Advocating for Equity and Dignity with Dr. Nidhi Pundhir of HCLTech

May 9, 2024

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Dr. Nidhi Pundhir leads the global CSR efforts of technology company HCLTech and heads the HCLFoundation in India. In her current role, she has envisioned HCL’s CSR policy, anchored around the 10 commandments of CSR.

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John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so honored to have with us today Dr. Nidhi Pundhir. She is the vice president of Global CSR for the HCLFoundation, which is the CSR arm of HCLTech. You can find her at Nidhi, welcome to the Impact Podcast.

Dr. Nidhi Pundhir: Such a pleasure joining you here, John, and it’s my honor to be with you today and looking forward to the conversation that we are going to have today.

John: Thank you for not only joining us, but giving us of your time. I know it’s a different hour. You are sitting in India, I’m sitting in California, so I know our time zones are a little different, but it’s sunny here in California, and I just feel like we’re in the same room together anyway, so thank you for making the time for us today.

Dr. Pundhir: It’s my pleasure. As we say, it’s one world just separated by maybe time zones, but we connect so very well together on the larger impact that all of us are making. So, thank you. Thank you for your time indeed.

John: Before we get talking about all the important things that HCLTech and the HCLFoundation are doing and that you’re doing in conjunction with, can you share a little bit about yourself, how you got on this fascinating and important journey, where you grew up, and how you got started even thinking about all the important topics that you are working on today?

Dr. Pundhir: That’s a very interesting question. Often when you get on with life, you forget some of those. So, thanks to reminding me of childhood. I would say that a lot of credit goes to the kind of childhood I have had especially the profession that I finally chose and I have been working for the last 25 plus years now. I grew up in a family of teachers in a very small town in Rajasthan, and I know Rajasthan is popular for its deserts and camels and culture and tradition. So, I very much grew up in a small place there. Went to a local school, a kind of, I would say, very diverse school.

Again, I’ll give a lot of credit to the school where I went to, which was also backed by a corporate in those times bringing that kind of education to that small place. Then I went on to study life sciences. Very much a science student throughout, and I have always been fascinated by sciences. Did my master’s in hospital systems management, did my MPhil in health systems management, and alongside work I pursued my PhD in health systems management. Once again, looking at the first thousand days of human life for children living in slums and how their right to health, their access to health services remains compromised, and that comes in the way of their wellbeing, et cetera. But I would say that growing up also meant growing up in a family of teachers where discipline was something which was given and most importantly, value system.

Both my parents worked in remote villages in those times and my mother, when I used to ask her, why do you leave home, leave us behind and go to those villages? We can be together and we can stick around. She’s no more now, but her teachings will always remain. She used to say that If I stay back for you, who’s going to educate all those girls for whom I am given my salary? Those were the times in that state where many girls were pushed into early marriage. They would drop out of school for marriage. They would need to cohabitate at a very, very young age, have their first child way before they were 18 years.

So, it was that time still. We still have those incidences, but that has significantly reduced thanks to two, three generations of work in India. Now we are actually celebrating more than 75 years of independence. But independence meant a lot of sacrifice at the family level by the likes of my family. My father was leading the adult literacy mission for the country. So, I clearly remember in my childhood during my break time, he would just ask me to accompany him in the remote villages. In those times we used to have those solar lanterns.

John: Yeah.

Dr. Pundhir: Because a lot of villages did not have electricity.

John: Wow.

Dr. Pundhir: There is this Jeep vehicle, which can actually go on sand dunes and it can climb. We didn’t know if there’s going to be a village next or not, because you could see nothing. Adult literacy, the big challenge is, you cannot bring in adults during daytime. They only come together in the nighttime after their day job.

John: Wow.

Dr. Pundhir: So, the whole program used to run in the late evenings. We would go from village to village with those lanterns. People will circle around, and he would often ask me, especially when it was young girls and women, he would present me as an example that, look we are educating her. You should educate your girls now and get yourselves some education. So, he developed teaching, learning material, which one could actually draw symbols, script on sand using a stick. So, there was no need for pen and paper because pen and paper was completely alien in those communities.

So, it was can you recognize the shape of the local stuff on which you cook? We call it [foreign word], the earthen stuff, so as to say, and one stick, and then the curve again, and then a [inaudible] on it. So, the local script you could actually draw, and then women would quickly learn it because he would relate everything to all household items. So he let the conceptualization of such [inaudible]. So, education was something I would say, which was inherent, which was there in the family. We would wake up at a very early hour. I was in a way late riser because I used to wake up by 6:45 a.m. but they’ll all be up, both of them at 4:00 a.m. cooking this, that, and by that time, I would have that guilt, oh my God, everybody’s up. Then we all proceeded to our day jobs.

This is the upbringing I’ve had and my older brother, of course, who’s also no more, but then he also used to be such a motivator, taught me cycling at a very early age. You must ride a bicycle. You must learn to ride a scooter. You must not go to a girl’s only education. So, I came from that kind of family, which amidst a very conservative community, I would say was pro-education, which was pro-development, extremely foresighted. My father is now 87 years old.

John: Okay.

Dr. Pundhir: But when we look back on the journey we’ve had, it’s something which one can just cherish all those moments and feel very proud of and be very privileged. So, that was growing up for me.

John: It just left an indelible mark on you that you wanted to carry that forward. You wanted to carry the learnings and the teachings of your parents. They just didn’t speak their teach, they actually included you in the process. I could just imagine you as a little girl in that Jeep with your dad. How old were you? six, seven, eight years old. 10 years old with your pops?

Dr. Pundhir: Yeah, it started as early as I was eight years, seven years, I remember. Even as a very young child, because babysitting arrangements were not there. Both of them were working, so they would take me to their respective school or office, or make me sit and do something. Government schools, I remember wherever my mother used to be posted, they wouldn’t have a toilet. So, the first thing was she would make the collections and get a toilet made. The moment there was a toilet constructed in the school, girls would enroll. Women staff would start coming in.

So, I’ve seen that as a child. So, they took their job, or that sense of duty was so ingrained. That growing, although I did my majors eventually in hospital management, and I could have been in that safe surrounding of hospitals, and I could have worked as a CEO and made a lot of profits. But that never appealed. Eventually when I actually was working with a very big hospital, I set it up, but then it was not the calling, it was communities, which were the calling. It was getting on an onward journey.

I was privileged because I got more resources. I got the professional education on my side. I had management degree. I had right kind of place to be working in and was trusted with resources to be deployed. I would say when I go back and I see how did that all happen, why did I choose to go to villages, why did I choose to go to slums, I think that childhood has had some [crosstalk] big impact, I would say.

John: But in your retrospective, it’s not hard for you to connect the dots. It all makes sense now. It all makes sense. That’s wonderful.

Dr. Pundhir: So, yeah, thank you for reminding me.

John: It’s fun to hear it from you too. It’s just fun to hear what an adventure. It’s great that your dad is still alive, that he’s still with you. That’s wonderful as well.

Dr. Pundhir: So, in Hindi, we say guru, so he’s always been my guru, and he is there and he’ll call me once in a day. So, what are you doing? So, I’ll mention some project or something. Have you looked into this aspect? Have you looked at this risk in that community? So, he’s still always active and looking at different aspects. More than a father, he’s been a guru and he remains.

John: He remains your dad and your coach still. He’s still your [crosstalk]

Dr. Pundhir: Yes, absolutely.

John: He’s still teaching you.

Dr. Pundhir: Absolutely.

John: That’s wonderful.

Dr. Pundhir: Absolutely.

John: So that’s where we have the modern-day word that’s part of our vernacular in Lexicon, Guru. It’s a Hindi terminology.

Dr. Pundhir: Guru is Hindi. In Sanskrit we say guru [foreign words]

John: Right.

Dr. Pundhir: So, it’s basically, guru is beyond God. So, there’s this saying, I can just give the translated version. So, there is a person and he’s going and asks whether I should be touching God’s feet first or guru’s. So, God himself, Krishna who direct it’s the guru because it’s the teacher and the coach who gives you direction [crosstalk]

John: Wow. [Inaudible] That’s with God’s permission. Wow!

Dr. Pundhir: Absolutely. So, you find your God in your coach. Of course, I’ve been very privileged to have very good mentors in my institute, in my journey, and extremely good people to be working with. So, I think they all have been very well-meaning people and that actually affects eventually in your journey. So, while you do make a choice with your facilitators and your mentors, but I think it’s also how everything comes together, falls together. For example, my mentor, Dr. SD Gupta, in whose name there is a public health institution in India now, Dr. SD Gupta, school of Public Health. He’s 75, and he studied at Johns Hopkins in those times.

John: Wow.

Dr. Pundhir: He came back medical doctor. He came back and launched this Institute of Health Management Research in India. After doing my life sciences graduation, when I went there, I was selected as a first batch. So, first risk taker, first batch, okay, let’s go and do this public health management, hospital management. In those times, these branches were unknown. Normally, people would go to conventional medicine and post-graduation also, they’ll go into teaching, do masters or pick up a banking job or something like that, especially for women. Twenty-two of us took the risk.

We cleared the exam and we took the risk. Diverse batch was formed from all over India. Some professionals, some very senior people, some very young people and we got onto the journey. Dr. SD Gupta, whenever we used to talk to him about jobs and risk, he was like, you’ll never need to look back because public health, where you’re venturing, the unmet need is so high of people who can manage the whole thing. I finished recently also my PhD with him and Dr. [Inaudible] and looking into the slums and looking into the data continuity and so on and so forth. So, I think lots to learn from these people is the dedication, because they went and took the highest order of education.

They researched and they got back, and they’ve been serving the communities who needed the most. But also training people academically, that’s extremely important to give them that professional degree, professional technique to be able to address the social economic, developmental, and environmental issues. Because social work is no longer charity, you know?

John: Right.

Dr. Pundhir: It cannot be just done with one off approaches. We do need full design thinking. We need implementation strategies. We need monitoring and evaluation frameworks. So, it’s a more than full-time, I would say addiction, if I may use the word to delve deeper into these issues.

John: Nidhi, I’d like to go into a little bit about what you do on your day-to-day life. Before we get into the HCLFoundation, talk a little bit about HCLTech. For our listeners and viewers who are not familiar with HCLTech, how big is HCLTech and when was it started and what’s its reach look like today?

Dr. Pundhir: Right. So, again, it’s almost more than eight years for me in HCLTech already. Each year it’s growing and growing and growing. It’s an IT industry, fundamentally. It’s a technology company as the name already suggests, of course, found in India by our emeritus founder, Mr. Shiv Nadar whose dream was to first, of course, it was computers and getting computers to India. It was known as Hindustan Computers Limited in those times.

John: Wow.

Dr. Pundhir: But then later on, it got into hardcore technology interventions, and 45, 46 years now first-generation company grew from scratch and today has 220,000 plus people across the globe.

John: Wow. It’s a huge company. Is it publicly traded on the Bombay Exchange, or is it a privately held company [crosstalk]

Dr. Pundhir: Yeah. It’s listed.

John: It’s listed.

Dr. Pundhir: It’s HCLTechnologies Limited as registered, and it’s 60 plus countries, as I said. It’s close to 14 billion dollars revenue.

John: Wow.

Dr. Pundhir: Of course, we’ve redefined our brand and we’ve recently said that we supercharge progress. So, it’s supercharging progress. So, if you talk about several platforms today and when you’ll go deeper into them, the backend you’ll find at HCLTech. So, we very proudly say, if you’ve booked a plane ticket, if you’ve done banking, if you have anywhere been in contact, maybe you and I talking who [crosstalk] backend, we have a bunch of our highly qualified techies fueling it.

John: Wonderful. Now talk a little bit about the grant. We’re going to talk about the foundation, but before we get to the foundation, let’s talk about what is the HCLTech Grant and how does it actually work in the real world?

Dr. Pundhir: Right. So, HCL Grant it was, again, an idea which was, I would say conceived by our chairperson, Mrs. Roshni Nadar Malhotra. This was 2015, ’16 when Roshni was thinking about how better to rather institutionalize corporate social responsibility. So, it was our first attempt where we said, while there’s lots which can be done, and it’s one part of our larger CSR interventions. It’s more than 35 million deployment per year within India itself. But then a part of it we thought, let’s look at how do we institutionalize, how do we really build that connection with the non-government organizations and a corporate coming out and recognizing the kind of contribution that civil society, non-government organizations, the heroes are making, because they’ve been working in the hinterlands for many, many years. There wasn’t any kind of award till then when we came up with this entire grant mechanism.

So, HCLTech Grant was just not about a project funding or a project grant. It was rather recognition or rather bringing them on a much bigger platform and providing them with national and international recognition. So, an independent methodology, a robust methodology was brought in place. It’s a very democratic process. It has an independent jury, it has a knowledge partner, governance partner, so as to say. The call for applications happens in a very, very transparent way. So, we have 250 days, so as to say, methodology which has been rolled out over nine years consecutively now consistently wherein a similar process with improvisation, of course. So, we say when is our addition rollout. When we say that there’ll be a call for application, so the portal remains open for 60 days. NGOs apply. This year we had 17,000 organizations register for it.

John: Wow!

Dr. Pundhir: Of course, in India we have more than three million organizations which are working, they’re on government portals somehow, or they are there but we do have very stringent eligibility criteria. But then through this grant, we’ve been able to deploy almost 15.8 million to 49 NGOs. But just coming back to the process how it has its reach, it’s all states of India. We travel across, we touch the ground, we have symposiums for all these organizations who register. So, it’s a big process where mythology is more important than the result. I think the poll, when you see these 17,000 plus organizations registering, each year they come back. Many of them are also repeat applicants. It’s almost like become the Oscars because they are enjoying the process, or rather they find it an opportunity to engage with the corporate. So, we say NGOization and corporatization in a way.

So, it’s the pace at which a corporate works. So, there is lots to learn in terms of governance processes from the corporates, but there’s lots to learn from the field optimization or from being able to reach the most remote communities. So, that’s what HCLTech Grant is all about, and we of course started with three independent categories in India, education, health. Year one was education, then we added environment and health. More than 40 NGOs have been awarded the grant so far in most remote locations seeking Jammu and Kashmir, parts of Gujarat, parts of Nagaland, and parts of West Bengal, parts of Rajasthan. So, it almost covers a huge hinterland population, so as to say. So, that’s HCLTech Grant, and it’s one of the biggest CSR grants. Lots of others have come after that because they have been prototyping further.

Also, we called it the Fifth Estate in those times because if you look at the constitutional provisions in India, we do have a role for judiciary, the executive, the bureau. If you look at the legislative, but then, and press also finds eventually a mention. But then the non-government lobby did not have that kind of recognition. So, I think it was of its kinds, the first attempt. Now we have scaled it up to the region of Americas. Recently we opened the edition one and we call it HCLTech Grant for Americas. We focused it on climate action. So, happy to say that yesterday we have concluded the middle round of selection where 10 organizations out of close to 100 applications that we received from 10 countries of Americas region.

Phenomenal from various biomes and touching various SDGs, life on land, life under water, and ecosystem services approaches, forest conservation approaches, water harvesting approaches, community led action, youth involvement, youth participation is just a delight to read all those applications. But eventually there’ll be a competition and jury are going to pick a few. But that’s what HCLTech Grant is all about. So, the foundation was, we are sitting in 2024. It was 2011 when the foundation was registered. The foundation was registered later, but the community action started, I think as soon HCLTech, because employees had been doing it on their own.

We have this lovely campaign called Power of One, which already existed. Power of One is something where each employee would give a part of their salary, voluntary basis, very minimal amount, but then they contribute to a central fund, and more than that, they contribute their time. So, we actually clock more than 100,000, 250 because COVID time, it’s slightly low, but it’s gone back to 150,000 hours by our own employees just in community action. So, in 2011, the HCLFoundation was also registered as an entity. Of course, it has now its own funds and 400 people [crosstalk]

John: So, suffice it to say HCLTech at its founding and its core, and its DNA was not only all about the technology revolution that they wanted to bring and have India enjoy, but they were also very community-minded in terms of philanthropy and giving back, as you say, not only of capital, but of time from its inception. In 2011, it was just the codification of all this philanthropy, both monetary and also time, which created the foundation, which you’ve been at for eight years now.

Dr. Pundhir: Absolutely.

John: Okay.

Dr. Pundhir: So, I think it was more about making a little more organized efforts and more from the legal perspective also because there’s a difference in a not-for-profit and a for-profit entity. So, HCLFoundation is a not-for-profit entity. Where we also are able to, I would say, engage with government stakeholders, co-create, there are many, many, many public private partnership models that we have. We’ve signed MOUs with the government, we’ve signed MOUs with different people who would want to contribute in many ways. There are community-based organizations, they’re farmers, collectives. So, because of the nature of business, and that’s where I say professionalism comes in, and which takes a slightly different approach from one of charity.

John: Understood. If you’ve just joined us now, we’ve got Dr. Nidhi Pundhir with us today. She’s the vice president and global CSR of the HCLFoundation, which is the CSR arm of HCLTech. You can find Dr. Nidhi Pundhir and her colleagues at It’ll all be in the show notes. So, all the contact information and all the websites will be in the show notes. Nidhi, talk a little bit about the HCL Grant and although it seemingly benefits only the great people of India, how will it benefit communities outside of India as well?

Dr. Pundhir: So HCL Grant, I would say it’s ninth year now, and we have set a model in one of the biggest democracies country with maximum population and of the registered organizations which work for not-for-profit. So, the model has already been replicated in certain parts. Our own partners are also working. For example, if we are working on a bee conservation model in parts of Nilgiris or we are working on spring conservation on parts of Nilgiris or Gujarat, or if we are doing the Green Community Governance campaign. So, some of these campaigns are already reaching parts of Africa, parts of South America.

There is a huge network out there through which these best practices are already propagating. Talking about things like peace education in the valley of Jammu and Kashmir or Ladakh, where schools were closed down for many months altogether, these modules have been adopted, not by the local union territory ministries or talking about the indigenous solutions of malnutrition in villages of West Bengal, which have already been scaled up by government across the state. I would say these innovations or these techniques that work with local communities have already found place because we have similar communities across the world, parts of Indonesia, parts of Africa, parts of South America and so on and so forth. Also, there are models around hunger, there models around poverty alleviation, there are models around ecosystem conservation, native species conservation, flora fauna, so on.

So, there’s a lot of research, which HCLTech Grant has been able to fund. There’s a lot of innovation. There’s a lot of community connect. So, all these best practices also have been documented in depth in our compendium, which we propagate across the world and it’s called the Fifth Estate. So, this year we had the volume seven coming out, which is also available. So, that is, I would say, a gift for the larger international development community. But we’ve come to Americas now and I think that’s a direct reach and it’s a separate CSR, of course, it’s under the banner of larger HCLTech Grant. But we have an independent jury for the Americas grant. There is an independent process. We are working with an independent governance partner and local research institutions.

The biomes in Americas region are very different, the services that need to happen in that region. I think the learning from nine years of implementing HCLTech Grant in India, one thing which is very, very common is that the only pathway to sustainability is community-based governance. Unless we work with local communities, through local solutions, through indigenous voices, we’ll not be able to act swiftly and sustainability. So, that is, I think, it’s a very, very common connect.

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So, when we were doing the screening of applications, if I look at edition one of India grant versus now edition one of America’s grant, so many things came very naturally to us because we’ve done that. We’ve touched the field, we’ve traveled, we’ve tested the proof of concept, if you like. So, if you are reading applications from Peru, from Columbia, from Argentina, from parts of Canada, parts of US, it was so exciting to see that the fabric remains same. It’s very much similar. Here we are with already a shortlist of 10 right stars.

John: You have a separate jury for all those other areas outside of India.

Dr. Pundhir: Yes. [Crosstalk] Very local. With local voices represented on the [inaudible]. Yes.

John: Talk a little bit about climate change, Nidhi. What’s your feelings on the importance of taking urgent action on climate change? And how does the HCLFoundation best exercise its ability to effectuate climate change action and now?

Dr. Pundhir: Yeah. So, pertinent in the times that you and I are talking, and if I go back to my childhood, I actually grew up in a place which had a tiger reserve. If you talk about it now, we are talking about water scarcity. We are talking about polluted air. We are breathing polluted air, so as to say. So, it’s very much an urgency or an emergency situation. The conclusion from COP where it was all about eventually the fund, the climate action, the disaster reduction and adaptation and mitigation. We just can’t wait. There’s nothing like that we can even wait now.

John: Yeah.

Dr. Pundhir: So, our climate action grant in Americas is a clear message that we really want to invest, we are concerned, we want to get into community action. Look at the fast depleting biomes, the flora fauna, native species, and of course, there are lots of reasons that we are all aware of fast depleting habitats, fast depleting the action, especially the genuine action that we really need. Forest fires and all are of course, a continuing phenomenon.

But a massive carbon footprint that we have. So, I think we’ve been very much ESG compliant as a group. Of course, we are an IT industry. So, in general, also, we are low. But then if I look through our CSR initiatives, we’ve been able to conserve, the last validated figure is 57 billion liters of water through our water bodies, which we have rejuvenated from scratch through our various interventions on water conservation with communities, with government. Those are now such beautiful sites. I was at one site yesterday, which used to be a wasteland, I spotted at least 15 to 20 new types of birds.

John: Wow!

Dr. Pundhir: It was full of water.

John: Wow!

Dr. Pundhir: It had flora around it. It had children playing around it. We had children’s clubs. So, what I’m saying with climate action is that it’s a small action. Just identify a small water body. Identify a small patch of land, identify few native species, talk to people, older people who knew about indigenous varieties that used to exist. So, climate action at the end of the day is a very simple thing. It’s a simple thing, but action is needed.

John: Well, it’s like when you said at the top of the conversation, we live in one world. We all share one environment. So, when you give me a story of hope that you went to this area that used to be a little bit run down years ago, and now it’s become an oasis of hope with 15 new bird species there and clean water, that’s good for all of us. That means we’re healing the environment where you’re at, which is going to positively affect where we are, because like you said, we’re one world.

Dr. Pundhir: Absolutely.

John: That’s beautiful. Does the HCLFoundation create an annual impact report or CSR report?

Dr. Pundhir: Absolutely. So, all the numbers, I think one thing that we are very particular about is measure, measure, measure.

John: Sure.

Dr. Pundhir: Because at the end of the day, there is a fund deployment behind, there is a human resource deployment, there’s material deployment, and all of this needs to be measured, whether it is reaching the right people, is it relevant? Is it something where you know, the cost benefit analysis has been done? Is it a financially viable model? Is it non-duplication of funds? So, definitely we put out our annual report religiously each year.

It goes out and it has all the numbers, your 5.5 million people validated. We are working with people living with disabilities. We are working with transgender communities. We are working with young children. That’s also a big focus for us because early childhood care and development is critical. We are working with a lot of youth who drop out because of irrelevant education system, and we have trainings on more than 90 vocational trades for them through which they come back to the job market.

We surely have our environmental numbers validated, including our water, food. In fact, this year basis, our third party validated report and government of India’s investigation, we were felicitated with the National Water Award as the best in industry by honorable vice president of India himself felicitated the award. So, everything is verified. One can come, one can see and that’s where again, I will say that the team of 400 qualified professionals, that’s what we do.

John: Well, Nidhi, you’ve been at the HCLFoundation now for about eight-and-a-half years. Talk a little bit about some of your favorite or most successful winning climate action initiatives that have launched during those eight-and-a-half years that you want to share with our audience today.

Dr. Pundhir: Okay. That’s always a tough question because each project that we do, it’s dear to us and we [crosstalk]

John: It’s like choosing among your children who’s your favorite?

Dr. Pundhir: But I think there are certain memories that I can share with you.

John: Sure.

Dr. Pundhir: Because we travel a lot and we live in the villages, or we at least spend many, many hours just experiencing what we are doing. There is this entire, we call it Shola Conservation, if you actually go to the Nilgiris. So, we didn’t know much about it that if you actually have bunches of plantations of the native species. So, we were trying to investigate, and the proposal was all around spring conservation, and we were like, how are the two connected? It sounds very scientific that it should happen, but does it happen?

John: Right.

Dr. Pundhir: But there is this whole thing about capillary action. So, if you have lots and lots of trees in bunches in the hills, you must have seen and they would actually clear off certain area, which is not a good practice. So, how do you work with the communities in order for them not to touch the native indigenous plantation and replant it? Because with that capillary action, also, you are actually able to conserve the local springs because springs are going away. When springs go away, you’ll not have water conserved in a natural way.

So, in five years’ time of the grant, that has been proven, that has reduced the human wildlife conflict because wildlife goes to the spring area and humans have a separate area. We have another example of community green governance, where with x amount of funding from us, almost five times of the funding from government has been unlocked because local communities have been able to develop their village development plans, which are environment centric. So, they have been able to identify the local pasture land, and they’ve been able to regreen it because we are not saying that we touch the grasslands. Also, the kind of R&D and research and development that happens. So, for example, the role of bees, the B-E-E, bee.

John: Yeah.

Dr. Pundhir: Which none of us would, there’s a bee there and it’s fine. But bees are going extinct. If bees go away, there’ll be no nature, there’ll be no ecosystem because bees are responsible for pollination of so many flora. So, there’s this project [crosstalk]

John: [Inaudible] this bee into our whole ecosystem, right?

Dr. Pundhir: Whole ecosystem. Then there’s this project that won the grant. When we went inside the villages and we saw that how, with be conservation, the Apis and certain other varieties of bees, the mango crop has become better and the local farmers have stopped using, and they are rather cultivating, they’re putting bee boxes. With that, the bee population is going up, but the local farmer has to see the benefit, and they’re getting better variety of mangoes. You travel past that area and you actually have this aroma of the mahua and the mango.

John: Wow.

Dr. Pundhir: So, there’s a lot of fun also, there is a lot of learning all the time because nature is so rich, you can never finish learning about it. When you’re able to [crosstalk]

John: Let’s go back to your last example. You said you were doing a project. It was a partnership with the government that provided five x of what your investment was.

Dr. Pundhir: Yes.

John: So, you are a big believer in leveraging the power of cross sector collaborations to create sustainable solutions.

Dr. Pundhir: Absolutely. No question on that, because partnerships, if we go to the goal number 17 of SDGs, fundamental to the success of any development program, because we can never, ever think about getting success if we worked in isolation or if we duplicated the state systems efforts, or if we did not talk to our stakeholders, we did not have co-creation on a table together. Because if you look at the state systems, they are equally concerned. They are equally putting out their plans, and they’re putting out the funds in much, much, much higher. Their human resource.

There is a system in place, but there’s still hinterlands, there are still places, if you look at certain pockets they still are not in the mainstream. There’s high, high level of maternal mortality, or there’s high, high level of wildlife conflict or so on and so forth. So, there are several issues which need a resolution, which need innovation, which need research, which also need longer term work and commitment. So, we actually get into formal partnership with the state or the communities with whom we work, they get into.

So, for example, if you are able to help the village with their village development plan, and if you’re able to work with them such that they prioritize their own funding, it’s a much more sustainable way of working than just going and doing it for them, because then you are making them dependent on some external resource, which is going to fade out one fine day.

John: Right.

Dr. Pundhir: So, partnership with communities is also critical. Very critical. The most important critical partnership is with the communities.

John: Got it. Let’s go back to the impact and CSR report. You produce that every year. What time of year does that come out approximately? Every year.

Dr. Pundhir: So, usually, it’s the end of first quarter Q1, which would be around May, June, is when we have a [crosstalk]

John: Once it comes out [crosstalk]

Dr. Pundhir: Because we have to have audited figures.

John: Right. Once it comes out, it lives in perpetuity on

Dr. Pundhir: Yes. Both at HCLTech and HCLFoundation [crosstalk]

John: So, our listeners and viewers can find that and look at all [crosstalk]

Dr. Pundhir: Yeah, all reports are there. All reports.

John: Wonderful.

Dr. Pundhir: They’re all there, all compendiums are there. There are many videos if you really want to travel. Maybe you don’t physically travel, but all the videos of HCLTech India Grant, and now there’ll be Americas grant also their journey within themselves. So, you can watch them.

John: Like you said, you need to have all these issues measured because how are you as a leader, as the vice president of global CSR, how are you going to manage them if you don’t have measurable outcomes? So, it makes so much sense to put a compendium report together every year for your own sake and your other leaders’ sake, and then also for your constituents and the public at larger’s sake too.

Dr. Pundhir: Absolutely. It’s also a matter of accountability, you know?

John: Right.

Dr. Pundhir: If you look at companies, they have to put out their P&L.

John: That’s right.

Dr. Pundhir: In this segment, it’s rather more important because where is the money going? Where’s the resource going? Where is the time going? So, corporate social responsibility is a serious business. It is a 24/7 plus because we also respond to humanitarian needs. We’ve recently responded to the Michaung Cyclone. I remember I was in COP, and then I got a call that a cyclone has hit Chennai, and I took the first flight back. The airport was still to get operational, so one was contemplating which.

So, I think on one side where you are part of the larger policy advocacy agenda, the other side, you are actually trying to revive the pond. Example I gave you the bees example, I gave you the spring example. We are still hit with disasters, and we got to be ready with our preparedness and be on ground and all those relief kits, where do they go? So, we even measure all of that. It’s important. It’s something where we should not compromise if we are in the social economic, and I’m a firm believer, and so is my team.

John: Nidhi, we talked earlier in our conversation, we talked a little bit about your dad, who’s now 87, and he still calls you every day. He’s still your guru. You’re very relatively young still, obviously, and you have longevity in your family. So, you have decades and decades more to live healthy and accomplish. What are you most excited about accomplishing in the future in the years to come?

Dr. Pundhir: Well, that’s, again, a tough question, but there is a family, of course, I’m blessed with two boys. Both are in their prime of teens right now.

John: Good. They’ll keep you busy too, right?

Dr. Pundhir: Yes, they are keeping me busy, and of course, my supportive husband, a friend, personal front, and a very big family, of course. So, we all celebrate, and all of them are quite accomplished in their own fields. So, there’s a lot of celebration that goes around, and of course, the batch I talked about 22 people at Masters, and then of course, PhDs and all. It’s difficult to keep track of, but then alumni associations definitely are very attractive. We spend a lot of time together, and that gives me professional fuel. But at the end, I think it’s all about being satisfied with oneself that I did my best that I could both with professional and personal skills, and most importantly, the passion that I have had I hope I’m able to transfer and be with such people eventually and keep working.

John: So, something tells me that when you’re 87 years old, many, many years from now, you’re going to be calling your boys and asking them every day, what are you up to? And then you’re going to be giving them advice like your dad.

Dr. Pundhir: I hope so that happens. But times are changing. Generations are changing.

John: You might be texting them or something.

Dr. Pundhir: AI would maybe would’ve teleported two of us.

John: That’s probably more true too. How can our listeners and viewers get more involved and support your foundation? Before I let you go, how can people who are motivated and excited about what they heard about what you’re doing today with the HCLFoundation, how can they get more involved and how can they support?

Dr. Pundhir: So, of course, we have volunteering opportunities across our programs. Write to us, intern with us. We have many interns who come with us, short-term, long-term. You can be involved in surveys, you can be involved in measuring, you can be involved in implementation. We have a team of 400 individuals plus 200 partners through whom another 2,500. So, all welcoming and just show up, show your interest and there’ll be something for you.

John: Well, listen, one thing I want to wish you is continued good health, continued success. I want to thank you for your time today, especially because time is the most precious thing we all have. Thank you for your time to share not only your background and your history, but the wonderful and important impactful work you’re doing at the HCLFoundation. For people who want to find Dr. Nidhi Pundhir and her colleagues, and all the important work they’re doing at the HCLFoundation, please go to Dr. Pundhir, thank you for everything you do. Thank you for this wonderful conversation. I hope to have you back on the Impact one day and continue to hear about your journey at the HCLFoundation and in life. I just want to thank you for you and all your colleagues at HCLTech and HCLFoundation for making the world a better place.

Dr. Pundhir: Such a pleasure interacting with you, John. Totally, I would say the last one hour one I didn’t realize where it went. Thank you for taking me back to childhood memories as well as the hinterlands where we work, and I will remain committed and we’ll continue to do what we can. Thank you. Such a pleasure. Thank you.

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