Mahindra Spark The Rise: A Pioneering Example of Corporate Citizenship in India

What is Rise?

 Mahindra Rise

The Mahindra Group is one of India’s most reputable industrial houses, and as a multinational conglomerate, operates in over 100 countries across the globe (famously on every continent except Antarctica). They work in aerospace, agribusiness, aftermarket, automotive, components, construction equipment, defense, energy, farm equipment, finance and insurance, industrial equipment, information technology, leisure and hospitality, logistics, real estate, retail, and two wheelers, with market leadership in several of these spaces. And it is the above question that they have been ceaselessly exploring over the past year.

When I first came across ‘Spark the Rise’, it seemed like a typical CSR campaign, which in India is usually about a philanthropic donation made to a charity in education, healthcare or the likes. In fact, Mahindra is already a well known entity in the philanthropy and volunteering space in India, primarily through the activities of the KC Mahindra Trust, which has notably worked on literacy as well as vocational education in India,and is known for their Project Nanhi Kali (which supports the education of over 50,000 underprivileged girls) and Mahindra Hariyali (a 1 million tree planting campaign). Their Employee Social Options Plans is similarly an exemplary program through which over 35000 Mahindra employees plan and lead their own service projects every year.

But Spark The Rise was still different.

Spark The Rise

Mahindra has created a digital platform for individuals, groups and organisations to submit project plans online at www.sparktherise.com. Visitors to the site can view projects to offer advice or get involved by volunteering or donating money and equipment. Spark the Rise is thus a platform where ‘Sparks’ can start projects and ‘Volunteers’ can get involved in them to help people to Rise.

From Aug 2011-Mar 2012, the initiative awarded eight winning ‘Sparks’ with monthly financial grants of Rs. 4 lakh each. Of these, five were chosen by public vote and three by an expert jury. In April 2012, the top two winners from each month by public vote and six entries chosen by an expert jury – became a part of the Grand Finale, with three of the winners taking home Rs. 20 Lakh each and one receiving a grant of Rs. 40 Lakh.

But the funding is just a small component of the impact of this movement. Mahindra has realised that Indians all across are to taking charge, and are realising their own understanding of Rise. They are thus not merely touting their own horn or initiating a small project or two in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility. They are instead choosing to identify, aggregate and empower others who have taken the responsibility on themselves.

Innovators, entrepreneurs and change agents are now able to showcase their work and connect with like-minded people to amplify their efforts. Spark the Rise has become a community of >250,000 people working together to drive positive change in India. Thousands of people from all across India submitted >6,000 projects, of which 1,346 have been showcased on www.sparktherise.com, and 48 projects have received a grant from Mahindra. These projects have now found new fans and followers in the form of the hundreds of people that have connected with them to volunteer, donate, and advise the project champions.

This is indeed a milestone in corporate citizenship in India. Rupee for rupee, the social impact of this initiative is disproportionate as compared to most other CSR efforts by Indian corporations of recent. In fact, for once the term ‘CSR’ seems misfit, and it can be said that it is corporate social innovation that has seen dawn in India.

Spark the Rise is thus promoting a rich culture of initiative and innovation by bringing people together to work for change. All ‘Sparks’ – not just the ones who have received grants – have thus utilised this unique platform to promote ideas, motivate volunteers and raise funds for their projects aimed at building a better India.

Success

I was in attendance at the Grand Finale held at the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai last month as a panel moderator, and shall be writing about the event and about the idea of ‘Rise’ in the coming weeks. Now that the initiative has embarked on its second year, it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves and uses its learning from the first edition as it seeks to answer: What is Rise?

(A modified version has been cross-posted on the Mahindra Rise Blog)