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Vol. XXIX No. 17, December 16-31, 2019
Editor’s note: Some time back, Chennai Heritage, which owns Madras Musings, was taken over by the Chennai Willingdon Corporate Foundation. As CWCF turns 20 this year, the team thought it an opportune moment to carry a piece on the institution which has contributed so much to Chennai over the years.
Chennai Willingdon Corporate Foundation turns 20 this year. It wouldn’t be too far off the mark to say that the history of this organisation falls in step with many milestones crossed by our city over the past couple of decades – it contributed to the restoration and renovation of the 150-year old Senate House of the University of Madras, for instance.
Chennai Willingdon Corporate Foundation traces its origin to the historic Willingdon Hospital, an eminent medical institution founded by the then First Lady of Madras, Marie Adelaide Freeman-Thomas, Marchioness of Willingdon.
When the hospital had to take a bow after nearly a century of medical service (owing to an unsustainable business model in the face of an evolving healthcare sector), its Committee decided to utilise the sales proceeds to establish a not-for-profit company that would contribute to non-profit projects that improve the quality of life in Chennai. And thus, Chennai Willingdon Corporate Foundation was born.
Governed by a board comprising some of the city’s leading corporate heads, CWCF is a non-profit organisation in its own league, one that is certainly unique in Chennai. It provides financial support to activities involving healthcare & research, education and social welfare. So far, it has supported over 120 organisations and disbursed over 175 grants, supporting true-blue Chennai institutions such as the University of Madras, The Cancer Institute, Vidya Sagar, The Mylapore Academy, Chennai Corporation Schools and more. It has recently broadened its reach to support activities that promote and preserve Chennai’s art, culture, heritage and environment.
Over the years, the foundation has changed its approach from ‘Quantity’ to ‘Quality’. The team is pushing the envelope to look beyond just passive contributions and is investing effort in amplifying the actual impact delivered through the programs they support.
CWCF’s commitment to deliver tangible results is reflected in the methodical due diligence and governance protocols followed by the foundation – a strength that it is rightly proud of. The eligibility criteria for organisations seeking support are clearly laid out as are the guidelines which drive scrutiny of the proposed projects to verify worthiness, track record and conformity. CWCF draws upon the wealth of experience of its board members to ensure that donations are disbursed and deployed in an efficient, impactful manner.
Because the foundation believes in forging partnerships rather than remaining a passive donor, CWCF also extends consulting support where required. An interesting anecdote in this vein involves a children’s educational institute for the visually impaired, which approached CWCF for help with building restrooms. CWCF encouraged them to re-think the proposed plan to build disabled-friendly restrooms that align with a universal design. The institute re-designed their model, eventually building restrooms equipped with tactile walls and flooring, handlebars, rails and more. By providing fresh perspectives where needed, CWCF ensures that their projects deliver maximum value to its beneficiaries.
In its 20 years of operations, CWCF has contributed to myriad projects which have ushered in many ‘firsts’ for Chennai. It supported ‘Wherever the Need India Services (an arm of Sanitation First UK, an organization working towards the vision of safe, hygienic toilets for all) in building Chennai’s first ecosan sanitation block at Perungudi Higher Secondary School; it works with Rhapsody Music Foundation (founded by the well-known musician Anil Srinivasan) in exploring innovative teaching methodologies based on music; it also helped Blue Cross Velachery construct a geriatric ward for abandoned elderly and sick dogs.
Today, the concepts of ‘social enterprise’ and ‘profit for purpose’ are gaining rapid popularity, with people recognizing the potential in driving social good through strategic commerce. It’s worth reflecting that Chennai made great strides in this direction as a frontrunner with the Chennai Willingdon Corporate Foundation, which embarked on its mission to tap corporate experience to drive sustainable social change nearly two decades ago. Remarkably, the organisation has been steadily delivering on its monumental mission quietly, sans pomp and circumstance. What a very Chennai thing to do. Happy 20th anniversary, CWCF.