ROOTED IN CSR

In a Q&A ses­sion with MAR­WAR, Avni Jhunjhnuwala, scion of the Hong Kong-based Ovolo Group, talks about spear­head­ing the group’s CSR wing and the ac­tiv­i­ties that are clos­est to her heart.

Marwar - - Contents - Text JOSEPH ROZARIO

In a Q&A ses­sion with MAR­WAR, Avni Jhunjhnuwala, scion of the Hong Kong-based Ovolo Group, talks about spear­head­ing the group’s CSR wing and the ac­tiv­i­ties that are clos­est to her heart.

With a de­gree in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion and work ex­pe­ri­ence gath­ered at an in­ter­na­tional pro­duc­tion com­pany, why did you choose to be­gin your ca­reer by head­ing the CSR wing?

Hospi­tal­ity has always been my pas­sion. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be part of the fam­ily busi­ness and was look­ing for the right op­por­tu­nity to make a mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tion to both Ovolo and our lo­cal com­mu­nity. Af­ter fin­ish­ing my stud­ies in Amer­ica and gath­er­ing a year’s ex­pe­ri­ence at FarWest En­ter­tain­ment, my par­ents sug­gested that I look at de­vel­op­ing the CSR wing of Ovolo. The com­pany had grown from own­ing a sin­gle up­scale ser­viced apart­ment in 2002 to having mul­ti­ple award-win­ning life­style ho­tels un­der its um­brella by 2012. As a suc­cess­ful en­ter­prise, we be­lieve that we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pos­i­tively im­pact the com­mu­ni­ties in which we live. Though I had no prior ex­pe­ri­ence in CSR, I quickly grew to love it. Or­gan­is­ing char­ity events and group ac­tiv­i­ties is very re­ward­ing, and I like the good karma! I am also in­volved in the cre­ative and de­vel­op­men­tal side of Ovolo Ho­tels.

What does CSR mean to you?

It’s about find­ing har­mony between in­ter­na­tional busi­ness and an im­me­di­ate lo­cal com­mu­nity, and putting ev­ery­thing into per­spec­tive. Run­ning this depart­ment for Ovolo has been a great way for me to en­gage with our team mem­bers and learn from them.

Tell us more about your work for dis­abled chil­dren and the el­derly.

Hong Kong is a very pros­per­ous city and yet some groups are over­looked; they some­how slip through the cracks, and that ne­ces­si­tates our sup­port. We sup­port dis­abled chil­dren through the Duchess of Kent Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal. It is a hos­pi­tal that my grand­fa­ther used to sup­port, and we wanted to carry on the tra­di­tion by vis­it­ing pa­tients in their time of need and rais­ing funds for new equip­ment. That apart, we also fre­quent el­derly homes—usu­ally the ones lo­cated in the vicin­ity of our ho­tels.

We also hear that you want to fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion and health in In­dia.

Last year, Ovolo Ho­tels opened its first in­ter­na­tional life­style ho­tel in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia. The re­sponse from over­seas guests and the press to our unique of­fer­ing—one that re­ally fo­cuses on the mod­ern trav­eller through bright, smartly spaced in­te­ri­ors and all-in­clu­sive ser­vices where ev­ery­thing from Wi-Fi to break­fast and mini­bar is free—was over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive. Such re­sponses will en­cour­age us to con­tinue grow­ing, not only in terms of ex­pand­ing our chain but also in spread­ing our CSR ini­tia­tives in­ter­na­tion­ally. Our in­volve­ment in In­dia

has been through our um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion Hind Group. They have set up the S S Jhunjhnuwala Di­a­betes Re­search Cen­tre for the in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised Madras Di­a­betes Re­search Foun­da­tion in South In­dia. The cen­tre fo­cuses on sup­port­ing and en­cour­ag­ing pi­o­neer­ing re­search in the field of di­a­betes in In­dia. The Hind Group also makes do­na­tions to camps for po­lio treat­ment and eye surgery in Haryana and Ra­jasthan.

You have also en­gaged in tack­ling cul­tural bar­ri­ers. Do elab­o­rate.

Strength­en­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion and re­la­tion­ships across cul­tures is so im­por­tant to­day that I started our main CSR ini­tia­tive with ‘Bring Me a Book’, a Hong Kong­based NGO which pro­motes read­ing among chil­dren and par­ents. We started a ‘Chi­nese as a Sec­ond Lan­guage’ (CSL) pro­gramme at a school des­ig­nated for eth­nic mi­nor­ity chil­dren from a low-in­come Hong Kong sub­urb. Be­cause the Ed­u­ca­tion Bureau of Hong Kong has not im­ple­mented CSL pro­grammes in schools like th­ese, the lan­guage bar­rier nat­u­rally cre­ates a cul­tural di­vide between chil­dren who speak Chi­nese and those who don’t. This rift leads to poor stu­dent morale and makes it more dif­fi­cult for stu­dents to get into good HK uni­ver­si­ties, which re­sults in poor job op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents from eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups. In many cases, they end up work­ing at con­struc­tion sites or restau­rants, or have to set­tle for other low-wage jobs. The sole rea­son for this is not having the op­por­tu­nity to learn Chi­nese at a young age. Our CSL pro­gramme is one year long. I re­mem­ber when I at­tended the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the in­au­gu­ral year, I was sim­ply amazed by how much the stu­dents had picked up. In just a year of classes and work­shops, they seemed to have learnt to speak quite com­fort­ably and had even de­vel­oped ac­cents that were spot on! It was very en­cour­ag­ing. As of now, we are look­ing to de­velop a pro­gramme where we would be able to help still more stu­dents from other ar­eas of Hong Kong.

Be­ing from an eth­nic mi­nor­ity group my­self in Hong Kong, I feel that any­one who set­tles here should love it as much as we do. So we try to en­sure that stu­dents ben­e­fit from the pro­gramme and find a brighter future for them­selves.

Tell us about your future plans.

As re­gards Ovolo, our pri­mary ob­jec­tive is to con­tinue grow­ing. We are always look­ing at new op­por­tu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly in Aus­tralia and the Asia Pacific re­gion. We have re­cently in­au­gu­rated our big­gest prop­erty yet—an iconic 162-room ware­house con­ver­sion ho­tel. It is lo­cated in the South Side of Hong Kong, where it is very beau­ti­ful and sunny. For the first time in the city, a ware­house has been trans­formed into a luxury ho­tel. I am par­tic­u­larly ex­cited about this project be­cause it is the first to have a full-scale restau­rant, rooftop bar and event spa­ces within the build­ing. Th­ese will make the ho­tel in­ter­ac­tive for both in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal guests. As for my­self, at the mo­ment, I am re­ally en­joy­ing liv­ing and work­ing in Hong Kong. I feel so blessed to have been brought up in such an amaz­ing city. I don’t see why any­one would ever want to leave! My fa­ther, Girish Jhunjhnuwala, has built Ovolo from the ground up; it has flour­ished into a won­der­ful com­pany to­day and is a great place to work at. Ovolo is steadily grow­ing at the mo­ment, and I want to con­trib­ute to its growth; I want to see it all hap­pen and con­tinue to spread our mes­sage, ‘Shiny Happy Peo­ple All Around’, in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Avni with fa­ther Girish Jhunjhnuwala

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