lot of perspective. While companies can very easily just give money to charity, we felt it made a huge difference that we were encouraged to take time out of our lives to better understand where and how the impact was being made. We were all able to experience what it truly meant for a company to align themselves externally and internally to a cause, making sustainability and CSR not just a buzzword but part of our DNA.