At NTT, we’re working toward a more sustainable world. The company has embraced our Sustainability Ambition and we’re seeing how ambitions come to life when passionate people become involved. Chitralekha Kalmady is our Associate Director of Culture, Diversity and Sustainability and a striking example of how enthusiasm leads the way to connection and change.

How does empowering girl children through our right-to-learn initiative work? How have we made a difference?

Since NTT is a technical company, we wanted to do something about the right to learn. So, in 2017, NTT “adopted” a government-aided girls’ school in Mumbai, India. These children belong to lower-income groups where keeping children, especially girls, in school is a challenge. Before this project, the dropout rate was very high, as continuing the education of a girl child is not a priority.

I’ve been involved since inception, and I can see that we’ve made an incredible difference in the lives of these girl children. We’ve undertaken many developmental initiatives over the years. We built a computer lab, science lab and library for them, we provided water purifiers for safe drinking water, and we sponsor meals for good nutrition. And to help them grow up to be financially independent, we’re conducting career guidance and vocational training sessions. With COVID-19, we did digital learning sessions for them, too.

We also include our girl children in all of our festival celebrations. For Diwali week, we had a desk decoration competition for NTT people, and we invited our girl children as judges!

When they come to our premises, their eyes light up looking at our infrastructure like videoconferencing and they say: “Yes, I have to complete my education, so in the future I can work for a company like NTT.”

We’ve seen a measurable difference. The graduation rate is now 100%; 95% of the girls enroll in college; and more than 1,100 girls are now computer literate. All of this isn’t through an NGO or just cutting a check. We go to the school along with our people and we do it ourselves.

It rained on World Cleanup Day. How did you convince people to ignore the rain?

This was the second attempt. I’d tried before on World Ocean Day, but the COVID-19 surge in India meant that we just put a halt to it, and everyone was advised to work from home. Finally, on World Cleanup Day 2022, when the drive was about to start, it was raining heavily in a few cities. People started calling me at five in the morning and I said, “We’ll meet up and see what to do.”

Despite the rain, 221 NTT employees in India used their volunteer leave and participated in our cleanup drives across the country to make a difference and build a sustainable world for future generations. And with the help of NTT Changemakers, we collected about 725kg of waste across five cities in India.

When the registrations for this event started, people started contacting me from NTT group companies and I opened the invitation to all other group companies in India. This allowed our people to come together as one NTT and, most importantly, our girl children joined in this event through a cleanup drive at our school on the same day at the same time. The school and the girl children are integral to whatever we do.

A dirty beachfront

A clean beachfront

Dadar Chowpatty beachfront in Mumbai, India, before NTT arrived on World Cleanup Day (top image) and after

What does your career journey look like?

I have 21 years’ experience in human resources. My roles have involved working with people and for people. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to play different roles in HR, like when I joined Dimension Data as Head of Talent Acquisition 11 years ago. From there I moved to a business partnering role in NTT and then our employee experience program. Currently, I’m handling employee experience, culture, sustainability and diversity for NTT in India. I firmly believe in measuring the impact of everything I do for our people, our business and our society.

How do you get buy-in and backing for your sustainability projects?

Getting buy-in and commitment from people, especially business leaders, is often incredibly important for the success of our initiatives. It means direct contact with the leaders and sharing how these initiatives can have a positive impact on their teams and their businesses. Being clear and specific about the expectations and outcomes helps.

How does NTT support your sustainability projects?

The sustainability program launched in 2021 shows the company’s commitment and gives me ample opportunity to fulfill my passion of working for our people and for society. The most important thing is the trust factor. There is a lot of brainstorming done before I present my ideas. I write emails to my CEO and Managing Director and seek approval. Then, when I have a project to be executed, I get enormous support from management and it’s like, “OK, Chitra. You want to do this. Please go ahead.”

How do you feel about your achievements?

My biggest feeling is gratitude. I feel grateful I have a chance to do something that shapes lives. One student positively affected could mean one whole family has a better future.

So, I feel privileged that I am helping to create a better future for our people and our communities. I was on top of the world when I attended the award ceremony at the house of the Honorable Governor of Maharashtra, India, house for outstanding contributions to the Annamrita Foundation's food-distribution project during COVID-19. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Then there was an award we received at the Tokyo Sustainability Conference in 2020. This was an acknowledgment of the hard work we did for our girl children and, most importantly, global teams talking about our girl children.

I feel it is my duty to spread the good word and create more believers in doing right and doing good. I’m willing to contribute to replicate the good work we have already done. I would like to keep learning, widening my horizons and being grateful for the opportunities that come my way.

Read more about NTT’s Sustainability initiatives.