IT Programme Manager

Santhana Selvan is an IT Programme Manager with Reckitt in India. An experienced project manager based in Hyderabad, Santhana uses the organisational expertise gained in his professional life to lead an initiative – Relief Riders – aimed at ensuring elderly people across his home city have access to vital medication during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The encouragement he received to use his skills in a different setting is, he says, what Freedom to Succeed is all about.

I was a keen cyclist long before I’d heard of Covid-19. I’m involved with an Amsterdam-based social enterprise called BYCS, which promotes cycling globally. They made me the “Bicycle Mayor of Hyderabad” which sounds like a lot of fun – and it is! – but it has a serious side too: we’re aiming to have fifty percent of all journeys in the city be made by bike by 2030. It’s an incredibly important goal, to reduce pollution, reduce carbon, tackle congestion, to help people be more fit and healthy; cycling is a benefit in so many ways.

Feeling passionate about public health is definitely rooted in my career. You can’t work with brands like Dettol, Lysol and Harpic here in India without being really aware of the importance of health and hygiene and the challenges that different communities face in these areas. I think we’re all conscious of working in a vital area where we have the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives. That ability to make positive change is a huge motivating factor.

The skill set that I’ve learned and fine-tuned at Reckitt has given me the ability to take this on and make it happen; and Freedom to Succeed – that culture that absolutely encourages us to go and do the right thing, that is what gives me the passion and inspiration to get out there and really help people.

Building skills in one area can have big, unexpected benefits in another. The second wave of Covid-19 hit us much harder here than the first. One of the problems we have is that so many talented young people have travelled abroad to pursue careers, which means that there are many in the older age group with little support. Covid meant that these people – my friends and neighbours – were suddenly isolated and vulnerable. That was when I started to wonder what I could do to help… and if there’s one thing a project manager can do, it’s organise!

We started small but the word soon spread. There’s no doubt the press and social media were a big help. We started with just ten or twenty volunteers – all with bikes – who agreed to ride around the city and bring prescriptions and so forth to elderly people who could not go out. Of course we take all necessary Covid precautions to keep them safe. Within two weeks I had 100 people asking to help, and now we’re up to 175. Because it has spread to different districts I’ve been able to assign people and delegate tasks – as any good project manager should, of course.

It’s the freedom to make a difference that matters. Because the culture at Reckitt actively encourages people to think about how they can make a difference – as well as being one where we get to develop a wide range of skills professionally – we’re all in a position where we really can succeed in making change happen. For me this is quite profound; it’s not that our doctors and nurses in India haven’t been working so hard – they have – but there is still such an unmet need, so many suffering. The gratitude in the voices of those we help has been so moving, at times almost heartbreaking.

Despite the difficulties it has been a great experience. Because the Relief Riders programme has been so successful it has fed back into our bigger aspirations for cycling in Hyderabad. It has enabled me to make contact with many more interested people and co-ordinate different groups; and of course, the more people that ride their bikes, the better off we will all be – because fitter, healthier people have better natural immunity to disease, so cycling helps in the fight against Covid as well as with sustainability. It’s a brilliant way to spread the word.

Colleagues tell me that they appreciate the freedom to do more things like volunteering and social service – and this feeling of being entrepreneurial with the skills we have, it feeds right back into your work responsibilities; it really creates a virtuous circle.

I think the last year has changed us all. I think that we’re all more aware now of the things we can do to help within our own communities, and I know that for me, the Freedom to Succeed was the springboard that enabled me to use my skills to go and do something about it. I’ve definitely learned that anything is possible – and if it is a good thing that you do, if you can reach out and connect, and help people in your community who need it, then it can come back to benefit you in ways that you never expect or look for. That’s how you turn the freedom we have into real success.

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