The borough of Tower Hamlets in East London has some of the highest multiple indicators of poverty in the city. The borough, home to a number of Asian communities, has a demographic profile that is largely poor, with low educational attainment and high levels of unemployment. Young people within this demographic profile have few opportunities and lack exposure to the right kind of experiences.
When Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) was approached by Tower Hamlets Councillor and Stepney FC honorary president, Abdal Ullah, about the possibility of using its skills and resources to make a difference in the lives of young people in the borough, TCS found it a natural fit with its ethos and commitment to community.
The effort began with the sponsorship of Stepney FC, an East London football club, established in 1993 to engage with disadvantaged young people. The main aim of the club is to provide a positive alternative to passing time on the streets. As the education partner, it is TCS’s goal to affect the young people involved in a positive manner.
Councillor Abdal Ullah, the driving force behind the Safer Neighbourhood Tournament, a part of the East London football calendar, says, “The football team is a catalyst to attract students. Through the comradeship, we guide them towards the kind of opportunities that we had.”
In 2007, a conversation between Councillor Ullah and Malcolm Lane, director of corporate affairs at TCS, led to the idea of taking the under-18 footballers to India to train at the Tata Football Academy in Jamshedpur. But it wasn’t just a free trip; the young people had to earn their place. TCS volunteers coached the students on presentation skills at the TCS office in Grosvenor Place, London, engendering a sense of responsibility and building confidence in them. At the end of the training the boys gave a polished presentation to TCS senior executives in the boardroom on why they wanted to go to India.
And so, 20 boys flew to Jamshedpur to train at the Tata Football Academy. While the trip provided the boys valuable inputs on the game and on developing their skill sets and future opportunities, it also served as an eye-opening experience for the boys when they visited a children’s home near Jamshedpur. The boys also witnessed that the young people at the Tata Football Academy had a far more disciplined and professional approach to their training and games than they had, despite lacking expensive equipment.
Since then the team has gone on to participate in many matches and tournaments, winning several trophies and championships. TCS itself has instituted the TCS Education Achievement Award. In addition, the Stepney Football Club has initiated under-16, under-14 and under-12 teams to spread the message of empowerment to a larger group of young people.
Through this partnership, TCS has opened up a host of new opportunities for the young people at Stepney FC, taking the Tata ethos from the football field into the classroom and the workplace.
Passport to Employability
As part of the Passport to Employability programme, TCS employees volunteer to mentor and coach the students. Every year, nearly 45 TCS employees teach 15 classes in groups of three. More than 95 employees have volunteered their time for this programme since 2008. The number of volunteers has been steadily increasing over the years.
Jane Hodgen, HR lead talent management and corporate sustainability, says, “We try and match volunteers with skills required because we have people who are used to training and others who just want to join in. Our endeavour is to have a reasonable mix of people who have volunteered earlier and those who never have. It’s been very rewarding for our employees.”
Intending to link the programme to the students’ BTech qualification, in 2008 TCS began a series of workshops spread over four days to help 180 students understand the IT, banking and financial industries, hone their business skills and give them an orientation to corporate life. The interaction was taken forward for three days in the second and third years with the same group of students as they moved up through the school.
James Mattingly, the deputy head of the school, has been enthusiastically driving the programme. “Tata’s representatives helped the pupils to develop their confidence and team-building skills. As a result of the programme, 124 pupils, out of 138 who took BTech, have now passed their BTech Work Skills Level 2 which is equivalent to a B grade at GCSE.” The programme that TCS delivers contributes five percent towards their overall exam results.
Anshoo Kapoor, HR business partner and a TCS volunteer, concurs, “Watching them grow and seeing them mature is fantastic. What is particularly moving is when they see you down the hallway and say, ‘Tata, Tata!’”
The cultural dimension added another challenge to the exercise. Numerous cultural nuances and compulsions, arising out of the background of the mostly Bangladeshi students, had to be kept in mind by the TCSers.
Besides opening up the business world to students, TCS also sought to make them aware of ways through which the corporate world could positively affect the community. This was done by inviting students on work placements. Students got a chance to shadow employees in different departments, thus learning about the workings of the entire organisation. They were also given assignments such as defining a vision and developing a strategy for TCS for 2020 and then making presentations to senior managers.
The company’s efforts have evoked the appreciation of participating students, whose reactions ranged from “I loved the sessions and know they will help me in the future” to “Very inspiring” and “It was brilliant”.
The students who have participated in these sessions have not only excelled at school but also gone on to enrol themselves at universities and colleges. Encouraged by the efforts of TCS, the students have begun to aspire for greater things. Their success stories could inspire the entire neighbourhood to dream bigger.