I vividly remember my 2 a.m. call with Sethu, one of Amazon’s line haul managers one April night in 2021. Sethu was trying to move hundreds of boxes containing critical oxygen concentrators from Mumbai airport with just a handful of staffers due to the Covid-19 situation. We knew every minute was precious in getting these devices to hospitals and we had to pull out all the stops to make this happen. Even as the seconds ticked into minutes, I realised that never again in my career would I have the privilege of doing something as important, as time-sensitive as Mission Vayu. By the time Mission Vayu was concluded, Amazon had delivered over 10,000 oxygen concentrators and ventilators to more than 450 hospitals across the country.

Mission Vayu

‘Success and scale bring broad responsibility’

Amazon’s newest leadership principle talks about how ‘Success and scale bring broad responsibility towards our local communities, the planet, and future generations. In India, this has been integral to Amazon’s operations from day 1. Today, our philanthropic efforts span over 900 pincodes. Our focus is on helping future generations thrive (through education and skilling), supporting families hit by disasters, and enabling over 100,000 Amazonians to give back to the community.

Redefining how students learn computer science and explore careers

Amazon Future Engineer is a childhood-to-career program focused on computer science and computational thinking programs to students from underprivileged families in partnership with government schools and nonprofits. In less than two years, over 1.5 million children across 11 states in India have either had exploratory sessions in coding, bootcamps or completed over 40 hours of computer science learning. Personally, it has been inspiring to see dedicated teachers learn new skills and go on to use it to teach computer science, social studies, science and languages, which in turn positively impacts both attendance and learning outcomes for students. We have even had some very interesting partnerships with Alexa, including in Ladakh and Bastar with students accessing educational resources not by asking their teacher but also Alexa!

Amazon in Community program

Women need better representation in STEM/tech roles and to ensure this, we also launched the Amazon Future Engineer scholarships in 2021 exclusively for girls from low-income and disadvantaged communities. In two years, we awarded scholarships covering all four years of college education to 700 girls within computer science and engineering. To enable a successful transition to the work environment, we provide girls with coding bootcamps and mentorship too. We have now embarked on the next stage of this program which is an early internship program within Amazon for scholarship holders.

Empowering employees to give back

Tree plantation_Amazon employees

During the pandemic, we saw millions of children from underprivileged communities lose access to education because of a lack of digital devices. Sensing this need from nonprofit partners on the ground, we launched the ‘Delivering Smiles’ program to bridge this digital divide. Over the last 3 years we have been able to donate more than 20,000 devices, to over 200,000 kids across the country to government school classrooms. Employees are the biggest advocates for communities. We enable and encourage our employees and teams to actively and consistently contribute their time and skills to local communities, and our leaders lead from the front. Our maiden Global Month of Volunteering last year saw thousands of Amazonians working on community initiatives, ranging from tree plantation and clean-up drives to recording audiobooks, transforming schools and mentoring students from underprivileged backgrounds. Employees can also champion causes they are passionate about by availing small grants of Rs 5-10 Lakhs on behalf of the nonprofits. Through this program, we have supported over 150 small nonprofits across the country over the last two years. We are now looking to raise the bar in going beyond just funding and supporting these organisations with more specific skill-based volunteer support.

Being a good neighbor – fundamental to our ethos

Beach clean up drive_Amazon in the Community

Our work around fulfillment centers and AWS data centers are integrated with what local communities need, and we have been working on this early on in Amazon’s journey in India. From the time of planning any new office or fulfillment/data center, the local community needs are identified and the community teams work closely with the business teams to implement local interventions including regular volunteering by the staff. Our programs around our operations and AWS centers span education, skilling, women empowerment and environment-related interventions. These have impacted over a million community members across till date.

Disaster relief – where time is of essence

Amazon’s largest relief response was Mission Vayu during the deadly second wave of Covid-19 to more than 450 hospitals across the country. Apart from that, we have responded to more than 100 requests for support during 25 natural disasters across 14 states and UTs, including the Kerala floods (2018) and Uttarakhand floods (2021). Our focus is on providing urgent relief to affected communities. We pre-position relief kits in different locations so that when there is a disaster, we can quickly deliver it through Amazon’s logistics network, and during particularly large-scale disasters by enabling employees and customers to donate through Amazon Pay and Gateway activations. Recently, Amazon participated in a G20 Working Group side event to talk about our work on strengthening social protection systems for climate and disaster risk management. We are committed to collaborating with key government institutions such as the National Disaster Management Authority to understand how Amazon can further contribute.

The last week was particularly emotional given the terrible train accident in Odisha. Within a few hours of the tragedy, we activated our network of on-ground nonprofit partners who reached the site to support with water, food and medical aid. Our philosophy of leveraging business strengths to support communities can be seen in how Amazon can not only deliver customer shipments within hours but also critical aid during disasters. These may be early days in our philanthropy journey in India, but we know there are exciting ways to partner with governments, non-profits and the community at large. For us too, it’s still Day 1!