A Healthy Employee Can Contribute Better: Geetanjali Master

In an exclusive interaction with BW Healthcareworld, Geetanjali Master, Partnerships Specialist – Private and Public Sector Engagement, UNICEF India, shared some useful insights about nutrition in the workplace.

With India slipping to an alarming 101 position in the Global Hunger Index 2021, there is more and more need for non-state actors to get involved in bolstering the country’s efforts to fight malnutrition. We speak to Geetanjali Master, Partnerships Specialist – Private and Public Sector Engagement from UNICEF India, one of the founding partners of IMPAct4Nutriton, on how the platform aims to do that. Excerpts:

How does the public-private partnership function to accelerate the IMPAct4Nutriton initiative?

IMPAct4Nutrition (I4N) is engaging the private sector to contribute to India’s national nutrition programme through two streams of activities: 

a.Improving workforce nutrition (both blue and white collar) by increasing the nutrition knowledge of workers and their families, and 

b.Directing more Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) investments of I4N pledged companies towards nutrition activities.

Businesses in India have a vast reach through their workforce (and therefore their families), customers, distribution network partners and suppliers and CSR catchment areas to reach marginalised communities. They can promote positive nutritional practices among their target audiences.  

Further, investing in nutrition for children, through their families, will lead to a strong and nourished future generation including consumers, workforce as well as business leaders of tomorrow. A company with a long-term vision would always want to ensure a robust foundation for the future; investing in nutrition can provide businesses with that and also enable them to become catalysts in addressing the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition. 

When one speaks of sustainable, long-term action and investments, India Inc. has proven to be influential in creating scalable CSR models, provide synergies with existing government programmes and augmenting the efforts of the government addressing the SDGs and national nutritional indicators. Today there are 13 private development and private sector initiative partners, supporting I4N through a highly functional multi-stakeholder virtual platform. The number of private companies pledging to I4N has been rapid and far exceeded expectations: by September 2021 over 210 private companies (representing around 2.7 million employees) have pledged to improve nutrition initiatives for their workforce and communities through I4N. 

Early trends also suggest that the I4N initiative with significant advocacy for investments in nutrition, could have contributed to an increased allocation of the overall CSR pool in the country towards nutrition: in 2018-2019, prior to the I4N launch, the allocation of the overall CSR pool to nutrition was 4 percent as compared to 5.3 percent today.

What are the essential guidelines that a company is required to follow when they join I4N?

To participate in the I4N platform, companies must make a non-financial pledge supporting the POSHAN Abhiyaan and agree to be ‘brand agnostic’ thus putting aside any promotion of their own commercial enterprise or products. 

They pledge to bring nutrition dialogue to the forefront within their business value chain and ecosystem. This is supported by the I4N secretariat on key pillars: use company assets for nutrition; investments for nutrition and CSR project implementation for nutrition; and employee engagement, employee volunteering and employee education for nutrition.

They can use I4N propriety tools ready for deployment in CSR and Workplace nutrition and also co-create solutions with the secretariat based on demography, geography and community needs; for pledge partners who have existing community programmes, the secretariat helps them to integrate nutrition into existing interventions to increase their efficiency and efficacy.

How much investment does a company need to make in preparing a nutrition programme for its workforce?

Investment for nutrition programming does not come under any guidelines of the government. However, it is good to have and absolutely essential if an organisation wants to enhance the productivity of its workforce. 

A healthy employee can contribute better and the RoI for companies to invest in the health and nutrition of their workforce is multifold. The I4N secretariat co-creates stand alone nutrition initiatives or integrates nutrition into existing sectoral programmes by the companies. The investments are accordingly allocated on the intensity and depth of the programme/intervention. An interesting option is Nutrition Kiosk that can again be customised as per needs of the organisation and set up on the premises. 

We cannot attribute a per employee cost or a ballpark figure to this as the nutritional needs are very contextual depending on geography, culture etc. 

Do corporate entities give enough attention to the investment in nutrition; what has been their response so far?

Yes, large numbers of our pledged partners have nutrition programming in the community, carrying out initiatives for addressing SAM/MAM; anaemia management among adolescents; and interventions for their employees on general nutrition education. However, the outreach and engagement with businesses needs to continue so that I4N is able to help make their programmes more effective and catalyse even more investments in nutrition.

Are companies required to get health check-ups of their employees done to accordingly plan their nutritional intake?

This depends from company to company. Many partners as part of their workforce nutrition engagement and initiatives have scheduled health checks for their employees, screening drives, employee engagement activities that are designed to make a difference, change in food habits, behaviours, practices and choices. Many have pro-bono active measures in place that are aligned with their employee HR policies, health wellness and wellbeing interventions at large. 

How are small business organisations going to get aided so that they can contribute to Poshan Abhiyaan and provide nutrition to the most deprived workforce of the country?

I4N works very closely with industry associations; SMBs through small and medium scale associations; local, regional and national chambers; industry aggregators; and larger ecosystem of a business’s networks, CSR Heads and HR Heads of companies. Through aggregators such as local industry associations, we are able to reach the importance of nutrition to the small enterprises that reach the most vulnerable workforce and their families. An ecosystem approach is critical, so that all key stakeholders in the ecosystem are able to support the more marginalised ones and equip them with information on nutrition.

What are the future plans or additional initiatives that UNICEF will be adopting to expand IMPAct4Nutrition programme?

UNICEF is at present incubating the I4N platform. It is a platform that is positioned for the industry and driven by the industry. UNICEF shall support the platform as an incubator and knowledge partner in the start-up stage, but envisages moving onto a full-time knowledge partner role in the platform in the near future. 

The I4N secretariat, in addition to mentoring the pledged partners, will be able to leverage the support of experts in the fields of nutrition, healthcare, WASH, CSR and employee engagement to:

oDesign and develop content for nutrition literacy for the workforce, workplace wellness programmes, and nutrition awareness programs at corporate and community levels

oCurate ideas and implementation roadmap for nutrition programs either as a business model or through employee engagement and CSR outreach strategy in company catchment areas

oAccess resource hub on nutritional materials, packages, tools, good practices, etc that can be valuable for businesses

oSupport PA-JA campaigns (Poshan Maah and Poshan Pakhwada and other key special and milestone days)

oIntegrate private sector efforts with the national agenda on nutrition to increase productivity of their workforce

oPromote responsible nutritional practices within the large business ecosystem

A central objective of I4N’s strategy is for the platform to increase outreach and engagement with the diverse  business sector of India and work with them closely to  support Jan Andolan under POSHAN Abhiyaan. To this end, the Secretariat along with initiative and pledged partners will:

oImplement on-going activities and will continue to communicate the vision of I4N and importance of nutrition among businesses, through key events, ministry meetings and media opportunities 

oDefine and quantify the nutrition impact of the I4N programme through impact assessments and well documented proofs of concepts and knowledge management tools, and implementing most appropriate evidence-based nutrition education and behaviour change approaches needed to achieve the desired impact and results

oOver time companies will see how investments in nutrition lead to increase in productivity, and any potential reluctance may not appear, as testimonials from pledged companies will serve as a powerful draw for new companies to consider pledging with I4N. Without these first-hand testimonials, it is sometimes difficult to catch the attention of companies to consider joining to truly make a private sector Jan Andolan for nutrition through the I4N platform. 


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