Empowering Communities, Enabling Digital Inclusion

Deepak Prabhu Matti Global Head, Employee Volunteering Program (Outreach), Cognizant
February 21, 2019


How Outreach started, to where it has come today?

To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” and that is exactly what we live by at Cognizant’s employee volunteering program, Outreach. Cognizant launched the Outreach program in 2007, when Cognizant reached $ 2 billion in revenues. The aim was to provide a platform for channelizing the desire of Cognizant employees in making a difference. Since then, the momentum towards structured and strategic volunteering in diverse areas of education, environment, community welfare and pro bono has grown progressively. Since inception, Outreach has recorded participation of over 150,000 volunteers clocking over 2.8 million hours of volunteering that impact the lives of more than 600,000 lives in 29 countries, making us the largest corporate volunteering initiatives as described by Business Times Singapore.[1]

Outreach operates on a bottom-up approach to its volunteering programs. At our offices and across key client locations globally, Cognizant employees are organized as Outreach Councils, representing the business unit or geography they belong to.  The councils are supported by a central program management office, the Outreach PMO, which enables, supports and facilitates the work of the Councils. The Councils engage with beneficiary institutions on a long-term basis to cater to their needs. They execute their activities in a systematic manner, forging new steps towards bringing about a transformational change to the beneficiary.


Key Initiatives: Outreach

Breaking the digital divide in education in remote areas of the nation

All activities of Cognizant Outreach in schools and colleges we associate with in India are directed towards achieving the Vision of 100^4. Herein, we are aiming to help 100 partner schools achieve a 100% pass percentage, followed by a 100% graduation rate, and providing employability skills to 100% of these graduates.

Closely aligning our core expertise for the greater good, virtual classrooms were introduced in 2017 in remote areas where in-person volunteering is difficult. Under this program, volunteers interact with students over Skype, leveraging the power of technology to make global exposure available to students in rural areas. Volunteers in Chennai supported in the identification of schools in the Virudhunagar district of Tamil Nadu, where the virtual classes can be conducted.

Since July 2017, the initiative has seen a rise in the number of schools covered, from 2 to 10, with more than 52 employees across the US involved in helping students between grades six and nine. So far, 2,258 students have benefitted from 456 sessions in 10 schools in Tamil Nadu, conducted for the academic year 2017-2018. Considerable improvement has been seen in these schools, where students are now able to converse in English and excel in Computer Science.

“The entire effort is to ensure that children are motivated enough to attend schools and make the interaction memorable and fascinating for them” says Kavitha Pandian, the US based employee who was instrumental in operationalizing the effort in the schools of Virudhnagar district.

Getting motivated by the effectiveness of the program, the Classes on Cloud initiative has now taken a bigger turn, with partnership with non-profit e-Vidyaloka, where we intend to engage over 40 rural classrooms across multiple Indian states, to enable Cognizant employees take virtual learning sessions across 5th-8th standard government school students, from their office desk/home.

Volunteers bridging the distance to teach the students in remote rural school via ‘Virtu(E)al Teaching’ classes


Restoring the water bodies of urban areas

Cognizant’s Go Green Initiative was started to contribute to the cause of environmental sustainability. As stewards of the environment, we’re working to conserve energy, reduce waste, and build awareness on environmental issues.

A notable effort in this direction, is the volunteering activities dedicated for the restoration of the Neknampur Lake in Hyderabad, India. Facing the brunt of urbanization, the 400-year-old Neknampur Lake was polluted by overgrown weeds and various effluents mixing with its waters. Partnering with a local non-profit Dhruvansh, Cognizant Outreach volunteers undertook clean-up activities every weekend, wading through water and clearing the debris. They also helped create small ‘floating islands’ of rich plant species to help absorb the hazardous chemicals present in the water. The lake is now the largest ‘Floating Treatment Wetland’ in the country.

“It is really appreciable that Cognizant volunteers not only maintain timings, but also take every task seriously at the lake. With their regularity, we have been able to complete many of the initiatives at the lake,” says Madhulika, an activist with Dhruvansh.

Volunteers transforming the Neknampur Lake in Hyderabad, one weekend at a time


Enabling a level playing field for people with disability

Cognizant Outreach’s involvement with Paralympic sports began with an aim to support and elevate the sport in the country, and to help Paralympic athletes get the recognition they deserve.

One outstanding tale of commitment and skills transmission has been displayed by our long-time volunteer Thayu. Cognizant employee Thayumana Subramaniam (Thayu), a basketball pro, learnt the tough wheelchair variant of the sport to help physically challenged youth, break barriers. Participating in WBFI’s training camps, he became a certified coach in wheelchair basketball. Volunteering to coach the Chennai city Wheelchair Basketball team, he led them to the third place in the National Championships for two years. Graduating to become the Assistant Coach of the India Under-23 team, he guided the team on its first international tournament in Thailand. Thayu’s passion saw him elevated as one of the coaches of the Indian national wheelchair basketball team. In the recently conducted international tournament in Beirut, the players coached by him won the bronze medal for the second consecutive time, leaving us very gratified.

Outreach volunteers assist para-athletes across India to help them achieve their dreams by coaching them in various sports


How Outreach is a real-time influencer in this area?

The success of the Outreach program is largely because of the unique way we are structured—where the volunteers are the real leaders who have made it what it is today. Our employees worldwide have designed and driven, large-scale bottom-up transformative impact. Cognizant’s employees volunteer all through the week, after work hours, and during weekends and vacations to participate in experiences that are accessible, stimulating, enriching, and fun. There have been multiple instances of employees influencing their family and social networks in joining volunteering efforts, thus raising social consciousness and impact.

What sets Cognizant apart is the commitment towards sustainable impact for the volunteering projects driven by employees, that involves taking up of impact indicators, before and after intervention to assess the transformation created.

How Outreach is aiming to make a positive difference, with matching employees to the causes that matter to them?

Cognizant believes in enabling employees to realise their social aspirations even beyond the organisation’s volunteering opportunities. Employees are encouraged to be associated with other grassroot organisations working on causes, they believe in. Cognizant also recognizes ex-employees who are continuing to volunteer in different capacities. In 2017 all former Cognizant employees who continue to do exemplary social work were specially recognized during the 10th anniversary celebrations of Outreach.

Moreover, Cognizant never mandates volunteering opportunities for the interested employees, but encourages employees to look for causes around them which match with their skillsets, interest and time, empowering them with regular trainings and workshops to drive the efforts in an end to end manner.

[1] https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/hub/champions-of-good-2018/part-of-the-job