Rajesh Uppal, CIO, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, on the importance of giving back to society and how education can be a tool for social change. By Satyaki Sarkar
Over the years Rajesh Uppal has worn many hats. While being the CIO he’s also taken on key roles in business, logistics, and HR. He was inducted into the Maruti Board as a Executive Director, and in 2012 was asked to head People Development at Maruti. Rajesh has more than 30 years of versatile experience in technology and leveraging this knowledge to enable a change that leads to greater learning. This passion gives his life a purpose and a feeling of self-satisfaction. In this exclusive interview with Bonne Vie, he speaks about helping people educate themselves and become self-sufficient.
“My passion for developing people has been kindling inside me for a long time,” says Rajesh. “So even before heading this function I had started assisting a few government schools as well as vocational girls’ colleges to improve their infrastructure and curriculums. I went on to further improve the education level of government schools so that the needy and unfortunate can be made employable and therefore lead a good life. Currently I am chairing four such education societies. The students are from nearby villages and impoverished areas; most of them haven’t received any formal education, even if they have it’s only up to a certain point. Through our work we want to give them a an opportunity that they otherwise might never have had.”
Focussing on education
“As a CSR initiative for Maruti I volunteered to head a project in Haryana. We adopted a government school that was in horrendous shape, with poor classrooms conditions, no working toilets, and deplorable sanitation facilities. We put in our resources to improve its condition and make it into one of the best in the state. The Government of Haryana eventually acknowledged our work and recognised the school as one of the best in Haryana from an infrastructural and educational perspective. We constructed new, clean toilets, better classrooms, and even got people to volunteer to paint the walls and make the school one that they could be proud of. In the end, in spite of being a government school, it almost seemed to be as brilliant as a private one.”
Supporting vocational institutions
“After our first project we wanted to further ensure that the underprivileged get the right kind of education that would enable them to work and make something of their life. So we also set up a number of vocational colleges in the vicinity to teach local residents skill sets that would help them get jobs, so they could start supporting themselves and their families.
“After that we, as a company, started collaborating with several ITI schools in the country. ITI schools are vocational institutions where people can study after Std 12 to get further training and grooming for their careers. Through this network we have helped out in several states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, UP, Punjab, etc. Today, I am chairman of three ITIs and one teacher-training institute, two of which are for women, while the other is co-ed. I count it as a personal achievement that we have been able to improve the standard of education from deplorable to at least a half-decent at these institutes. Now almost all of them are in pristine condition and people keep coming to develop the best in themselves, as they now have the means and help to do so.”
Working with the government
“After I’ve become the head of education for the company, we have also associated with the government’s Skill India movement. Currently around 1,500 people are being educated under our program, as part of the government initiative. We have taken in people who couldn’t finish their Std 12 and give them two to three years of quality education and training to make them prepared for the world. Our main goal has always been to make each and every one of them employable after the course, so we either employ them ourselves, or we encourage and assist them in finding jobs, and continue to monitor their progress afterwards. We have received immense appreciation and recognition from the government for our work.”
We all need to give back
“I believe that we all have a responsibility to help the underprivileged by educating them, developing their skills, and making them employable. At our level we have an abundance of resources, so that is definitely not an issue. On top of that, today the environment itself is incredibly progressive and focused on developing people and honing their skills, and there’s government aid in all this. Additionally, we are all associated with one industry or the other, whether it is Banking, IT, Healthcare, and so on, and we all constantly need good, skilled manpower. The government has started an excellent scheme to facilitate that work and with such an incredible opportunity available I feel it is our duty to try and give back to society in some way or the other. At the end of the day it is not about the resources or the funds, but the intention and willingness to make a difference.”