Creating Impact through Shared Purpose: Pratham’s ADP India CSR Programme

December 2020

This case commentary, revolving around the strategic alliance between education sector-based NGO Pratham and the HR technology corporate ADP, discusses the dynamics leading to the success of the partnership. Practitioners from three diverse fields offer their views on engaging cross-sector collaboration and seeking new partners particularly in these changing, turbulent times.

Please click on the + to read the content from respective sections.

Case Study:

Leaders at Pratham contemplate on the challenges of selecting corporate partners whose goals and ideals align with Pratham’s

It was a sweltering May morning in the city of Hyderabad, Telangana, India, and Sunita Burra was doing her best to manage in a world that had suddenly gone upside down. The year 2020 had spelt nothing but worry and danger for everyone with the onset of the global Coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19. An extremely contagious respiratory disease that could prove fatal if unchecked, COVID-19 had forced numerous nations, including India, into a lockdown since the month of March, and working remotely from home had become the new norm. However, for Sunita’s organisation and in the Indian context in particular, working remotely was proving extremely challenging, if not unfeasible in certain aspects. Sunita was a member of the Central Leadership Group at Pratham, a globally renowned non-governmental organisation that worked towards making education accessible to children of all age groups, focusing particularly on primary school education for children from low-income backgrounds. As a Program Head and National Leadership group member, it was Sunita’s responsibility to keep an eye on the various programs running in the myriad districts of the state, coordinate with other state leaders on various activities, and establish as well as develop partnerships with external organisations to make the programs a success. Ordinarily, much of Pratham’s work was field-based and involved hands-on activities like teaching, face to face interaction with communities of parents, children and teachers, and organising academic fairs, student-led exhibitions among other activities. However, none of this was possible anymore with the lockdown and compulsory home quarantine in effect, and yet it would not do to bring the programs to a halt altogether. Equipped with the understanding that the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 would end up altering the face of the Indian education sector drastically, Pratham had already begun moving forward with a solution: aiming to reach out to students through maximum digital content, and strengthening the support system for students through increased parent participation. However, this complete redesigning of the programs was easier planned than implemented and may have been much more challenging. However, Pratham's prime corporate partners, like ADP ((Automatic Data Processing), stepped in to help.

On this particular morning in May 2020, it was the matter of these very partnerships and collaborations that occupied Sunita’s mind. Although funding was the primary support Pratham would have from a corporate partner, it was valuable when the partner involved themselves in Pratham’s programs and were able to contribute time and effort along with the money. The partner’s engagement with the programs had gained even more importance with the COVID-19 outbreak as new challenges made themselves known and impact became harder to define. However, engaging partners was not easy, and was something Sunita had to think about. In a way COVID-19 had brought forth the intent and levels of commitment Pratham’s corporate partners held towards developing the education sector and helping Pratham make a difference in the field – while several partners had continued support and engagement, some had chosen to back out of the alliance in these tough times. Some partners, though, had truly risen to the occasion and were battling the crisis hand-in-hand with Pratham. Looking back on all the previous partners Pratham had had in India since 2005, and taking into account the current COVID-19 crisis in particular, Sunita identified one that stood out brilliantly - the collaboration with ADP, a corporate specialising in providing payroll and human resource management solutions. Right from the start, it had been a smooth sail with ADP, and Sunita found that partners like ADP were precisely what her NGO needed to create the sort of impact they wanted to in India. After all, ADP had truly proven its mettle and dedication towards the partnership by providing invaluable support to Pratham’s activities in the past few months.

Lost in these thoughts, Sunita almost missed the ringing of her cell phone, managing to pick up at the last ring. “How’re you doing, Sunita?” It was Nandini Dasgupta on the other end, calling to check in with her on the progress they had made. Sunita marvelled at the perfect timing of the call- as the country-wide lead of Corporate Fundraising for Pratham, Nandini was the best person to voice her thoughts on potential corporate partnerships to. “I’m so glad you called, Nandini,” she said. “I was just going through a list of our current partnerships. I know that we have a great rapport with our existing partners, but we might face some challenges with the new reality COVID-19 has brought in. In such difficult times, the prospect of selecting a new partner whose goals and ideals align with Pratham’s is daunting.”

“I agree,” Nandini replied. “It is hard work to build and sustain such partnerships, bringing corporates close enough to the work to understand ground realities.” She paused, thinking, and then continued. “We’ve had a great run with ADP - perhaps we could use that partnership to share as an example for future collaborations?”

Sunita considered Nandini’s words. “You make an excellent point. The way ADP’s team has immersed itself completely in the project is truly inspiring and has been such a critical factor to the success we’ve seen these past few years here in Telangana. Not to mention, all the work they have been doing with us since the lockdown began in March - from providing digital resources to volunteering efforts, they’ve really stepped up and reinforced how meaningful this partnership is.”

The ADP-Pratham Alliance: Origins and Development

Sunita let her mind travel back in time to when it all began- the ADP-Pratham partnership. It was 2013 when Sreedhar Gunduboina, CSR Manager at ADP India, had approached Pratham seeking an opportunity for his organisation to work with Pratham in Hyderabad and Pune. ADP had previously partnered with a social sector organisation that aimed to eradicate poverty by providing education, access to sanitation, healthcare and specialised aid for farming. Now that the partnership had come to an end, ADP wished to make the education sector a focus for their next CSR venture. The following year, in 2014, the partnership between ADP and Pratham commenced with an aim to create and foster interventions in learning, for selected target Mandals (subdistricts in Indian cities) and schools in both Hyderabad and Pune. Over the years, the continued success of ADP’s CSR Program MIDAS (Making Impactful Difference At School) in collaboration with Pratham led to increased community outreach and higher number of schools covered. In the year 2018-19, the program worked with 80 communities across both the cities, reaching out to 35 schools in the Bandlaguda municipal region in Hyderabad, and 30 schools in Bibwewada, Pune. Out of these, 25 primary schools and ten primary schools in Bandlaguda were targeted for the intervention. Although the Early Childhood Education program and the primary grades witnessed higher outreach in Pune than in Hyderabad, in terms of intervention for upper primary (grades 5/6 to 8), community learning hub and science centres as well as the community-based children’s groups, Hyderabad saw higher levels of community outreach. However, the overall success of the program was undeniable in both Hyderabad and Pune. Sunita was pleased to note that competency goals for nearly all grades and subjects had been achieved, and in fact, the goals had been surpassed by the excellence of the work put into the program. There was a slight lag in the reading competency for standard 1-2 in Hyderabad, but Sunita was sure that with the consistent efforts put in by both Pratham and ADP, that shortcoming too would be overcome soon. 


ADP’s Approach to Partnership

“Many companies can fund our programs and provide monetary help to support our work. But what makes ADP a great partner is their long-term involvement and continued interest in the work we’re doing and the lives we’re trying to improve.” Still on the call with Sunita, Nandini continued. “ADP’s approach to funding us has been quite a commitment from their side.”

“Absolutely. ADP has never hesitated to participate in whatever way they can.” Sunita agreed. The corporate had indeed aided in funding Pratham’s programs but had not limited its involvement to that alone. Sunita could think of several ways ADP had involved itself in the programs, all of which were a welcome addition to Pratham’s activities. Having funded the provision of quality infrastructure at the target schools, ADP then joined Pratham in identifying Model Schools, as they were known - total of 12 schools in Pune and 16 in Hyderabad had been covered as of early 2020. ADP was an active participant in the Model Schools Program, and the program itself was inaugurated by the global CSR head at ADP. Pratham and ADP worked together in this program to install solar panels, new toilets, design classrooms and paint the premises. ADP provided computers and helped develop Science Centres as well as Community Learning Hubs to help students gain additional skills such as proficiency in MS Office Suite and practical application-based knowledge of scientific concepts.

In addition, understanding that some particularly keen students could be provided additional support, ADP worked closely with Pratham to develop the Star Program, where select students from Hyderabad and Pune would be provided additional academic help and career guidance to help them excel in their higher studies.

Another area of active participation Sunita found particularly important was that of e-learning and digital intervention. ADP understood that digital learning was the need of the hour and would be especially beneficial to the students in Pratham’s programs since it would give them much needed technological exposure while making difficult topics easier and more interesting to learn. Thus, ADP collaborated with Pratham on the content front, and provided a number of tablets to the target communities, starting with ten communities in Pune and eventually reaching Hyderabad by 2019. ADP’s involvement in digital learning at Pratham was a clear indicator of the significant amount of thought and effort the corporate was putting into understanding the needs of the Indian education system and helping Pratham fulfil those needs effectively.

When the COVID-19 outbreak led to the country-wide lockdown, Pratham knew that their work had become more challenging and would require combined efforts with partners, as well as lots of innovative thinking to succeed. Fortunately, ADP was on the same page of thought, and understood that the mission remained the same – to reach, inspire and educate as many children as possible, using creative methods of teaching, and making the whole process a community effort – but they would have to find new ways and mediums to achieve this. Since face to face interactions were no longer possible, ADP found a new role for their volunteers to work in with Pratham: they joined the Pratham teachers in the daily process of calling up the parents of the students and engaging them in conversations ranging from different fields of learning to simple practical topics such as ‘the correct hand-wash methods,’ ‘use of face masks,’ etc. This was intended to serve a dual purpose of slowly bridging the divide created by the lack of face-to-face communication, and involving the parents even more closely in the student’s learning process. Moreover, these calls were extremely helpful for those students who lacked resources such as smartphones, computers and/or internet services in their homes. Now that traditional classroom learning would not be an option for at least several months to come, Pratham had to shift largely to digital learning- and this is where ADP’s active efforts had paid off as well. For the years 2018-19 and 2019-20, ADP had been busy at work translating various digital content into the Telugu language to help native language learners in the Telangana schools, and the 120 videos translated till date were truly coming into good use now. With continuous effort, active participation and an open mindset, ADP had demonstrated a highly collaborative spirit and had created a bond to cherish, especially in such uncertain times.

Making a Partnership for the Long-term

Sunita thought back to the previous corporate alliances Pratham had been through, and one thing was clear to her: although many corporates had supported Pratham’s programs, they had not always been deeply involved with the program on the ground. Sunita recalled how sometimes partners would suggest something different from Pratham’s existing tried and tested practices or objectives that were not part of Pratham's mandate.

However, to everyone’s delight, the partnership with ADP was different. To begin with, as Sunita recalled, ADP took the time and effort to thoroughly understand Pratham as an organisation, working with them to study the various programs in place, the techniques, procedures and practices followed at every level and for different programs as well. ADP already had a good track record with their work with the NGO they had previously collaborated with, which set them off at a good start with Pratham too, and led Pratham to hope that this alliance would be successful. Unlike many other partners, ADP expressed their wish to hit the ground running when it came to their contribution to Pratham’s programs - it was evident that not only did ADP take their CSR goals seriously, they were also keen to create real impact at the grassroots, which had always been one of Pratham’s main goals as well. Sunita could see how ADP’s commitment and enthusiasm towards the MIDAS program was reflected in their participation in the same, by their regular check-ins to ensure that the requisite infrastructure reached the schools and students, and by their presence as volunteers in many community activities.  Sunita smiled as she remembered what a tremendous success the Science, Math and English melas had been last year; the students had had so much fun, their parents had taken pride in seeing how much their children had learnt, and it was an enriching experience for volunteers from both Pratham and ADP. “I do think we enjoy a healthy alliance with ADP. Apart from funding and helping obtain infrastructure, they have always been very helpful when we reached out to them for additional aid.” Sunita remarked.

“That’s true. I remember them helping us provide extra study material to meritorious students and organizing events such as success meets to motivate high-performing students further.” Nandini added. “I think it’s important to note that they are able and willing to support our programs so efficiently and wholeheartedly because they have really understood our vision and aligned their focus accordingly, while continuing to work in tandem with us to meet the needs of the Indian education system."

“I agree.” Sunita paused, searching for the words to voice out the concern that still nagged at her when she thought of future corporate alliances. She said, “We now know what qualities we are looking for in a potential corporate partner. But how do we gauge at the outset whether that corporate’s goals, vision and purpose for partnering with us match well with our interests?”

Road ahead for Pratham and Future Corporate Alliances

Sunita got off the call with Nandini, thinking hard about what Pratham could do to find strong corporate partners. Several ideas buzzed around in her head. Alternatively, should Pratham come up with a partnership note detailing the nature of collaboration and involvement in programs - or would that be too prescriptive an approach, given that programs and activities kept evolving with changing times, a fair example of which would be the current COVID-19 situation, and thus, so would the type of collaboration between Pratham and the donor?


The experts bring in their perspective as they respond to the key questions the case poses.

Social sector, Education, NGOs, Corporate Social Responsibility, Cross-sector partnerships, Alliances, Strategy, Resource sharing

Write to us at


Social Enterprise | Partnerships and Alliances | Strategy