Creating a better life
IKEA India is enabling people from marginalised communities to live a better life through its many sustainable development programmes
With humble roots going to the Swedish province of Småland, Ingvar Kamprad formed IKEA in the 1940s to create a better everyday life for everyone. Decades later, the vision of a better life is a reality that has transformed lives across the world.
The core of the global furniture retailer’s work is based on its ‘People and Planet Positive’ strategy. And the three focus areas in this strategy are: healthy and sustainable life, to be climate-positive, and ‘fair and equal’ supporting co-workers and communities.
In 2021, IKEA India collaborated with like-minded organisations for its social relief project-Emergency Community Support. Named, ‘A Place Called Home’, the project activated Covid-19 relief measures towards vulnerable communities who had lost their livelihoods and homes. Child Safety & Security
IKEA respects human rights and gives special importance to children’s rights. It has partnered with Delhi-based Railway Children of India (RCI) to ensure that stranded children don’t live on the streets and miss the chance of a better life.
Nikita Vaz, Co-worker Communications Leader, IKEA India (Ex Community Relations Manager), cites that the challenges regarding safety and secure housing are not only for adults but even for children. “In India, the pandemic put many children from vulnerable communities at risk of safety and exposure. There was a need to sustainably rehabilitate them either with family or in a long-term care home, especially due to Covid-19. From providing relief resources to learning materials and spending time with them in the communities, ensuring a long-term roadmap for each of them was the goal for RCI and IKEA India,” she says.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, IKEA India provided food and medical assistance to the children and daily wage earners staying around the Dadar-Matunga area, Mumbai, through RCI. The team also made the effort to contact children who were reunited with families in the last one to five years, and they were given assistance too. People residing in the slums were also given aid. Dry groceries, safety hygiene kits containing masks, sanitizers and sanitary pads were distributed to the community.
RCI works for the protection of unescorted children found on trains, whether local or those coming in from outstation at Dadar railway station, Mumbai. RCI takes care of all the necessary documentation for reuniting the child with the family, notifying the government agencies and immediately admitting them into government-approved shelter homes. “Sometimes a child is reunited within 24 hours, sometimes few days. At times, the child is unwilling to go back immediately. Then they need counselling and help and it could take a longer period for them to unite,” says Navin Sellaraju Sukumar, CEO, RCI. IKEA India supports the initiative by giving financial support for the human resources, who are instrumental in facilitating a better life for these children. Even after the reunion with the families, they are monitored for their welfare up to 18 months. During the first phase of this project, April 2021- May 2022, 427 children have been protected.
IKEA India also supports the rehabilitation of vulnerable communities living around Dadar-Matunga area, Mumbai. “Some of the people living near the railway station are homeless and some have been evicted out of their homes. We help the children with their education. For the young adults, IKEA India provides financial help to access vocational courses. At least 15 youths have benefited from this so far. We also help the women with finding livelihood,” says Sukumar. And some of the people from this community are now giving back to the cause too by volunteering.
After being given aid to learn computers, 22-year-old Tulsi has become a volunteer with RCI. Much like a caretaker, she accompanies the children in the shelter home when they venture out and keeps track of their daily routine.
Like Tulsi, 20-year-old Manisha Singh too now volunteers her services. She was also given financial aid to learn a computer course. The volunteering has made her sensitive to the issues faced by the children and the course has given her confidence to stand on her own feet.
A neat home with healthy surroundings makes way for a healthy society. With an aim of clean, healthy living settlements, IKEA India facilitated sanitation in the squalid quarters at Turbhe ward, Navi Mumbai. IKEA India partnered with Collective Good Foundation (CGF) to implement this programme. “The initiative’s aim was to not only provide safe sanitation to marginalized community but also to educate children on appropriate hygiene behaviour through interactive and educational sessions. Under this project, we also supported the renovation of nine community toilets, facilitated household toilets in the Turbhe slum areas; and advocated with Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC), with technical support from UNICEF, to expedite drainage work impacting approximately 25,750 slum inhabitants in these areas,” shares Vaz.
The Turbhe ward under the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation which comprises Indra Nagar, Hanuman Nagar, Ganpatipada 1 and Ganpatipada 2, had cause for alarm during the pandemic. Due to the poor living conditions in Turbhe ward, the residents are compelled to use the unclean public toilets.
The settlements are on a hillock, and the public toilets are at the foothills. Hence, the septic tanks could not be built near the hutments. With congested and barely walkable alleyways, the municipal corporation garbage vans too are unable to reach the interiors of this area and pick up all the waste. The pandemic brought to light the need to implement a hygienic solution for this ward.
This is where IKEA India stepped in. The construction of one toilet inside a house costs Rs 50,000-Rs 60,000. As the ward has primarily people living below the poverty line, they could not build these on their own. “It was a community-led programme with community ownership. So, we gave the construction material and the residents got the toilet constructed. Around 173 families have benefited from this,” says Rishika Jaiswal, Manager Implementation, Samhita, partner agency of CGF.
But this was after many community mobilization drives. Ashwini Gaikwad, a community volunteer, says, “Initially, it was not easy to convince the people to build a toilet inside their house. The space is very small, about 10 X 15 sq ft. But as the Covid-19 cases surged, the urgency for clean spaces grew and we remained persistent.”
The volunteers started visiting hutments in a group rather than individually. Gradually, their efforts bore fruit. A homemaker, Ayesha Shakeel agreed to get a toilet built. Now, she is happy that her family doesn’t need to rush out at odd hours or go to the public toilets. Likewise, homemaker Shakshi Kamble’s family of five have access to proper hygiene that was lacking for years.
Ranjana Sunil Kamble, too, is happy because she doesn’t need to visit the “obnoxious public toilets. Children defecated in the open around that area”.
Ashwini Gaikwad is happy to have become a change agent for her community. Going a step further, these social workers and volunteers roped in young minds, Swachhata Sainiks, to be a part of the cleanliness project. In Turbhe ward, children have been engaged to spread the message of safe sanitation and cleanliness. They go in groups to each house to sensitise the people on the benefit of a contamination-free environment. The benefits can be seen now. With proper know-how, the locals segregate the waste and dispose it in correct manner.
In Hyderabad, IKEA India partnered with Habitat for Humanity to initiate Project Basti and give a home to the people living in Basti, Jagathgiri Gutta, a suburb in Hyderabad.
Jagathgiri Gutta is home to 5,000 families of daily wage earners, domestic workers, vegetable vendors and people involved in menial labour such as rickshaw pullers and other odd jobs. They live in dilapidated homes making them susceptible to diseases and natural disasters. Women and children in the community need safe drinking water, sanitation and shelter. They come from different states including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. As this area is surrounded by the Balanagar industrial area, many people work in the nearby factories too.
Christophe Jean Eliane Adrien, Market Manager - Store Hyderabad, IKEA India, says, “Housing is a fundamental human right and the home is the most important place in the world. Under this project, we successfully repaired 75 homes impacting over 350 individuals over a period of six months. Basic sanitation facilities were built and provided for the daily wage earners, who otherwise are not able to address these necessities and are exposed to unhygienic conditions.”
Dr Rajan Samuel, Managing Director, Habitat for Humanity, says, “We build homes that provide hope for children, make the people living in it productive citizens. A home is foundation to the safety and wellbeing of a family.”
The homes were repaired by raising walls, renovating toilets, replacing damaged doors and windows, making new concrete floors and at the end a fresh coat of paint was given to the home. The preference was given to families below poverty line (BPL), widows or households headed by women, and families with differently-abled people and chronic illnesses.
G Suryavathi is a happy lady now with a proper roof over head, thanks to Project Basti. Her 15-year-old home’s roof was crumbling against the vagaries of nature. Coupled with this, the 55-year-old homemaker had lost her husband whose only wish was to see his small home back in shape. So, with this aid, she is all smiles for living a better quality of life.
Rekha, a physically-challenged person, along with her husband, an auto driver with night blindness, and two small children, was struggling with no proper roofing. “During every rainy season, water kept dripping,’’ she says. Most of these houses have asbestos sheets roofs and were built more than 20 years back. Now, after the repair work, their belongings are safe.
The plight of migrant labourers came to the forefront when the pandemic hit the country. In Bengaluru, IKEA India associated with LabourNet Services India to provide modular, safe housing units around the construction sites for the construction workers. Peter Serafin, Sustainability Business Partner, IKEA India, says, “The crisis faced by many migrant workers in India made us deeply reflect upon the “right to live” from a human rights perspective. These workers either live in shacks or slums or sleep within the structural building at the sites. The solution was to support the migrant construction workers in Bengaluru with high-quality modular accommodation. The project was undertaken by a consortium of NGOs and initially involved a pilot programme that provided 100 workers with 25 housing units at one construction site in the city. But it has a transformative value and long-term perspective.”
Working with SELCO Foundation, the team created the entire structure for 100 labourers. IKEA India supported it with beds, furnishing and furniture. The result is a comfortable accommodation with facilities like clean toilets, dining room and kitchens as well as healthcare facilities. There are 10 separate bathing and toilet facilities, and five kitchens. Built to be dismantled and re-deployed onto other sites, these houses are solar powered. On-site primary care clinics will also be running.
Gayathri Vasudevan, Chairperson, LabourNet, says, “This pilot project demonstrates that good housing results in less attrition and better health status, thereby reducing absenteeism. Post Covid-19, we believe it is still a necessity to keep these housing units in good condition.”
Earlier construction workers would leave the work area after three months. But at the Bengaluru facility, at least 50 workers have stayed continually for over seven months.
The housing has an average 85 per cent occupancy, keeping social distancing norms in mind. “IKEA India’s procurement and construction teams helped in vetting the costs and the construction material also,” adds Vasudevan.
The residents are appreciative. Khudia Nanda from Jharkhand has been living here for six months. “The bed and cupboards are great. We also have a space to charge our mobiles.” This is seconded by Dhyaneshwar Mathur who has not found the need to move out to another site as the accommodation and facilities are more comfortable.
IKEA India has partnered with Tata Strive Navi Mumbai, skill development initiative of Tata Trusts, to promote skill development among the youth from the vulnerable socio-economic sections of society. Seeing the demand for skilled home furnishing support functions such as assemblers, installers, the two organizations created two skill-building programmes—Modular Furniture Assembly and Modular Kitchen Cabinet Maker.
Pooja Mehta, Services Manager – Store Navi Mumbai, IKEA India, shares, “Through the Life at Home movement and actions such as skill building programme, we want to create better homes and empower the underserved communities with better livelihood opportunities in the home furnishing sector. And this dream inspires us to develop the skills right here in India. We always balance economic growth with positive community impact.”
For admissions, there are community mobilization drives and counselling is done to spread information about the different courses. Till date, 122 beneficiaries have enrolled in the two courses and 80 have passed out. Out of this 74 have been certified by Tata Strive and IKEA India, and 48 have been placed. The students can easily earn a monthly figure of Rs 12,000-Rs 15,000.
“We also have 10 girls enrolled in the courses,” says Ameya Vanjari, Head, Technology & Innovation, Tata Strive. With two batches running simultaneously, 15-20 students are enrolled in each batch. And there is soft skills training, one-month on-the-job training and placement assistance too.
Omkar Ganesh lives in Mankhud, a Mumbai suburb. He did a course at ITI, Mumbai, but due to the Covid-19 lockdown, he could not learn about new furniture tools or techniques. So, when his teacher suggested that he enroll in the course, he did that immediately. “I learned how to use the power tools and new furniture assembling techniques and now I am placed in a private firm,” he says. The job has given his family financial respite.
Sustainability is a lifelong practice. And IKEA India is successfully walking the path leaving a positive impact on the planet.
How do you choose the social impact projects?
In line with IKEA’s people and planet positive sustainability strategy, we have identified different needs in different markets. Together, with chosen partners, we co-create a long-term project to support the most vulnerable communities through the lens of safety and give them a safe place to call home.
How does IKEA bring in sustainability principles in everyday life?
In IKEA, our planet positive strategy is our sustainability strategy. This talks about our health and sustainable living and life at home, which is what our range and solutions are all about. Also, it is about how we support our customers to live a more healthy and sustainable life. We have our climate and circular positive movement, which is all about renewable energy, zero emission and how we reduced our climate footprint in our operations, as well as how we reach our goods, reach our stores in a more sustainable way. And the last pillar is about being fair and equal. And this is how we support our co-workers, our communities and how we coexist in our communities, looking at our equality, diversity, and inclusion agenda as well.
What steps has IKEA taken to make it an inclusive community for the projects it has initiated?
During the pandemic, we have seen that there are a lot of people who have been suffering with loss of livelihood and loss of homes. This is where we have been supporting the communities with our products, creating Covid-19 centres, but also giving food to many different people in the community. We also started a project, A Place Called Home, where we identified different needs in different markets. We set up a longer project to refurbish homes and have created construction sites for labourers. We have also supported children in need around the Dadar railway station in Mumbai.
What are the sustainability measures that IKEA has in place as far as Positive Societal Impact is concerned?
We have been working since long with sustainability and the strategy has three pillars. The first one is about sustainable and healthy living. It is about how we can help our own co-workers and the customers to lead healthy and sustainable lives by offering them solutions and products which are people and planet positive. The second one is climate and circular, and we have big ambitions especially in the climate area, but also moving into becoming more circular. The third has to do with people, inclusiveness and diversity among our own co-workers but also inclusiveness when it comes to society, and here we engage in different ways.
How does IKEA choose the sustainability causes that it eventually supports?
We are focused on IKEA’s three pillars. Based on those, we choose the causes. For instance, when we work with the communities, we really want to engage with the vulnerable ones where we are present. We work towards developing different initiatives that make us become a better neighbour.
How do you measure the effectiveness of the projects?
We have goals and we also have key performance indicators or KPIs to measure the impact of our efforts. For example, the first area of sustainable and healthy living, we look at how big is the share of the products that are more sustainable. When it comes to climate, we measure the carbon footprint that we also have goals around. The third area, we look at our gender diversity to ensure that there is an equal balance across more levels. We look at the efforts we do in the community in terms of the impact it has and how many people it reaches.
How have you seen sustainability evolve with time?
I started 25 years back and my first job within IKEA was environmental manager. I have seen it evolving since that time and sustainability is a larger part of the way we do business. So today, I see it is so well integrated in everything we do. Sustainability is one of the foundational directions we have, and we have a very strong strategy in India that is also reflected in how we have developed and include sustainability in our business in India.
What other sustainable measures is IKEA adopting?
When it comes to circularity, an area where we will go deeper into is waste. Waste has a big impact on resources and on climate. So, zero waste is our goal and we work in all areas to minimize the waste that goes to landfill; it should be zero. We know it has a big impact on food. We have programmes to lower waste in the food area, as well as in our operations--how we can recycle, reuse and reduce at all stages.
Please tell us about the projects in
As we are in the business of homes, a lot of our efforts go into making it possible for people to have a decent home which we think is a human right. It is a long way to go, but we are taking a step-by-step approach to make life at home a little bit better. And in societies where we work there are vulnerable groups that need more attention, and that is where we put in more effort to support the community. That is also how we choose the partners, who share the same course as we do for positive social impact.
“We work in societies where there are vulnerable groups that need more attention, and that is where we put in more effort to support the community”
CEO & Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA India
2.. Homes provide hope for children, make the people living in it productive citizens. A home is foundation for the safety and well-being of a family
3.. Home is the most important place in the world. A good, clean home makes productive citizens
4.. Extending support to youth from the vulnerable socio-economic sections of society, IKEA India has designed two skill development courses along with Tata Strive