Community involvement program of the year, APAC: HDFC Bank

Under its impact investing umbrella Parivatan, HDFC Bank's Holistic Rural Development Programme has helped over 1,000 villages across India to develop critical skills and grow businesses which not only support local economies but protect India's land and biodiversity.

Ashima Bhat, head of corporate social responsibility, told Environmental Finance the programme seeks to "improve the socio and economic conditions of rural families by focusing on improvements in five key areas of education, skills training and livelihood enhancement, natural resources management, water and sanitation, and financial literacy and inclusion".

By working with village communities and local stakeholders, the scheme aims to identify and address the critical needs of each village and local economy.

"Under this unique programme, a thorough assessment of the village is carried out to understand its developmental needs. To address these needs in a sustainable and effective manner, the bank creates long term solutions in partnership with an NGO and the local community" she said.

Bhat said that it was important to the bank not to have just one initiative. Instead, making the programme all-encompassing would hopefully drive better long-term development of the communities.

This has led to tailored skills programme which differ between regions. One such programme helps young people, who have already had access to basic education, gain skills which are better suited to the needs of the local economy and help make them more employable.

A large focus of the programme is also to help develop opportunities for girls and women across the country, whether it be through helping to provide basic education to rural girls or help women develop small business.

Bhat explained the bank identifies the skillset of a particular region and creates a specific women's group which will be trained in these skills as a unit. This has included nursing or agricultural roles.

Intrinsic to the programme is also the protection of land and biodiversity. Initiatives have included creating ponds, improving water structures and dams, equipping local farmers with the tools and knowledge to better protect the environment.

So far, over 72,500 farmers have been trained, 5,800 water conservation structures have been built and over 21,000 solar lights have been installed since 2018.

Bhat explained that the programme will remain part of HDFC Bank's commitment to its communities and will continue to focus on the main priority areas for India: agriculture, water, soil conservation, education and women empowerment.