ENTHUSED by the overwhelming response to the Yes Foundation’s national challenge to make short films on social issues in 101 hours (starting this Independence Day), Prerana Langa, CEO, Yes Foundation, the CSR arm of Yes Bank, tells Raksha Shetty how the campaign ‘makes social change more experiential’ and personally, how the move to CSR has changed her life. Excerpts from the interview:
Your ongoing ‘‘Yes! I am the Change’ filmmaking campaign that invites youth to make 5-minute long films on social issues is having a tremendous response. How has this campaign become the core part of Yes Foundation’s CSR focus?
We’re overwhelmed by the kind of response we are seeing to this initiative this year. An estimated 2 lakh people are participating, we’ve crossed 5000 entries already, so it’s a 1000 percent jump in participation we’re seeing since last year.
"A 19-year-old filmmaker told us the highlight of participating in the film challenge was not meeting Amitabh Bachchan - it was making the actual film itself"
Basically, the challenge gives the participating teams 101 hours to shoot, edit and upload a film on a topic of social change (given by us). Apart from the film, the focus is on the inner transformation that we’re hoping to see that comes about in the making of the film – how their lives have changed by participation. Last year, we had a 19-year-old filmmaker who told us the highlight of the challenge was not meeting Amitabh Bachchan (who felicitated the top filmmaking teams in 2013), but making the film itself and meeting the man on whom he made it (the man was blind, had polio and sold agarbattis to support his parents who used to contribute to social causes). In Mumbai, we had Samir Karnik and his mother who made a movie on HIV-affected little girls who were practically thrown out of their homes. Today, they have grown so close to those children, spending birthdays with them, etc.
The core value at Yes Foundation is to teach people how to fish, in a sense, and create an ecosystem, rather than just giving them the funds to carry out activities. And this is a way of getting a lot of people involved. Our media partner CNN-IBN, who will be showing all the top films, says it is their campaign. Our partner HelpAge has taken similar ownership. All our mentors are actively promoting it. That’s a great thing when you want to create a national movement. The films will also be shown on the BBC community network in the UK through our international media partner Media Trust in the UK.
"These films are meant to be open-source films that become a repository on social issues – they are not our property. Any NGO can use these for their awareness campaigns"
This challenge is certainly high on visibility (like Yes’s other campaigns), but how does that translate into grassroots change in the social sector?
We can do a lot in terms of quantification – we can say we’ve impacted 2 lakh youth, as found by a KPMG audit. But you can’t quantify the inner change in someone. Even personally, my life has changed. I don’t think I can get this level of satisfaction even if you offer me any kind of commercial job. In my previous role, I had set up the ICICI Foundation, and had already worked in microfinance, but it was only when I worked on the ground that I began to appreciate the importance of serving the beneficiaries of most of these programmes. The way these films work is one to create an inner shift. The larger idea of the films is to talk to the youth of India, to inspire change and positive action. No one listens to lectures, the 101-hour challenge is an innovatively designed way of making social change more experiential, a way to action transformation.
Also, these films are meant to be open-source films that become a repository on social issues – they are not our property. Any NGO can use these for their awareness campaigns. This is important because most NGOs do not have access to good communication resources. So they show films about the development sector that are made by UN bodies or international organisations, but people on the ground don’t really relate to those stories. For eg, we’ve seen a very nice film on female foeticide. That’s something any NGO can put their branding on, and use for their purposes.
We know how important communication resources are to take projects forward, this is a way for NGOs across the country to use these films. Similarly, through our tie-up with Give India, a webpage will be created for the film to help generate funds for that particular cause.
"It’s important to have a business case for CSR – how you can expand and fill that gap to grow your industry, or to create new customers"
Yes Bank is a young company, and yet has set up Yes Foundation fairly early in its history. How is the Foundation tied in to Yes Bank’s core businesses?
Setting up this Foundation was definitely not an afterthought. Yes Bank has been the leader in sustainability since it started, with ‘responsible banking’ as one of its strong pillars. As the fourth largest private sector bank, our focus has always been how can we contribute to nation-building, and use the approach of ‘people, planet and profits’ as our basis. We set up the Foundation in December 2012, with the idea to effect social transformation. Our perspective was more inside out, analysing what our strengths are, and focusing on emerging sunrise industries, like renewable energy, education, health, and tourism. A core business focus at Yes Bank has been Bollywood (50 percent of institutional funding in the film industry comes from Yes Bank). So there is a business angle as well to our using media in this latest filmmaking campaign as well.
Especially keeping in mind the new legislation on CSR, what are the other programmes being planned?
Even before the new Companies Act was enforced, we had a realization that NGOs have expertise and passion, but what they lack is business design. Especially among mid-sized NGOs, financial management systems are lacking and there is a need for know-how in building management capacity. So corporates who want to give money often find it frustrating as they are not sure where the money is going, because there are no reporting or audit systems in place.
To address this issue, we are launching a six-month programme called ‘Yes Scale Up’ for NGOs to build effective financial management and project management systems, and develop strong business, governance, and reporting skills.
Our other focus area is women’s safety. We had conducted workshops last year that have had a lot of impact.And now, of course, our ‘Yes! I am the Change’ campaign has seen tremendous response, so we are really heartened and excited by the positive and powerful impact we’ve having in just the last one and a half years of our existence.
What is the way you view this legislation and what is the way forward for companies rushing to comply with the new Act?
"You can’t quantify the inner change in someone. Even personally, my life has changed. I don’t think I can get this level of satisfaction even if you offer me any kind of commercial job"
I view the new Companies Act is very positive and progressive. Any new change always takes time, there is confusion and chaos. My advice to new companies is to very carefully identify from a business point of view what makes sense of you. If your company falls into losses tomorrow, this cannot be the first thing you axe. Board-level people have to see value in these initiatives. So it’s important to have a business case for CSR – how you can expand and fill that gap to grow your industry, or to create new customers. It becomes a matter of studying the brand, business, so that everyone sees great value in this. Today, all our branches are participating, going out to colleges, getting people involved. So CSR can’t be a separate corner office. It has to be part of the system, and integrate with the company.
There is still confusion among companies on how to approach the new norms. How has the banking sector reacted to this?
I feel banking sector has taken the lead, quite a few banks – private sector, foreign banks – in this sector are defining what they want to do. They have been doing microfinance, and other financial services for rural sector, etc. for years, as part of the core business. So they do have a background in it, thought they may not have called it CSR – so I do believe the sector has made great strides.
If you would like to register for the ‘YES! I am the CHANGE 101-Hour National Filmmaking Challenge’, visit www.yesfoundation.in.