Archana Raghuram made volunteering fashionable at IT services firm Cognizant, motivating 50,000 employees, mostly millennials, to dedicate more than 900,000 after-work volunteering hours over seven years to educate and build school infrastructure for underprivileged children, train teachers, offer career counseling, and more. “I opted to run the volunteering program not because it was a career path but because I was inspired by the chance to work toward making a difference in so many young lives,” Raghuram says. She set up a technology platform through which employees can offer their time and skills, bringing transparency and accountability to the program. An app shows daily volunteer opportunities, allowing employees to sign on with a single click, and a metrics-driven Impact Index measures the effects of their work on a monthly basis. The program has directly helped 400,000 schoolkids so far, has stemmed attrition at Cognizant, and has inspired other Indian companies to follow suit.
Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?
My biggest source of creative inspiration is books. My favorite genre is popular science. Like some people have comfort food, I have comfort books, which I read repeatedly return to.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I wake up at 4 a.m. and run on alternate days. On the other days, I wake up at 5 a.m. and practice yoga. This morning regimen helps me set goals and push myself to achieve them.
What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?
The fact that so many people volunteer despite their long work hours.
Generally, people think of our volunteering as a linear process where volunteers help and children benefit. But it is a much more synergetic process–everyone involved is enriched by the experience.
What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?
Chris Anderson, the CEO of TED. I have always admired his vision and the way he has shaped TED. I am a fan of Ramesh Srivats @rameshsrivats, whose sense of irony I love. The only account I follow on Instagram is TED.
What are some things you do to refresh your mind when you’re in a rut?
Reading relaxes and rejuvenates me. Until a few years ago, I would go to a bookstore, browse books for hours on end, and come back feeling completely relaxed. Now with most of my favorite bookstores disappearing, I get to browse only at airports. Buying books online is not the same as buying them from a bookstore.
Who outside of your field inspires you the most and why?
As a child, I used to watch Cosmos by Carl Sagan. It inspired in me a permanent love for physics. As I grew up, I came to realize what a wonderful thing he had done for generations of physicists. He made the subject approachable and beautiful.