For A Sustainable Tomorrow

With a strong vision of sustainable and responsible travel, MakeMyTrip (MMT) Foundation has rolled out many eco-friendly initiatives that support integrated development

As the philanthropic arm of MakeMyTrip, the premier online travel company, MMT Foundation is committed to better the lives of underserved communities, make the planet greener and spread awareness on how to be a mindful traveller. The vision is ‘to be a catalyst for positively impacting destinations, people and the environment by promoting sustainable travel and tourism’.

To achieve this vision, it has created a charter with four pillars, which are: inspiring responsible tourism, helping maintain ecological balance, restoring and preserving heritage, and supporting local communities. Adopting an integrated approach, MMT Foundation has undertaken many projects pan-India that address environmental concerns, educate people on hygienic and green practices, and create stable livelihood opportunities for local communities. The projects are initiated after surveys and a need assessment. “We choose projects in regions where there is high tourism potential, low traffic and not-so-good infrastructure. We want to ensure that people who travel to the wonderful parts of India for times to come see the green geographies,” says Deep Kalra, Group Chairman & Chief Mentor.

“The planning entails finding credible and expert partners, who have the same passion and drive,” says Rajesh Magow, Co-Founder & Group CEO. With a participatory approach, the CSR team along with the partners works on community mobilization and sensitization on the benefits. The local community is the custodian of the initiative and there is handholding and mentoring along the way. The projects are handed over to the trained community leaders, once MMT Foundation is satisfied with the outcome and the impact.

Joyful childhood at Udbhav School, Hyderabad

Maintaining Ecological Balance

The journey of MMT Foundation started in 2015 with a desire to mitigate the impact of climate change. It partnered with Seva Mandir in Rajasthan and planted saplings in the Aravalli region (Rajasamand and Udaipur) year after year. In 2019, it created a milestone by planting a million trees. As the planting continues, with saplings having a survival rate of 80 per cent, it creates a potential for sequestering approximately 5000 tonnes of CO2 every year.

Deep Kalra, Group Chairman & Chief Mentor, shares how the idea translated into action. “For long, we have known that travel leaves a carbon footprint. To mitigate this, we requested our customers to donate Rs 5-Rs 10 for planting trees while booking flights and hotels. This garnered a positive response and now the stakeholders are equally happy with the results.”

This afforestation project has resulted in many benefits. It has helped regenerate the ecology in the region, as livestock grazing had eroded the greens, and also benefited the community in other ways. Narendra Jain, General Secretary, Seva Mandir, explains, “We have planted a million trees till now in partnership with MMT Foundation. We have a goal for each year. This year, we are going to plant one lakh trees. The planting brings a regular supply of fodder, firewood, fruits and grass for the villagers. It’s also a bonding exercise, as the community works on it together.”

Over 6,000 families have benefited from this initiative in the region. Water resource structures have also been upgraded. Natural wells have been expanded. A fence and slope have been made around the wells, so that more water gets stored during the rainy season. This helps recharge ground water and also provides water to the villagers around the year.

Besides the regeneration of natural resources, livelihood has also been generated. Braj Kumar, Sarpanch of Panada village, cites that youth have found employment in fields and no longer search for work outside the region. Families no longer need to buy grass and fodder for their livestock from the neighbouring cities and Gujarat. Nathulal Garasia of the same village is happy for there are abundant staple wild berries like goonda, kair for his livestock. Women, too, participate in this plantation drive by cutting the grass, and distributing the stacks equally within the community.

The success of this initiative changed the passage for MMT Foundation. It was formally established in 2015 and a clear charter with four pillars was put in place. These became the guiding force for future projects.

Preserving Heritage

Upskilling young women and preserving the ancient art of Kashmiri Tilla and Crewel embroidery, MMT Foundation started the Khawaab-e-Tabeer project in Boniyar, Baramulla district. Under this, girls from the economically weaker sections are taught traditional Kashmiri embroidery, Crewel and Tilla, in the secure premises of the Chinar 9 Jawan Club under the aegis of the Indian Army.

To mobilise and sensitise the community, MMT Foundation partnered with Flow Cloud Technology and the Indian Army. Brig. BS Phogat, who heads the Army unit in Boniyar, says that this initiative is helping in preserving the cultural heritage of the region. Adding to this, Captain Reza Khalid says that empowering the youth and local communities is also an important part of being in the armed forces.

Around 60 rural women are being taught the local craft, which was fading out as artisans do not find the right markets in the strife-torn region. Most of the girls are school dropouts, living in small, secluded communities, with their villages being close to the Line of Control

The students are provided with all the material—threads and cloth. The girls undergo theory as well practical classes and have to give an examination too.

The project is a realisation of a financially independent future for the young women and connects them to mainstream society. All of 18, Mahreen is confident that she can lead a better life after mastering Crewel embroidery. “Crewel work is done on shawls and home décor items. Tilla is mostly done on phirans and is part and parcel of the wedding trousseau,” she says. Like her teachers, Mehmooda who teaches Tilla and Masrat who teaches Crewel, she hopes to make her own trousseau and run a coaching centre. “This is a lifelong skill, giving us livelihood throughout,” says Masrat, who made her own wedding trousseau.

On the anvil are plans to form Self Help Groups, create market linkages with the help of the Army, teach them about e-commerce and empower these rural women to set up micro-businesses. “We will popularise the work on social media, and also participate in local exhibitions,” say Majid Boniyal and Shiraz, the founders of Flow Cloud Technology.

Children relish the mid-day meal;

Supporting Local Communities

A cold desert mountainous region, Ladakh is situated at 11,000-14.000 feet above sea level. The stunning landscape witnesses extreme climate conditions with temperatures ranging from -30°C to +30°C. As the Himalayas create a rain shadow here, there is little rainfall, resulting in bare vegetation. The winter is long and harsh with heavy snowfall in some parts and the region is cut off from the rest of the world. All these factors present major challenges for the natives, especially for the communities living in remote parts. There is lack of steady livelihood opportunities, disruption in education, as the communities are homebound during the winter. They need to stock up on grains and keep enough savings to survive for six months without work. Water scarcity and lack of infrastructure add to the discomfort. Ladakh is sparsely populated, with density being in cities like Kargil and Leh, hence regular work during the summer is also a challenge for the marginalized communities.

For the short span of summer, the pristine environment of Ladakh attracts adventurous tourists. Its indigenous culture and exotic flora and fauna also pull conservationists and curious travellers.

Addressing the challenges faced by the natives, MMT Foundation partnered with World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India) to create indigenous homestays and eco-cafes. The goal is to work towards the conservation of fragile Himalayan ecosystems by reaching out to specific groups, along with promoting community-based tourism and creating alternate livelihood options.

The Foundation involved the Zila Parishads and village leaders to identify the beneficiaries. Training programmes were held for capacity building, waste collection and segregation. Kitchen gardening, compost making, dairy farming were encouraged. The beneficiaries were also given training on hospitality and aided with infrastructure such as construction of toilets, giving dinnerware, furniture and other amenities to kickstart the operations. They were discouraged to opt for single-use plastic products, and educated on plastic pollution.

The homestay and eco-cafés owners were also trained as naturalists, storytellers and guides. MMT Foundation believes in creating destination leaders who can offer culturally immersive experiences along with keeping the environment healthy. “The guides offer nature treks for tourists and highlight the importance of preserving local flora and fauna,” says Ravneesh Klair, Programme Officer, WWF-India.

Nargis Bano, her husband Ahmed Ali and their four children are very happy with the new found livelihood as proud homestay owners. They live in an indigenous stone and mud home in Dras, which is the second coldest place on the planet. Ahmed Ali used to be the sole bread earner, working as a daily wager, sometimes leading people on eco-trails or working as labourer until his wife got training for the homestay. “Now that we have a new income source, we can do more things. Sometimes, photographers book for the entire month to see the endangered Himalayan brown bear. As I have been trained as a naturalist also, I take them for trails where they can take photographs of the bear. I can save for the winter. My children can go to school regularly and there are more opportunities for their progress,” says Ahmed Ali.

An added benefit is the exposure of the community to other cultures. The children learn more about the world beyond their homes, even becoming more aware of the richness of their surroundings and helping the parents in this endeavour towards a better life.

While Bano was trained to run a homestay, Bashir Ahmed from Matayein was trained to run an eco-café. Matayein is the first village in Ladakh when entering via Kashmir and his eco-café is strategically located on the main road. The 50-year-old used to run a nondescript tea stall, until he became the owner of the indigenous stone and mud café, supported by MMT Foundation. This has given him a standing in the community, made him more confident and brought a change in his income. “I used to only sell tea earlier, so the income was lesser. Now, we make our own namkeen, samosas, Momos. We also serve Maggi and biscuits,” he says. A dry toilet was constructed at the back of his cafe, as the region faces water scarcity

More beneficiaries of this project have homestays in Dras and Sankoo, and eco-cafes in Mulbekh, Alchi and Tangtse.

Children relish the mid-day meal;

Integrated Sustainable Tourism Development

The Andaman Islands are a traveller’s dream destination. However, the environmental degradation caused by irresponsible tourism threatens the ecology of this biodiverse region.

To safeguard the fragile ecology and maintain the clean environs, MMT Foundation launched an Integrated Development Initiative at Neil Island. With a participatory approach, it connected to hoteliers, local community and authorities and began a cleaning drive in March 2020. In just two hours, over 500kg of trash was collected, highlighting the need to make this a regular endeavour.

Segregated waste bins have been placed across the island and manpower has been deployed for maintenance. Florida-based Tejinder was pleased to see dustbins at Bharatpur beach, the best beach on the island. “The locals even pick up trash thrown by tourists and put them in dustbins,” he says.

As Bharatpur Beach did not have any toilet facilities, a containerised public convenience unit was set up. This contains toilets, showers, changing and feeding rooms, lockers, mobile charging points. It is powered through solar energy and has an effluent treatment plant with environment-friendly technology. It also includes a sanitary pad incinerator and receives a footfall of over 150 tourists a day. It is a self-sustainable pay and use facility for tourists. The facility is maintained by the community, who keep the income generated from the use of the container.

Swati, a tourist from Chandigarh, says, “Usually, I hesitate to use public toilets but this one was so clean. We really appreciate this facility that is lacking in most outdoor places.”

The Foundation has also installed three water ATMs at the harbour, market and at the natural bridge at Lakshmanpur Beach. “We partnered with Tata Chemicals for a detailed study on the level and quality of groundwater. And it was found to be potable,” says Kalra. The water is tested every month. The ATMs too are maintained by the community women who keep the income generated from this.

“MMT Foundation is also distributing titanium BPA free reusable bottles as a souvenir for every tourist. These can be refilled with potable water at the free recharge stations in hotels or at the water ATMs,” says Girish Arora, Partner, Seashell Hotels and Resorts, & President Hoteliers Association of Andaman & Nicobar, and Chairman, The Habitat Institute.

The Foundation also undertakes awareness activities, campaigns and capacity building sessions for tour guides, cab drivers and other tourism stakeholders from time to time.

Zero Waste Destination

Sahasradhara, the thousandfold therapeutic sulphur springs, is a prime tourist destination in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, attracting thousands of visitors daily. Besides being used by holidaymakers, the city of Dehradun also gets 60 -70 per cent of its drinking water from these waterfalls.

With a line-up of shops and eateries around the waterfalls, the area is a hub of activity. But it also became a locality laden with litter and subsequent health hazards.

Aligning the local bodies and communities in a Swachhata Abhiyan, MMT Foundation partnered with Waste Warriors Society to execute a waste management project at Sahasradhara. The goal was to eliminate the consumption of single-use plastic and inculcate behavioural change. Many awareness activities were conducted to reign in the message of safe and clean waste disposal.

“We deployed green workers to clean the area. Over 45 dustbins were installed in the vicinity. The green workers conduct door-to-door waste collection and segregate the waste,” says Naveen Kumar Sadana, Lead-Outreach & Advocacy, Waste Warriors, Dehradun. The segregated waste is sent to a designated disposal unit in Dehradun. Dry waste is stored for recycling while wet waste is composted. Over the years, close to 72 MT of waste has been collected.

The clean healthy surroundings and beautiful environs have made everyone happy. Naseema, Gram Pradhan Dhanaula, Dehradun, and the villagers are glad that there is no stink and dirt around their homes. A clean location also attracts more shoppers, says Anoop Payal, President, Vypaar Mandal.

The project has also been replicated at Kempty Falls, Mussoorie. En route Yamunotri, here too waste levels are at a disproportionate level and the urgency to keep the area clean and pollution free is high.

Empowering All
Yuvaraj Srivastava
Group Chief Human Resource Officer, MakeMyTrip

How does the team remain motivated?
The team is self-driven by the passion for doing good to the society. It is this mindset mingled with social commitment that keeps the team motivated. Within different departments, people volunteer their services as mentors if they believe in a cause. These volunteers form the core CSR group within the organization and their suggestions are valued.

How do you ensure that the beneficiaries remain self-sustained once the project deadline is over?
This is one of the biggest parameters for identifying the project. All of our projects are based on building community institutions for long term sustainability and participation of state and non-state stakeholders right from the beginning. The selected partners should be strong in execution, have the ability to engage the community and stakeholders and share the passion quotient. For instance, the waste management project at Sahasradhara, Dehradun, we trained and aligned every stakeholder so that they realized the importance of hygiene and cleanliness. This may take a couple of years but we don't leave the project unless it becomes fully sustainable.

What new projects do you have in the pipeline?
We are working on rural and community-based tourism projects through homestays in Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and other destinations in North East with Tata Trusts and Ministry of Tourism. We are also working with the armed forces in Jammu & Kashmir for skilling the youth and women in embroidery. We are planning to take on some good projects under ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme. We intend to take rural tourism to the next level.

United for Development

What is the playbook when you sign up for a cause?
We are continuously evolving in CSR. The focus is on meaningful projects that make a long-lasting impact. The four pillars clearly define the causes we focus on. We pick and choose from environmental concerns, support local communities and sustainable tourism, and preserve heritage. The team focuses a cause that falls under one of the four pillars. Then they research and evaluate the cause, list the possible outcomes and impact. It is important to have a detailed analysis on how the resources will be generated and how implementation is done. The solution lies in zeroing in on a partner, who has the capability, credibility and passion.

What challenges do you face in these endeavours?
We have a flexible approach. We keep room for unprecedented micro events. Sometimes, the plans need to be tweaked, sometimes we need a different set of skilled people, so we look for new talent. However, when it comes to natural calamities or a humanitarian crisis, then we are always ready to focus on the need of the hour. During the pandemic, the need of the hour was to save lives, save the community. So, we stalled all the other projects and put efforts into providing relief measures.

Besides the core team, how do the other employees contribute to the CSR initiatives?
We have a strong value system within the organization. We invite experts to talk about sustainable and responsible tourism and the impact of climate change. There have been panel discussions as well. There is an exchange of ideas and information within departments as well. For instance, the ‘destination holiday’ package team is familiar with all the destinations and the geographical issues. They share their knowledge with the CSR team. These interlinked contributions make a huge difference when the projects are executed.

“There are two major aspects of the interventions: how do you generate resources and how do you implement. The solution lies in finding credible partners “
Rajesh Magow
Co-Founder & Group CEO, MakeMyTrip

A sustainable dream

How do you see sustainability and different kinds of tourism?
Sustainability is critical for travel and tourism. We can see what has happened to beautiful hill stations such as Shimla or Mussoorie, which are now seeing water shortages and other issues due to high tourism and low sustainable solutions. We have spent a lot of time learning about agri-tourism. Millennials, today, are unaware of what happens on a farm. I feel it’s important to know all this as we are an agrarian country. With knowledge, we are in a better position to augment the income of a farmer.
If you see adventure tourism, then there are many camps near Rishikesh for whitewater rafting. We work with camps, who are mindful of the environmental impact. We see how they deal with waste, are they using bio-waste toilets and what are the other eco-friendly practices in place.

How do you pick and choose your projects?
We cherry pick our projects, but our projects will typically be in areas which have a high tourism potential, low traffic and not-so-good infrastructure. We want to ensure that people who travel to the wonderful parts of India for times to come see the green geographies.
To make a change, you need to attack the root cause, as different areas have different needs. Environmental concerns are our focus area. In Ladakh, we partnered with Sonam Wangchuk’s Himalayan Institute of Alternatives for planting trees using a Japanese technique, Miyawaki method, to prevent soil erosion and flash floods.

How do you measure the impact of your projects?
The positive feedback about our projects shows improvement in income and livelihood of the communities. Every bottle refilled is a bottle saved. For tree planting, a study shows us how much carbon footprint is offset, how much oxygen comes from those trees.

What more would you like to do?
My dream is to make the entire archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar Islands single-use plastic free. We also want to go deeper into Ladakh and Kashmir with eco-friendly practices. My trip to Gulmarg was wonderful, but it was distressing to see the waste. We want to work with local governments and the tourism department there.

What have been the learnings seeing the best practices across the globe?
My recent trip to South America was an eye opener. I visited the Galapagos Islands, the archipelago in Ecuador, with my family. This is where Charles Darwin propounded his theory on the evolution of species. And I observed how strict they are with their norms. The islands are uninhabited and you are not allowed to leave behind ‘anything;’. Everyone is given an aluminium water bottle for the trip. There is not a single speck of plastic. There are no toilets either. I saw a fascinating refill pod in South America, which has a digital counter display. It displaysyou how many bottles are saved every time you fill a bottle.
I stayed in an eco-resort in the Amazon where there was no waste pollution. But the eco-lodges were old. They didn’t have power for 12 hours one day. I suggested they switch to solar power instead of the generator. And they said they were working on it. So, we can learn and teach at the same time, that’s the beauty of travel. I feel we need to be as strict on enforcing the laws to keep our fragile spaces pristine. We need to police ourselves and each other for a green future.

“We need to be strict on enforcing the laws to keep our fragile spaces pristine. We need to police ourselves and each other for a green future “
Deep Kalra
Group Chairman & Chief Mentor, MakeMyTrip

1.. The afforestation project has resulted in many benefits. It has helped regenerate the ecology and livelihood. It brings in a regular supply of fodder, firewood, fruits and grass
2.. Khawaab-e-Tabeer is a realisation of a financially independent future for the young women. Over 60 rural women have been trained
3.. Addressing the challenges faced by the marginalised communities in Ladakh, MMT Foundation partnered with WWF-India to create indigenous homestays and eco-cafes
4.. To safeguard the fragile ecology and maintain the clean environs, an Integrated Development Initiative has been launched at Neil Island
5.. Aligning the local bodies and communities in a Swachhata Abhiyan, MMT Foundation has executed a waste management project at Sahasradhara, Dehradun