Clean India – Green India

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The Clean India Mission launched by the government is a laudable mission. Although begun with zest and passion with suitably amended systems of efficient garbage disposal, we still fail to keep our environs spick and span. For one, we have loads of natural debris free-flying all over and second, lack of civic sense makes matters worse. We Indians may be the cleanest of people within our homes but when it comes to keeping public spaces clean and spruced up we fail in every sense of the word. No brand ambassador can possibly get us to take up the cudgels unless we have been prepared for the task early-on.

Cleanliness and hands-on cleaning lessons should be made mandatory for children in school so that a whole new generation imbibes the importance of spotless surroundings. Both The USA and Japan teach young children in school to work at keeping sanitized bathrooms, ready for subsequent use by fellow classmates. Kids there feel no shame or repugnance in rolling up their sleeves, donning gloves and cleaning up toilets. It is our predispositions and learned susceptibilities that stop us from doing the same. Plus we have the luxury of cheap labour available to do these jobs.

Waste management of odds and ends in India has always run systemically through recycling, making it a sustainable business. We are again fortunate for having the ubiquitous ‘raddiwallahs’ doing the rounds and helping us get rid of clutter of all kind – old newspapers, old clothes, used bottles, tins and everything in between. Along with municipalities getting into the act for garbage disposal these ‘raddiwallahs’ too assist in restoring cleanliness in our homes. However present day over consumerist societies are losing the balance and disrupting these trends with the new culture of everything-throwaway. From plastic bags to online merchandise packing we are throwing paper, cardboard and plastics out the doors for someone else to collect.

The ever increasing waste materials have become a by-product of modern living. Despite norms and legislation for regulating disposal of waste, the unsightly heaps of overflowing rubbish mounds continue to abound. Even with licensed outsourcing of tasks and civic rules in place, compliance appears to be lax. This is especially dangerous during monsoons leading to clogged drains, gutters and nullahs, as well as posing serious threats for foraging animals and rag pickers alike. The recent shocking deaths of gutter-cleaners raised a big hue and cry on following days but ended a natural death. After all today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s rubbish!

As India celebrates 70 years of Independence, it is time to take stock of the rapid urbanization in our country that is making waste management to be such a big challenge. “Over 377 million urban people live in 7,935 towns and cities and generate 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste per annum. Only 43 million tonnes (MT) of the waste is collected, 11.9 MT is treated and 31 MT is dumped in landfill sites”. These statistics are as per Down To earth environmental magazine. Solid Waste Management is still one of the most basic and essential services devised to keep our cities clean.  Yet the truth is that municipalities simply dump garbage outside city limits. There are no checks and balances on proper disposal.

Of late some cursory measures that are still to be followed systematically have begun to ensure due segregation of waste at source. Again here the people have to make sure that they do this conscientiously.  Since we already sell ‘raddi’ to the recycling industry it should not be an unusual task to segregate waste on a daily basis. This will ensure less waste reaching landfills. It should be the responsibility of the municipalities that just as they have set up a system for collection and transportation, like wise they should have good follow up mechanisms for processing and proper disposal.

With nearly 100 cities slated to be converted into smart cities, the first smart move should be implement effective waste management strategies and challenge people to adapt lifestyles accordingly. Aside from municipalities, schools, colleges, hospitals, corporate houses, government institutions should be made the first line of hand-holders.  A good move planned is to do away with landfill sites and replace them with compost pits for organic waste. Community participation will be crucial and they will have to be made aware of other kinds of waste like e-waste, bio-medical waste and so on. The way forward would certainly be to go full scale with Clean India and Green India as we step into the 71st year of our Independence.

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Recording Biometric Attendance

There was naturally some trepidation when six months back biometric attendance recording system was introduced at HERD Group. Introduction of any new process changes at any workplace is bound to create a flutter among employees. TecSol Private Limited, the in-house IT unit became instrumental in sharing accurate, clear information about recording of biometric attendance to assuage qualms of an initially nervous staff. Changes were definitely going to involve the stragglers. It was certainly going to create unease regarding usage of the newfangled attendance system.

For starters, Jigar Joshi, IT Manager with HERD TecSol worked on focusing on the facts, since he realized that misinformation would probably do more harm by breeding resistance. HR too apprehended that sharing usage norms could play a calming role in raising morale. Since staff was already used to signing the muster-roll it would hardly be problem to facilitate them to adapt to the biometric time clocking system. All one needed to do was touch the screen of the biometric machine to record and clock their attendance.  HERD Group started the biometric time recording system because it wanted to avoid negative fall-outs of muster recording and at the same time deploy biometric time-clock technologies cutting across several establishments in order to support organizational culture and business needs.

However we do continue with signing the muster along with jabbing the finger on the machine. This is because HR department needs to double verify employee attendance data. The biometric/fingerprint or facilitates automation of salary calculations with up to date leave, late-comings or overtime records. Having grown from a small office of handful of employees to our present multi-location stores and offices we no longer have single point attendance record keeping. Admin and HR managers need to know details of all locations to track the hours worked by the employees.

We noticed that initially employees were a bit hesitant about the biometric systems. But this was mainly due to their unfamiliarity with the machine. Soon with ease of practice their distress generally disappeared after simply being given a brief introduction as to its use. We now have biometric attendance data at all our locations. After close follow up and clear instruction of usage the biometric verification has been working for us. Initially there were some teething troubles but after demystifying it all everyone uses the machines habitually now.

It is true when it comes to biometrics at first there are certain myths like concerns regarding potential invasion of privacy (fingerprinting) and hygiene to be reckoned with. However biometric attendance data allows HR department to gain official records of hours of employee work which they then calculate to pay employees accordingly. Barring a few slackers in most cases we did not encounter resistance. Most concerns were eliminated as soon as the employees were educated on usage. Once they learned how to operate the biometric reader and in time realized how easy it was, there has been little resistance.

‘Cloudy with a Hint of Rain’

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Images – Courtesy Google

The weatherman’s forecast seems to be going awry. It’s bright shiny warm weather at the start of the first week of August! The regional weather warning bulletin is very quiet with a blank ‘Nil’! Rainfall forecast spells out weakly for the districts of Vidarbha – ‘in isolated places’. No agro-met advisories either. Highway forecasts get a clean chit.

It is worrisome for HERD Organic Farms manager Anil Khare. ‘Nine day gone by and no rains…’ he murmurs over lunch at the office café. After a seemingly stable start after mid-June the South-West Monsoon has suddenly stalled. This is now triggering concerns among the farming communities in the region who are getting affected in this rain-fed sowing season. Work appears to be at a standstill.

Even though HERD Organic Farm has secure, established water resource, the worried countenance of marginal farmers around us facing the unexpected deficit, thus far, has us concerned. We hope this is a passing phase and that soon enough the water laden clouds will spurt forth making August drench the fields to make them ready for cultivation.

Understandably the rainfall deficit as it enters the second week since July, may just be an unsuspected gap in the normally heavy rainy season that goes on until September. But now we see that contiguous districts in Vidarbha have been facing a shortfall by varying margins. Worryingly Vidarbha traditionally remains a water shortage area and we have often suffered consecutive droughts in past years. This deficit gap therefore leaves us all apprehensive.

The erratic monsoon may affect the sowing of key field crops such as paddy, pulses and more staple varieties of the season. The lack of rains appears to be going on. Farmers ready with seeds and saplings are getting nervous as there is little rain water and even reservoirs and canals have diminished levels. And therefore the sowing is getting affected with roughly only about 30 percent being done as against the norm of 51 percent that ought to have happened in this period.

The erratic rains could impact yields. Rainfall deficit of 30-40 per cent being witnessed is definitely a cause for concern. Besides affecting ground-water recharge, it will also affect cultivation. One can only wait and watch how the weather turns up.  Very light to moderate rainfall has been occurring in few places over Vidarbha. Also there has been no large change in maximum temperatures over Vidarbha.

We are therefore dependent on the rain gods to be merciful and pray that contrary to the meteorological department forecast of deficit rainfall, hopefully deficit districts in Vidarbha region will receive heavy showers before the end of this month. This brings us back to the moot enquiry as to whether Indian agriculture will forever continue to be dependent on monsoons!

Make Infant Seats in Vehicles Mandatory

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Images – Courtesy Google

It was as late as in October 2014 that the Government of India made it mandatory for car manufacturers in India to equip cars with provision for installing child seats. The safety measure was to facilitate safe placing of child seats in cars and permit car travel to be safe for kids inside cars. The move was to ensure car travel safe for children.

However we do not see this provision being followed by all car makers. As a result several cars have no such facility for cautious parents to be able to fit child seats. With the increasing spate in cab riders in the country the provision of child seat certainly needs to take priority.  What is required is addition of anchors and tethers to be installed in the back seat of cars.

While this mechanism is standard provision in developed countries it is still not happening, in practice, in our country. The child seat allows a child to be securely fastened on the back seat of a car. The child seat supports a child in case of mishaps and sudden brakes or jerks. Even though India has a huge car market we still do not implement rigorous safety measures in our automobiles.

Maruti Kizashi maybe one the few that offers the ISO fix-child-seat anchorage available. But then why is it that only an expensive car has this facility. With the ever increasing rise in Ola and Uber cabs, should not the provision be made mandatory in all cars.  By implementing compulsory child seat provision the government should make car travel safe for infants and kids.

In fact the Road Transport Authority should strictly enforce the rule in place to improve road safety measures, particularly for the safety of children. Our country with its high rate of road accidents, bad road conditions and unruly traffic should definite look into this matter with concern.

It is also lack of awareness that even the public is not sensitized on this grave road safety issue.  In our country we even need to spell out insistence on helmets for people riding cycles for transport. It is simply the lack of knowledge and very poor governance about road safety that makes us impervious to the necessity for such safety measures.

HERD Foundation would like to lay stress on the need to raise awareness on this critical road safety issue. Especially since many drivers do not hesitate to use their cell phones while driving. What is required is a very forceful safety standards implementation drive, with the government leading the way through a strong will and sense of direction.

In present times when parents remain focused on raising one-two child families it makes it all the more imperative to implement strict norms for children’s safety. Yes, smaller families’ means babies and children are that much more precious. Hence it will only be the will power of the transport ministry to push the agenda for child seat anchorage to be made compulsory.

The need for child safety in cars needs has to be highlighted in a big way. Child safety ought to be made a major parameter in our country’s ratings. We have to give up on age old practice of children riding on mother’s laps. As a general rule, just as child locks in cars have been made compulsory so also child seat facility should be made mandatory. Violations should be subject to heavy penalty. It is time that we stopped being silent on safety of children travelling in cars.

Vision 2017: Access to All for Basic Schooling

What is vision? It is the faculty or state of being able to see. In terms of organizational vision it is the ability to think and plan the future with imagination and wisdom. What is a world vision? This would mean comprehensive view of the world and human life. Presently HERD Foundation’s aspirational vision is keyed on meaningful humanitarian plans intending to serve the future course of envisioned humanist values to facilitate access to basic education.

Having been in the education field it pains us to see that cutting across the country there is still lack of equal educational opportunities for all. More especially for the underprivileged; this leaves countless children bereft of schooling opportunities even at the basic primary education level. Education in India is provided by public sector as well as private sector. The Indian Constitution offers provisions for free and compulsory education as a fundamental right to children between the ages of 6 and 14.

Provision of quality education is dragging at different levels. What is more apparent is that schooling is being transformed into a human supply chain schooling system centered round education becoming a business. We still have hackneyed curriculum and modes for teaching even as we move towards a world thriving on the information boom. Despite India emerging as an outstanding force in the IT sector, we yet grapple with transformational aspects to be introduced in the basic primary school education system.

The current challenge remains that of building up quality and quantity for primary and basic education schooling. Since we all agree that education is a human right, therefore like all human rights we cannot allow it to be taken for granted. We need to take up the responsibility to ensure that boys and girls everywhere get the chance to study a well planned course of primary education.

Such an undertaking is certainly daunting. But the high numbers of children out of school, for reasons beyond their control, make us more determined to find resources for our vision and to include them in our intentions for delivering it to them. Our vision is to improve the quality and learning outcomes for these children so as to provide an education that adapts to the required changes with the wherewithal needed.

Years of being in the business of social change makes us understand that there is a decided connection between access to quality education, and economic plus social development. Lack of access to education to boys and girls, leaves communities with lopsided educational development. It is only when accessibility to education is ensured that we will we be able to reap subsequent benefits relating to health, equality, and employment.

Children today need modern day skills and knowledge, more so ones who come from low income groups and underprivileged communities. Current teaching methodologies and current requisite education has to focus on inputs like reasoning, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and digital literacy that is the need of the hour. Even young children need to be familiar with new technologies and cope with rapidly changing educational environments.

We therefore aim to work in constructive ways to improve the quality of education. Innovation has to be brought in with like-minded partnerships that will be forged. Simply financial aid cannot replace domestic-resource mobilization; however donors do play an important role. More so in supporting initiatives needed in these directions. It is for this reason that we look for newfound educational patterns to develop a new order of basic primary education.

Our focus is going to be on intensifying efforts to rope in the poorest and difficult to reach children and ensure they have access to education. Since education is a right for everyone – all girls and all boys should be facilitated to have it. It is a right for the countless out-of-school children and adolescents. Regardless of where you are born and where you grow up, it is time we ensure that primary education has to be made accessible to all.

 

HERD Pharmacy: Building A Brand

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When HERD Pharmacy got operational two years back, founders Dr Amol Deshmukh and Dr Suchika Gupta were keen to establish a brand image for the business. Their vivid world experiences made them keen to do things differently. HERD Pharmacy team was groomed to be devoted to making business transactions better and to learn to bring people scattered in the different outlet locations to be on the same page with the one idea that running a business is more than just selling.

Dealing with customers it became clear that they were at the heart of the operations. Customer service we soon fathomed was all about human interaction and resolving shopping issues to their complete satisfaction. Yes every now and then we came across situations and problems that brought staff under stressful situations. And so began the journey of training employees in the fine art of customer handling.

Customer service became the pivot around which the entire transactional business rotated. A satisfied customer was our brand ambassador and this is what prompted us to pay closer attention to learn how to handle our customers. Instead of getting under any kind of pressure employees were made to understand that they were to resolve issues through empathetic interactions. This was to be taken up as a challenge and empathy was to be our way forward.

Once front line staff began to learn to deal positively with customers they were soon offering excellent customer experiences. Again the challenge here was to ensure that they needed to offer high-quality interactions with customers. And this is the area that management began to focus on with the belief that they needed to extend empowerment to staff members.

Chief of Operations Ankur Gupta began to ascertain the dictum – if you want your people to act like it’s their business, make it their business! He inspired his team to create the “WOW” effect for every customer who walked in the door. Lending a certain flexibility of approach front line staff was empowered to lead sales by never losing a customer. HERD Pharmacy is now bent on implementing proactive customer service that remains the most critical component for the business.

For Pharmacy managers – Suresh Poonia, Stawan Bhujbal and Sachin Salunke spreading the customer service experience became a mission. Keyed up by the mission and vision statements drilled by management the entire pharmacy team has been trained to do their best. Attempts are now on to direct everybody in the organization to understand the importance of delivery of exceptional service to customers. Everybody is now focused on providing excellent customer service.

All credit goes to the managing directors of the organization who have involved one and all to share this focus which is what has made HERD Pharmacy to become absolutely customer-centric. Regular staff training teaches employees to serve others in a genuine manner as well as to understand how to deal with difficult moments. They have been given the freedom to use their talents and skills to the best of their abilities to make customers happy and satisfied.

We are now looking at the bigger picture and attempting to take on the bigger challenge for customer service and that is to make sure we create an integrated end-to-end customer experience. We do not want our customers having to repeat themselves. Also we do not want them to be out of the loop of off-site touch-points. So we will begin to take the right approaches through the right technology to help in these areas too.

Today, HERD Pharmacy is a visible brand made tangible by its people skills. Standing at the threshold of a burgeoning undertaking HERD Pharmacy reiterates the fact that when it comes to customer service, it’s not about what consumers think. Great service is about feelings and that is what we want to spread. Good will and Good health for all.

 

Retail Therapy – God is in the Details

HERD Pharmacy division offers a wide range of goods other than medications and health products that are all offered at retail pricing. The expanding workforce is provided with training, business information and advice as to how to go about making sales that hit the roof. The recent Maha Bachat Mela at the pharmacy located at Khamla is a case in point. Newly set up a few months back, the team needed to build up a retail customer base.

We have learned it along the way that retailing cannot be looked upon at, on an as-is-where-is basis. Proactive customer service to create a positive retail customer experience is going to be vital for establishing presence in an open market. And completion is right across the street and everywhere. This is why the focus has always been on a coherent and practical retail service model that would differentiate us from the others.

The sales staff at the front-end and back-end as well as from management level from top to bottom follow the essentials to help deliver exceptional customer service experience. We continuously drill the minds of our sales staff to exert themselves to befriend and convert customers who walk in through the door. Our salespeople have been ingrained to not just inform but also inspire, educate, and instill confidence in them so the next time round they want to walk in for another wonderful shopping experience.

We do not allow disengaged employees because such will become risky propositions. What we aim for is that when a customer walks in our sales staff should push himself/herself out of their comfort level. Whether they want general medicines, cosmetics, or a health product sales staff should be helping them make their purchases in a manner that will make them return back for more shopping later.

So how do they do it? Staff puts on a supportive attitude and encourages shoppers to try out new things apart from what they actually came in to buy. Overtime they have been trained to learn how to form customer-centric relationships. Offering the team members a certain leeway to chat up with clients, we know for sure this little bit of extra time acts as a fillip to approach and engage often times with total strangers!

New shoppers who venture into the store are happy about the exceptional experience. They are instantly at ease with the friendly atmosphere, attitude and manners of the attending staff. Soon in good time we hope to make them regulars. The Maha Bachat Mela held last week brought in very many new customers. The success of the three day event makes us plan for more such events on occasions.

HERD Pharmacy has been offering very simple concessions to drive home the point that we mean business. The one way in which we engage with them is over the counter or through a call to engage with them and assist them make their purchases. Simple gestures and free home delivery is to really attract them to respond to our customer service. We follow the simple dictum – make the customer happy.

Staff has been trained to employ measures that ensure a few norms in place. Like for instance greeting customers in a way that makes them want to buy and keep coming back. We pay attention and let repeat customers know that we recognize them. Anything goes to start a conversation – politics, cricket and the weather! And a bit of conversation is always good to set the ball rolling.

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