While there’s no doubt that a strong education is key to a prosperous future, not everyone finishes school or goes on to university, and dropping out of school is often connected to poverty. That’s true not only in the United States— where the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that roughly two million young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 are unenrolled in school and have no high school diploma— but also in other countries, like India, where there may currently be as many as 1.2 million students aged 6-18 who are not enrolled in any school.
Krishna Rajendran, CEO and Founder of Karallief, a nutraceutical company based out of Boston, has built not only a thriving business but also a corporate social responsibility program that could be a game changer for keeping students in school.
Although Rajendran lives in and runs his company from Boston, he grew up in South India, and moved to the United States in 2015. Through these major changes in a young life, Rajendran knows the importance of both having access to, and utilizing, a good education. “I grew up in South India and was blessed to attend good schools where I not only experienced the value of a good education, but also had the support system in place that helped me to get the most out of that education.”
Importantly, Rajendran knows that education plays a critical role in shaping a child’s future, whether they live in Boston, Massachusetts or Bangalore, India. “Education lays the groundwork for a successful future. It gives kids the opportunity to decide what they want to do with their lives. Critically, for some kids, it means the opportunity to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.”
In Boston, just shy of 18-percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and more than 400 low-income students in the area drop out of school each year. That’s why Rajendran (even before starting Karallief) took action to help strengthen systems of support in Boston and resolve food insecurities, which are known to have a negative impact on student learning outcomes, concentration, mood, motor skills, and memory. “In the past, I have worked with the Greater Boston Food Bank and Red Cross Food Pantry to provide emergency food supplies for impoverished communities,” said Rajendran. “After starting Karallief, I have weaved that into Karallief’s mission and core values to provide good nutrition and help improve people’s lives, so this is a natural starting point for our corporate social responsibility. And importantly, the focus is on our immediate community, where our company is based. We believe that having solid, secure nutrition doesn’t just keep people physically and mentally healthy, but also provides the foundation they need to succeed in everyday life, and that includes at work or at school.”
Although a small and growing business, Karallief’s social responsibility programs aren’t limited to Boston. Rajendran himself has worked with Children International— an organization focused on fighting poverty and increasing access to nutritious food, medical care, and education— to support the well-being and education of 14 children in impoverished communities around the world. And he’s grown Karallief’s CSR program to provide support where it all started, and where the company’s products are manufactured today: South India. “Kids in India don’t always complete their education; they drop out for a variety of reasons. I reached out to teachers at some village schools to see what we could do to support the teachers and students and keep the students in school all the way through graduation,” said Rajendran, noting that education, learning, and curiosity are at the very core of Karallief, making it equally as important to him as providing nutrition and food security. The two, he said, go hand in hand. “Karallief is a science-based organization that is constantly doing research and is constantly innovating. We are learning and growing as individuals and also as a company, becoming better every day. We believe that providing educational opportunities to children will help them to learn and acquire new skills, to grow, and then to help others. And that lifts the entire community around them. It builds the future.”
As of 2019, 90 percent of companies on the S&P 500 Index had sustainability or corporate social responsibility programs in place, and while Rajendran believes this does make a difference, he says it’s not the total sum answer.
“Rather than saying why a business should give back, I would flip that to talk about why each of us as individuals should give back. Every one of us has benefitted from some opportunity given to us by someone else. If we all paid it forward, we would create a reinforcing loop that would make the world much better than it is today. You never know what change you can make in the world until you do it. It all starts with just one person doing something small and meaningful to see a world of difference.”