Sunday, November 10, 2013

Newspaper Collection Drive at Cognizant for a Cause - An Experience till the Journey's End

Today, in a way, we are what we are thanks to our parents. The way we were brought up, the extent of unconditional love and care that we’ve got from our parents has it’s part to play in our upbringing. Why am I saying all this ? It's because as time passes by, as our parent’s grow older, its our turn to do our bit for them. Unfortunately, a number of senior citizens nowadays are not receiving that kind of care, attention and rest that’s required by people of their age. There are even cases where children feel that their elders are a burden on them. I'm sure many of us can relate to the fact that being independent in itself is a fulfilling feeling and any human would generally strive towards achieving this. The elders mentioned above 
share the same sentiments. Keeping this basic human psychology in mind along with certain other factors/reasons, the Nightingales Medical Trust came up with a support program that works towards the well-being of such elders. This support program is called Sandhya Kirana Day Care Center for Disadvantaged Elders.

As part of this program, senior citizens are provided certain day care facilities along with a range of services to fulfill their social, physical, financial and emotional needs. The reason behind writing this blog is to share an experience of how through one of Cognizant's Go Green initiatives along with support from people belonging to different groups within the company we volunteers(Sripha Agarwal and me) were able to do our bit in helping these elders better meet their day to day needs, at least for some time.

This is a snapshot of one of the lawns of Cognizant's BTP office

The view of the lawn at BTP from one of the office floors in a way symbolizing Cognizant's pledge to support Go Green initiatives
On a daily basis(Monday-Saturday between 930am to 530pm) these elders at the center recycle old newspapers and other paper items into various paper products like paper bags, greeting cards etc., Keeping this in mind we wanted to do a Newspaper Collection Drive across various Cognizant offices based out of Bangalore. Everyday(Monday-Sunday) Cognizant gets multiple newspapers from different publications and the same are placed at locations like the reception, library within each of the office premises for the daily reading of its various company stakeholders. Our goal was to collect these news papers along with the newspapers that Cognizant associates could donate from what is delivered to the doorstep of their houses on a regular basis.

One of the elders making mattresses and others(in background) making paper bags out of old newspapers
One of the elders making disposable plates that are often used to serve eatables in many functions around India

Elders working at the center
The various items that are made by the elders at Sandhya Kirana 
A closer look at the items made by the elders include - Showpieces, paper pens, Ayurvedic scrubber,  cups(made of some material)
The elders also make Diya(oil lamp) shaped candles, Scented candles nicely decorated within glasses
The various types of candles - Diya shaped, Star shaped and Scented Glass candles along with a mattress made by the elders at the center

Recycled Newspapers converted into paper bags and ready for sale
Our first goal was to ensure that we collect the daily newspapers that come into various Cognizant offices for the reading purpose of many of its stakeholders. For this, I remember that I'd first pitched the entire idea to Rajesh Varma who is the current Outreach(CSR Arm of Cognizant) POC(Point of Contact) based out of Bangalore. He introduced me to Sripha(my fellow teammate/volunteer for this drive) and Santosh(an associate from the Admin dept based out of CTS MBP) with the intention to discuss how we can best take this forward. I think one of the reasons why Rajesh had involved Sripha was because she had the experience of doing a similar paper collection drive in the past for the youngsters of Spastic Society of Karnataka. We initially had agreed upon donating half of the proceedings to the Spastic Society and the other half to Sandhya Kirana(for which I was the POC).               

To start with, they were a couple of initial discussions carried out in which we had also discussed if we wanted to go about this drive by collecting only those newspapers that came into the different premises of Cognizant on a daily basis, donating the same and then doing another drive that would involve donations of newspapers from the company as well as its associates. We initially decided to do it in the former way but we faced certain challenges dealing with the approvals in order to get newspapers out of Cognizant's MBP office(their biggest office based out of Bangalore) since it was located in a SEZ(Special Economic Zone). We even tried getting this done through a formal request letter(I requested the centre manager of Sandhya Kirana, Mrs Geetha Suresh for drafting the same.) from Sandhya Kirana in which they mentioned that they would be happy to receive Cognizant's support for this noble cause. I was able to collect the letter from her and share the same with the authorities in MBP through Rajesh, but for some reasons we still didn't have the green signal to collect newspapers from MBP. In this entire process, things got kinda delayed and dragged on for a while and I personally wasn't even sure if we would be able to carry out this drive from the other offices based out of Bangalore as things were in a limbo. Back then, I remember Sripha had followed up with me on this and said "Let's do this for Sandhya Kirana alone given that those at the center have even gone to the extent of giving us an official letter in which they'd welcome our support". Around this time the Joy of Giving Week(JOGW) was fast approaching. For those of you who would like to know more about the JOGW, this is a "festival of philanthropy" that aims to become a part of the Indian ethos with the Week being celebrated every year covering Gandhi Jayanti by engaging people through "acts of giving" .(Source - Wikipedia. Here's the link to its complete article on the JOGW)

The letter that was given to the authorities in MBP
Taking our discussion further, we had reached that time of the year where we were almost in the middle of the JOGW and what better time than this would it be to kick off this drive is what we'd thought. To spread awareness of this recycling drive for a cause among CTS associates based out of Bangalore(we could only target associates of BTP and GVC for reasons mentioned above) we approached Anusha Kumar who along with her team helped us conceptualize and draft the mailer that would be sent to all the associates. Anusha along with her team have been driving many Go Green initiatives along many other initiatives focussed on Health and Safety for Cognizant for a couple of years in various ways and we were really happy to receive their support for this drive. I'd like to specially mention that she was very open to our inputs on how we wanted to convey our message about this drive to the associates through this mailer. I can still recall, I wanted add an image(PFB the same) of the elders working at the center as part of the mailer with the intention that I wanted to reach out to the emotions of associates and she happily agreed to add the same. Not only that, she and her entire team was very co-operative in helping us draft the mailer in such short notice(as we were already in the middle of the JOGW) and it's because of their support we were able to send the mailer within a day's notice as part of the JOGW itself.

The image that was added to the Newspaper Collection Drive mailer 
The mailer that was sent to Cognizant Bangalore Associates in BTP and GVC

Joy of Giving Week celebrated every year marking the birthday of the Father of Our Nation(India) - Mahatma Gandhi
Since we(Sripha and me) knew that we'd have the support from Cognizant's BTP and GVC offices, we tried again, on a fresh note. This time we wanted to even welcome contributions from the associates as we were honestly unsure about the total amount(in kg's) of newspapers we could collect towards the end of this drive. We thought the more newspapers we get from the these offices(in any form), the better it would be. Honestly, at that time I thought if we would be able to achieve a targeted collection of 100 Kg's as part of the overall collection drive we'd be more than happy. But life had something else in store for us, Read On :).

Before we sent the actual mailer to the associates we had to make sure that the newspaper boxes were in place. For this we were glad to receive the support of Srinidhi Jain and Narayan Naik from the BTP and GVC admin team respectively. They helped us place the newspaper boxes at appropriate locations within the offices through the assistance of their support staff. We wanted these boxes to be placed at important locations within each of the office premises. In BTP, these boxes were placed next to the ground floor and 1st floor lobby. In GVC we had placed the boxes next to the ground floor security check point, the reception and in the academy block. We had requested the admin staff to place these boxes at these designated spots because we wanted to ensure that those associates who travel by bus/personal vehicle can easily drop off the newspapers at these specific locations as soon as they enter the office premises from the common entry points. Sripha mainly followed up with Narayan to ensure that the boxes were correctly placed in GVC and I had followed up with Srinidhi on the same with respect to the BTP office since we were both based out of the same office.

The mailer was sent to all associates and we were curious to see how they'd respond to this. In the mean time we even decided to take to create awareness about this drive through other possible ways. One thing we observed on a general note is that many associates who get such mails do an immediate 'Shift + Del' for some reason. Even though they might be associates who would really want to contribute their part for this cause, they sometime lose out on such opportunities because they might just not read the entire mail and thereby miss out on certain brief yet important details that come along with it. Keeping this in mind we decided to stick banners of the mailer at common associate visiting points across both offices. In BTP thanks to the help of my friend and fellow colleague Jyoti we had placed these banners next to the lifts of each and every floor on either sides (there are 8 floors in BTP, making it 2 black & white banners being posted on each floor) of the BTP office along with the same being placed next to each of the cafeteria entry points. Since Sripha was based out of MBP and I was based out of BTP, one common thing we had in mind was that we wanted to be doubly sure that the boxes are correctly placed at the respective locations in the GVC office. I visited the GVC office to not only check on this but also paste those banners at different locations within that office. As part of the GVC office, banners were pinned at the Academy Notice Board(basement and ground floor), GVC Notice board that one sees as soon as a person enters out of the cafeteria and finally some of them were also pasted next to the different lobbies around the office. I would also like to add that in both the offices we ensured that a banner is placed just above each of the newspaper boxes just in case associates are eager to know why those boxes were placed there in the first case.

The drive kicked off on October 4th, 2013 and we initially planned to run this drive until October 11th, 2013. In two to three days time ever since the drive kicked off, I was happy to see one of the boxes based out of BTP to be almost full. Things were working out for us and we were really glad that they were. I'd like to thank those associates for their initial contributions back then, as those were the first set off contributions that inspired us to take this drive further with more zeal and enthusiasm. 
Newspaper box placed next to the BTP Ground Floor Lift Area 
A box that was almost full with newspapers donated by associates based out of BTP
I was due for a second visit to the GVC office to see how was the response from the associates based out of there, but before I made that visit there was something else that I wanted to do, something that might help us get more newspapers from the associates based out of both offices. Before doing this Go Green drive, I've been involved in a couple of Bangalore Outreach initiatives and it was through one such initiative I had got acquainted with Usha Sekhar(AVP - CAS) and Kalyani Sekhar(Sr Director - DAG) who play a major role in the day to day functioning of the CAS and DAG practices respectively based out of Cognizant Bangalore. I had dropped a mailer to both of them briefing them on the purpose of the drive and requesting their kind support for the same. Since they were in a way leading a team of many associates based out of Bangalore with respect to their specific practices I felt that it would be great if they could put in a word to their teams asking them if they could come forward and contribute their bit for this noble cause. To start with, I got a positive response from Usha on this and she mentioned to me that she would first like drop the newspapers that she could collect from her residence before she would go about dropping the mail to her team requesting their support for the same. This in itself was a great learning for me as it clearly reflected the true mark of a leader - leading by example. I'm really grateful to Usha and Kalyani for their support as they both were kind enough to help us drive this cause further in whatever way they could.

As part of my second visit to GVC, I was happy to get a positive response from the associates based out of that location in terms of their donations. Seeing the encouraging responses we got from both the locations we decided to extend the drive by another week. Another mailer was sent out to the associates based out of GVC, BTP announcing the dates with respect to the extended drive. The drive was extended upto October 18th, 2013 and we were excited as more papers were coming in from the associates. By this time we had reached that phase of the drive where we required the assistance of a volunteer who could use his/her personal vehicle to help us deliver the collected newspapers from both the offices to Sandhya Kirana. Thanks to Rajesh's support we sent a mail to the Outreach Bangalore Volunteer DL requesting the support of any volunteer who could help us with the transport. The mailer did it's trick and we found a volunteer in Deepak Prabhu Matti who was happy to extend his support for this noble cause. We wanted to deliver the collected newspapers to the center in the first half of Oct 19th, 2013. For this, Deepak, Sripha and me had a conference call to finalize our timed schedule that covered not only the transport of the newspaper boxes from the offices but also how we could be picked up on the way before we go about the collection and dispatch. We were glad that now we even had the transport arrangements in place.

Newspaper Box placed at the GVC Office

Newspaper Box at the GVC office placed next to the security check point

If your with me till here I can guarantee you that your patient reading this far will be really worth it:) . The experience in the lines that follow, for me was one of the most important moments of the entire drive's experience, it was something that completely took many of us by surprise!!. So here goes, what happened. We were due for one last visit to GVC before the drive came to an end. This visit was planned to confirm the total amount(in kg's) of newspapers we were able to collect from their office and also to collect a gate pass for the dispatch of those newspaper boxes from their office to the center. On October 17th, 2013(Thursday) morning, I had met Narayan and as we were discussing on certain details related to the day we'd(Deepak, Sripha and me) go about the actual transport of the newspapers to center, one of the colleagues from the Admin Staff mentioned that in the GVC office, they had a store room with around 10-12 boxes of newspapers that they had kept with themselves from around February onwards. When I asked them on what could be the approximate weight of all the boxes put together, they were like it would be anywhere between 300 - 400 Kg's of newspapers. I was like WOW :). This for me was one of the most defining moments that took our drive into an entirely new direction altogether. If you remember, I had earlier mentioned we would be glad if we could collect 100 Kg's of newspapers from both the offices, but getting 4 times that quantity was something we never ever expected we would be able to get as part of this drive atleast, given that we weren't getting newspapers in any form from MBP. Whenever I recall this moment of the drive, it kinda reminds of one of the quotes of the movie 'Shawshank Redemption'. The quote goes something like this:- hope is a good thing. maybe the best of good things. and no good thing ever dies. How true it was for us at that time is something at times leaves with me with no words to describe :). This was the turning point for me with respect to the entire drive.

The above experience also kinda made me reflect on one of the famous Hindi Proverbs - 'Jahan Chah Wahan Raah'(which basically in English means 'Where there is a Will, There is a Way'). When we started off with this drive, we hadn't yet got the approval wrt the dispatch of the newspapers from MBP, but somehow we still wanted to do this drive and we honestly never thought we'd be able to take it this level in terms of the overall contribution that Cognizant could make towards this noble cause. This was truly an humbling experience  :).

I had requested the GVC Admin Team on that day(Oct 17th, 2013) to confirm on the total amount of newspapers that were currently present in their office to the earliest as we had to dispatch the newspapers on Oct 19th, 2013. As soon as I got to know that we had so many newspapers based out of GVC, the admin team out of that location was kind enough to show me the store room where these boxes were actually placed. After visiting their store room I immediately called up Deepak because of the series of events that took place just before my call to him on that day called for a new plan of action with respect to the delivery of newspaper boxes to the center. As per one of my very initial discussions with Geetha ma'am(center manager of Sandhya Kirana) with regard to the transport of newspapers from the Cognizant offices to the center, she said that she would be able to provide the vehicle from their center only if there would be atleast 100 kg's of newspapers as they wanted to ensure that the travel cost incurred by them in such a case would be worth its bit. Here, we were talking about 4 times that quantity and Geetha ma'am was I guess more than happy to send the center's vehicle(a Tata Winger) to help collect the additional newspaper boxes. Upon getting her confirmation I had a final word with Narayan from the GVC office and requested his and his team's support for the packing and onloading of the newspaper boxes on to vehicle on the day of delivery. Before I left I did take the number of the incharge POC from the admin team whom I could contact on the day these newspapers would be delivered to the center.

Towards the end of Oct 17th, 2013 we got a surprisingly quick response(I personally was expecting that they'd atleast take a day to weigh the boxes and pack them)  from the GVC admin team in which they mentioned that they totally had 15 boxes of newspapers packed and ready to be dispatched to the center. The GVC admin team out there had exceeded my expectations in terms of how quickly they followed up on packing, weighing the boxes and intimating us about the same. It was like all this was done within no time!. I can specifically recall that Anand from the GVC admin team played a vital role in executing this responsibility end to end. You might not believe it, but the total collection of newspapers from Cognizant's GVC office alone was around 411 Kg's!!. On Oct 18th, 2013 around afternoon, we got to know that the BTP office had a total of 70 Kg's of newspapers(in 3 boxes) for us to donate. Given that we had a total of 18 boxes to collect and deliver on Oct 19th, 2013, we(Deepak, Sripha and me) came up with an effective plan as per which we would collect the 3 boxes from BTP and ask the driver from the Sandhya Kirana center to directly visit the GVC office where he could collect the remaining 15 boxes. I followed up with Srinidhi wrt the gate pass required from BTP and also on the POC's number whom I could reach out to on the day of delivery of those newspapers. This was done to ensure that we could smoothly execute our(Deepak, Sripha's and mine) travel plan for that day.

The Tata Winger loaded with newspaper boxes standing just outside the Cognizant GVC office

The boxes of newspapers collected from BTP were loaded into Deepak's car

All things happened as per our plan on the day of the delivery. We even spent some quality time at the center to know more about its day to day functioning from Geetha Suresh and some of us even had a light chat with one of the working elders at the center. We also had the opportunity to visit the Nightingales Dementia Center located in the first floor of Sandhya Kirana Center. They were smiles all around and that probably was one of the most important things that we took back with us that day :). From the bottom of my heart I'm truly grateful to all those who were directly and/or indirectly involved with the success of this drive. Please forgive me in case I've missed mentioning somebody or someone's contribution with respect to this drive. It was only due to their constant support and encouragement that we were able to make this drive a huge success. I'm sure that we can all do our bit for the society in whatever way possible if we to start by atleast making up our minds to support such causes. I would like to mention a quote that in atleast some way relates to many of my volunteering experiences thus far. The quote goes something like this -

"When I went out in search of a friend, I found one no where, but when I went out there to be a friend, I found friends everywhere" . Hope this motivates to you to atleast give things a shot. The reason why I'm mentioning this quote is because as you go about this with the right intent, starting things by taking the first step, you would be pleasantly surprised to find out how many of them are out there, who just like you, would also want to contribute their part for such causes. It's simply because they know that the pleasure of giving is more than the pleasure of receiving. On that day, Cognizant donated around 485 kg's of newspapers to Sandhya Kirana Day Care Center. This was nothing less than a milestone achievement for us(Sripha and me) and for all the efforts we had put in to make this successful.

Newspaper Boxes delivered  from Cognizant Offices to Sandhya Kirana Center, lying in one of their store rooms

I guess this is my longest blog till date, but I'm really happy to share all those moments that have come along my path as experiences throughout this entire drive. I'd be really glad if some of these experiences are found useful when any other volunteer wants to do something on the similar lines going forward. I really appreciate your patient reading thus far and I'd like to take this opportunity to make a humble appeal, asking you to support such causes(in whatever way you could, it needn't always have to be the monetary way :)), be it for the welfare of elders or youngsters or the environment or best as a combination of many things like this drive did(coincidentally :) ), just try it once to see how you feel and how by doing your bit you could actually mean more than just that, in making a difference or an impact in the lives of the people around you.

Thank you..