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Social responsibility that goes beyond CSR

At Thoughtworks, we have seen how technology is never a solution (just) by itself, mainly because of what we have learned from our experience of working with humanitarian organizations from across the world.

We have been collaboratively building software that makes a long-term positive difference to people’s lives and their communities. This approach stems from not just a love for crafting flawless code, but from organizational culture and values that places value on social consciousness, awareness and employee participation. Take for instance our long-term and strategic Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) investments; they are driven by the belief in software’s role, in creating a socially and economically just world.

Culture of awareness and engagement

The Thoughtworks Away Day is an annual event, where employees from all the Thoughtworks India offices and a few representatives from global offices converge in one place, for a long weekend. The intent is to collectively appreciate and discuss the company’s imperatives and direction.

The Away Day also is an opportunity for every Thoughtworker to open her or himself to perspectives and experiences that are different from their own. External speakers elaborate on varied topics such as the freedom of the internet or data privacy or diversity and inclusion or frugal innovation or socioeconomic inequality and more. What were once unfamiliar concepts are further ingrained with discussions, movie screenings, and awareness initiatives conducted, back at our offices.

An ecosystem of sustainable impact

As mentioned earlier, we have tried to ensure that our CSR strategy does not end with delivery of impeccable code. We think about the imperishable change we want to bring to the entire ecosystem.

And that means Thoughtworks is present for the long haul when it comes to socially responsible change. Here are two case studies that are indicative of how we work with  the power of software and technology as tools for continued social change:

PARI - Peoples Archives of Rural India

In the chaos of a competitive and distracted world, a lot of important voices go unheard. The People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) aims to correct this situation. It is a digital archive of stories from rural India that champions a people-centric approach to journalism.

P. Sainath, an award-winning journalist, author and Ramon Magsaysay award winner is the founder-editor of PARI. He was invited to speak at a Thoughtworks Away Day, and that interaction provided a deeper understanding of Sainath’s effort to archive and preserve the everyday lives rural India. Thoughtworks believed in PARI’s mission because it perfectly aligned with our ideas of social inclusion.

P. Sainath from PARI
P. Sainath, founder editor of PARI
At a technological level, Thoughtworks worked with PARI to build a robust content management system. And at a CSR investment level, to further rural journalism, the Media Development Foundation (MDF) and Thoughtworks initiated the Thoughtworks Chair of Rural India and Digital Knowledge at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. This chair, the first of its kind, is exclusively dedicated to journalism focused on rural India.

Under the guidance of the chair, the students learn how to document and cover rural India, how to build connections between themselves and rural communities and create networks of students, journalists, teachers, and others interested in rural India and rural Indians. When one looks at the collaboration at both these levels, they might be able to discern the self-sustaining ecosystem that we are hoping to be a valuable part of.

Jan Swastha Sahyog - rural healthcare in India

The tenacious socio-economic structure of rural India makes treatment of illness rather difficult. High costs and inaccessibility to health care, combined with the loss of wages during an illness, pushes people into a grim cycle of debt, bondage, and deepening poverty. A WHO India Profile 2014 report mentioned that 70% of Indians spend their entire income on healthcare and purchasing drugs. Also, a 2015 Lancet study mentioned that while 30% of the rural population did not go for any treatment due to financial constraints, about 47% and 31% of hospital admissions in rural and urban India respectively, were financed by loans and sale of assets.

Jan Swastha Sahyog, JSS is a voluntary, non-profit, registered society providing low cost preventive and curative health services to tribal and rural areas of Bilaspur in Chattisgarh. JSS strongly believes that access to healthcare should not be denied to anyone due to lack of money or on account of their caste, sex, religion and social class etc.

Dr. Yogesh Jain, a founding member of JSS, was a guest speaker at another Thoughtworks Away Day. Conversations ensued and we wanted to be a part of JSS’s noble and ambitious mission.

Thoughtworks developed an open source hospital system, that met the needs of hospitals in low-resource environments. The Hospital Management and Information System, HMIS was designed to address key challenges in the administration of healthcare services in rural India. It effectively maintains health records and doubles up as a rich database of information relating to the local populace’s health. Access to patient history allows doctors to provide more accurate diagnoses, and the database gives policymakers an insight into pressing health trends.

paper records at the hospital
Hospital staff going through paper records at the hospital
In addition, Thoughtworks supported JSS' association by funding a new wing at the hospital, medical equipment, community support and more.

The above are just two examples of how Thoughtworks tries hard to design programs that are uniquely positioned, to move beyond textbook philanthropy. Aware of our own privilege, we strive to see the world from the perspective of the oppressed - a thinking that is fundamental to the way we think about software as well.

We will continue to advocate for positive social change and partner with socially responsible and progressive organizations that share our vision. And Thoughtworkers will continue to support initiatives that are important to the community like bridging the digital divide, net neutrality, LGBT inclusion, and the inclusion of more women in IT.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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