For A Better World
Amazon India is strengthening communities now and for future generations with its innovative social impact programmes
In the post-pandemic world, where education and healthcare are just a click away, the e-commerce giant is playing a pivotal role in implementing socially inclusive CSR initiatives. “Our focus is on three components: empowering future generations, strengthening communities where Amazon is present physically and enabling our employees to give back to the larger society,” says Anita Kumar, India CSR Lead.
Besides a network of expert partners, the people working in Amazon also pool in their resources such as skills, knowledge sharing to give a boost to the underprivileged and underserved communities in myriad ways.
Amazon Future Engineer (AFE) A Zila Parishad (ZP) government school at Nande, Pune, is decoding next-gen technologies such as Cloud Computing and Python in a novel way. “The model computer science lab has become a space for innovation, problem solving and creativity,’’ says Vrushali Manoj Bhandari, Principal, ZP School, Nande, Pune. “Students tend to become critical thinkers as computer education becomes a tool for expression of thoughts and logical thinking.”
Nothing seems impossible to young minds. Gayatri Athavale, studying in class VII, developed a `Google like’ chat bot along with her classmates during Covid-19. Seeing a lot of traffic jams and accidents while travelling in the city, Sidhi and Rajashree, both studying in Class VII from this Zila Parishad school, designed a traffic light system using Raspberry Pi and algorithms. A gaming enthusiast, Archana Thakur of Class VII, developed a new game called Catch the Duck.
Launched in India in September 2021, AFE is Amazon’s global flagship programme on computer science education, enabling the children in underserved communities to become creators of technology rather than just consumers of technology. Since its inception, this childhood-to-career programme has benefited 100,000 students across nine states and one more state will be added soon. AFE has become a lifeline for students who aspire to have a career in technology but don’t have access to this education.
There are three interventions in this programme: Explore, Learn and Build. “Explore fulfils the curiosity of the children who are probably seeing computers for the first time. They can see what computer science can achieve and also accomplish small coding challenges. For the second intervention, Learn, we have a global partnership with code.org. Here, we enable both content and teacher development in government schools, through our extensive non-profit ecosystem. We currently have 10 strong partners across states who work in close alignment with both the state and the central government in schools. Under Build, we help kids transition from education to work. We have given Amazon Future Engineer scholarships to 200 girls till now,” says Kumar.
To implement and take the programme to more students, Amazon India partnered with Leadership for Equity (LFE), an organization that promotes Computer Science (CS) and fosters new skills like critical thinking and problem-solving for underserved children in government schools of Maharashtra. Says Madhukar Banuri, Founder and CEO, LFE, “The idea is to create district models with ideas, demonstration schools, plus a combination of teacher training programmes. Through our workshops, we hope to instill in students a greater confidence about exploring technology and learning about it.”
LFE has also partnered with Pi Jam Foundation, which equips children and educators with access to affordable technology and enhanced quality of computer science education for school implementation and content creation.
Talking about the success of the programme, Nikita Chandrashekar Ranawade, Sarpanch, Nande, says, “After the mid-day meal programme, computer education has started attracting students especially in the age group of 11- 14 years.”
association with ZP Pune, 15 low-cost model Raspberry Pi-based computer science labs have been set up in 15 model schools in 13 rural blocks of Pune. “Around 2,694 children, which include 1,391 boys and 1,303 girls, from grades V-VII are learning problem solving, block-based Coding and Python language through this intervention,” says Sumant Deore, Instructor, Pi Jam Foundation.
Along with this, the programme also aims to empower teachers with computer science coding curriculum and pedagogy at scale by Teacher Certification Programme in association with the District Institute of Education & Training (DIET), Pune. The programme has covered seven states since the launch in September 2021 and has reached 18,000 students across 200 schools. “We have set up physical computing labs in 15 schools and trained over 500 teachers to create an ecosystem that allows every student the opportunity to learn computer science,’’ adds Dr Shobha Khandare, Principal, DIET, Pune.
Teachers of government Marathi medium schools of PMC, PCMC and ZP Pune are a part of this training programme. A total of 576 teachers joined the course and learned about Design Thinking, block-based coding using the fundamental computer science concepts to make creative projects integrating the subjects they teach.
A ‘CodeMitra App’, a mobile-first and open access computer science platform, is also on the anvil. According to Ayush Prasad (IAS), CEO, Zila Parishad, Pune, AFE has stepped up innovative ideas in computer learning. “We observe an improved problem-solving skillset among students from the rural schools.”
With the pandemic bringing the digital divide in education into sharper focus, Delivering Smiles is bridging the divide by giving tablets, laptops and setting up digital infrastructure to make education accessible to all. During 2021, the Delivering Smiles campaign impacted over 140,000 underprivileged young people through partnerships with over 80 NGOs across 26 states. In Maharashtra, Amazon delivered 2,500+ devices, across Pune, Mumbai, Raigad, and Hingoli, with the help of 12 NGO partners to impact 19,000+ lives.
In Delhi, Amazon India has collaborated with Katha, a well-known NGO, for one of its kind 300M Citizen Challenge, which can be accessed on katha.org. There are 300 million children in school, out of which 150 million are in pre-primary and primary classes. Almost 50 per cent children can’t read at the grade level. “Looking at the issue of children, aged between 5-10, who are unable to read well, Katha felt the need of developing a platform of inclusive learning spaces where we could create the story pedagogy through our colourful, illustrated books, and develop small courses,” says Parvinder Kaur, Executive Director, Katha. “We even train facilitators on how to use the portal, both online and offline.” The portal is a multi-language activity story-based learning platform. The challenge is designed for scale.
Through its many partner agencies and NGOs, Katha reaches out to more and more children. Well-known NGOs such as Salaam Balak Trust (SBT) and Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM) have access to the teaching and learning modules of the portal.
Children can listen to stories, watch the animation, have fun learning with dance, counsellors also provide skill development for holistic and all-around development. "Children here need love and care. Many are in their adolescence and often ask about their anatomy or sometimes about geography, as they haven't seen the outside world. Digital learning is a better way to answer their queries as it is colourful, musical and makes for easy learning,” says a senior counsellor at SBT, New Delhi.
SPYM has been provided with e-learning gadgets to run its ‘Bhiksha Nahin Shiksha’ project in the government-run shelters for the homeless. Facilitators like Nasreen, who teach homeless children, rag pickers, street children, find this an apt way for children to gain knowledge. “Once, the parents leave for work, these children have no other engagement at these night shelters. Earlier, they used to help their parents with rag picking work, or even used to beg at the traffic signals but with this fun way of reading and learning, we have seen the numbers increasing at this centre. Also, they look forward to touching the gadgets, use colourful crayons for pictorial learning,” she adds.
Young Anjali is among those who stay at this shelter. “I like the musical games, the storytelling and colouring with these crayons. I don’t need to return this set so I am happy as I can draw something on the walls here after my class,” she smiles.
Through Katha, Amazon India has also provided smart devices such as Kindle and Alexa for seamless online education. Young Anita is happy as she browses for stories on her Kindle at Katha Lab School, New Delhi. “It is a convenient way of reading and I just need to click on the word to know the meaning.”
“For teachers, especially from the primary wing, Alexa is the best gadget for the class. It recognises animal names and tells the sounds they make,” says a primary wing teacher.
Not only are children from underserved communities benefiting, differently abled ones also have access to education now. For this Amazon India partnered with CBR NETWORK, a community-based rehabilitation charitable trust, in Bengaluru. They established a village resource centre for inclusive education at Karlamangala village, Ramnagar district, Bengaluru. “We have adapted the learning station to Indian conditions to ensure the training for assistive technology will enable children who are differently abled,” says Dr Indumathi Rao, Regional Adviser, CBR Network. This multi-utility learning station for inclusive schools is based on ‘The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act’, National Education Policy 2020, and Sustainable Development Goal 4 that focuses on the need to enhance the quality of learning.
The centre is equipped with Alexa, laptops, books, teaching and learning material and indigenous games and about 500 children can benefit from the resource centre every year. At the resource centre there is a mix of rural children, with some who are differently abled. Pick-up cards based on learning outcomes are placed at the learning centre. The children ask Alexa first, Google next and finally the teacher, and this approach has come in handy to reinforce several concepts. This has also helped children pick up English, build on vocabulary and develop sensitivity towards peers. To limit screen time, the children spend an hour in the facility and then play and listen to stories from an older villager. Nandini, a class VIII student who aspires to be a doctor, says, “I have learned a lot about grammar and can also use a computer after coming here.” Likewise, Tirumalesh Gowda, a class VII student, who wants to be a policeman, says, “We use Alexa to ask our questions, and also improve our language skills. Alexa also tells us jokes.” Hamsa, a teacher from a neighbouring village, says, “It is great to see how children are able to expand their thinking capabilities and improve English using the laptops and Alexa.”
In order to empower parents and, especially, mothers of differently abled children, the team at CBR NETWORK developed an Indianised, rural version of Portage, that is available in different languages. At the Srushti Montessori House of Children, in Jayanagar, Bengaluru, a physical learning centre, a mixed group of children is taught to improve motor skills while they learn in an inclusive atmosphere. The concept is simple: whatever a school can do, a home can do better. Vineeth Nagarju, Founder, mSpark App says, “We work in collaboration with CBR NETWORK and use the Portage to provide developmental solutions to children with special needs. We have established a specific structure to educate and train parents to help their children. An individualised education plan is drawn up for each child and a set of weekly activities are assigned to the child as part of his/her curriculum.”
Centre Head Kalpana Prasad adds, “We imbibe Portage and merge it with Montessori as the activities go hand-in-hand and it has worked very well over the last 13 years. At least 25 children have been able to go to mainstream schools over these years.”
Suma Sastry, a trainer, and special educator, says, “We have seen significant improvement in children as they pick up the required skill levels.”
At Banashankari in Bengaluru, the International Resource Centre on Inclusive Education (IRIEC), a physical resource centre developed by CBR, has books, videos, virtual classroom lectures, FAQ on disability, curriculum for training personnel for CBR, global and national policies, assistive devices models and facilities for researchers, media, universities and schools to use the library. “We had a shortage of information on disabling conditions and this section is useful for parents, anganwadi workers and teachers as well as healthcare personnel. Within IRIEC, ASK T.I.N.A. is a section where we work towards inclusion and understand disability rights and provisions and rights of persons with disabilities. V.E.D.A TALKS are virtual talks on education, usually held monthly and we have a special workshop to enable parents and teachers. The digital library has over 5,000 books and is a single window for accessing information. IRIEC will be made available in more Indian languages. We also have a feature called Atmanirbhar Samaj Nirman to connect trained people with future employers, post their resumes, and schools and hospitals post their requirements. IRIEC has a huge training portal where people can access training programmes online. This is a digital revolution in the field of disability,” concludes Dr Rao.
The multi-utility learning station concept has been well received by the Department of Education, Karnataka, and has been included as one of the modules in training 25,000 teachers. The Department of Education also has plans to establish 74 resource centres in different districts in Karnataka.
The second wave of Covid-19 created havoc in the healthcare system with choked hospitals and lack of oxygen supplies across hospitals. This is when Mission Vayu provided much-needed relief. Amazon partnered with several industry players and NGOs to give 10,000 oxygen concentrators, BiPAP machines and ventilators to 450+ hospitals across the country. Besides medical equipment, the organisation also gave hot meals to 1,400 crematorium workers daily for 30 days. Among the many recipient hospitals was Dr. Mehta’s Hospitals Chennai. It received 20 oxygen concentrators, five BiPAP machines and three anaesthesia workstations. Started in 1933, this hospital is one of the oldest private medical institutions in Chennai and has a legacy of treating over four generations. Incidentally, the hospital has treated around 4,500 Covid-19 patients in t he wards and around 500 Covid-19 patients in the ICU. It conducts around 120 pediatric surgeries a month.
Dr Dhenesh R, Deputy Medical Administrator, Head Anaesthesia & Medicolegal Consultant, Dr. Mehta's Hospitals, explains, “During the second wave of Covid-19, oxygen was the mainstay of Covid-19 pneumonia treatment, but there were limited means of delivering oxygen to the needy patients. The oxygen concentrators, BiPAP machines that came through Mission Vayu helped a lot, as we were able to help everyone." In fact, the hospital has two branches, and the equipment has helped treat more patients. All the beds in the hospital are oxygen beds. High-end oxygen delivery machines like ventilators, HFNC, BIPAP are usually 10-15 per cent of hospital beds. These beds were increased in Dr Mehta's Hospitals by converting the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit and creating new ICU, thus adding almost 60 critical care beds to the system across both the units. While oxygen concentrators can be used anywhere and can supplement additional oxygen requirements, BiPAP machines are smart devices that can deliver oxygen to critically ill lung disease patients. “With this equipment, we can even help extreme neonates, new-born babies who need surgery, as we can control and limit the safe levels of anaesthesia,” says Dr Dhenesh. The hospital also trains healthcare workers through their Healthcare Sector Skill Council (HSSC). For Amazon, the journey of empowerment lies in scaling and touching more and more lives.
Please tell us about Amazon's CSR vision.
One of Amazon's leadership principles is around the broad responsibility we have as a corporate towards our planet, people and communities around us. Young people from underserved, underprivileged communities are our primary focus. And we support them through our education initiatives such as Amazon Future Engineer. For strengthening communities, we have been working on disaster relief for many years globally, as Amazon has one of the fastest delivery networks. In India, among other regions, we ensured that people affected by the Assam floods received relief material within 72 hours. We pre-position relief kits in different locations so that when there is a disaster, we can quickly deliver it through our logistics network. We piloted an employee-led small grants programme, where employees apply for small grants of Rs 3-5 lakh for non-profit organisations and work specifically on device donations. Apart from directly donating devices through our ‘Delivering Smiles’ programme, employees helped us reach over 140,000 students across rural locations.
What has been the response to your projects?
We believe that the impact goes beyond numbers. We have detailed metrics on how we measure the impact of the interventions, not just the reach of the intervention. For the ‘Amazon Future Engineer’ programme, we measure the student’s intent to take up computer science and the amount of content they have consumed. We check how their learning outcomes changed; how many teachers have been enabled. We do both quantitative and qualitative measurement of our work. Only for Covid-relief, we did measure the number of devices given to the hospitals and called many hospitals to ask about the usage and adoption.
Besides the core team, are the employees of Amazon also involved in any way with the projects such as volunteering and mentoring?
We have a couple of volunteering events which run through the year centrally. Class Chats is where certified volunteers give role model talks, where they talk about their journeys in the tech industry to children. We also run mentorship from high school to college students who are getting into work and help them navigate the transition of education to work. Amazon has hundreds of teams who run their own voluntary initiatives. We enable them through playbook kits, sometimes some small funding to help with their logistics.
What are the major challenges you face in executing the projects?
We are in the early stages in our philanthropy journey, so we are still learning. The focus is on bringing our unique experiences, technology, skills and logistics together. A key challenge is primarily the scale and complexity of India as the number of people we are trying to reach through our programmes is so huge. Our focus is on building scalability and identifying those scalable solutions becomes a challenge.
What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
We are looking to learn from our experiences to build scalable programmes with maximum impact. We will continue our disaster relief work. Another priority is volunteering and to build a culture of volunteering within Amazon. We have such a diverse base of employees who are our biggest strength and asset.
he focus is on bringing
our unique experiences, technology, skills and logistics together
India CSR Lead, Amazon India
2.. Delivering Smiles campaign impacted over 140,000 underprivileged young people through partnerships with over 80 NGOs across 26 states
3…Amazon partnered with several industry players and NGOs to give 10,000 oxygen concentrators, BiPAP machines and ventilators to 450+ hospitals