Mumbai-based company offers lifeline to the local special needs community by only employing those with disabilties to man its call centre.
Willing and able at Mumbai call centre
Rajeev Mehta from Mumbai permanently lost the use of both his legs after contracting polio at the age of four.
Mr Mehta, who comes from a humble background, quickly discovered after finishing school that his work opportunities were limited because of his disability.
“Years ago, I remember applying to a big company for a job and going for an interview,” explains Mr Mehta, now aged 33. “The interviewer praised my fluency in English. They said they’d call me, but they didn’t. What they show us is sympathy.”
In an effort to avoid repeatedly being shunned by firms, he set up a stall selling lime juice near his home in Ghatkopar, a suburban neighbourhood of Mumbai, to make a living.
“I didn’t want to beg for a job,” he says.
It was still his dream to work in an office environment for a multinational company, however. So three years ago, when he heard of an opportunity to work at a new call centre being set up in Mumbai that would be manned entirely by staff with special needs, he packed up the lime juice stand and accepted a job there.
Mr Mehta, who relies on crutches to get around, is one of about 90 disabled Indians who work at the EuroAble call centre in Chembur, Mumbai. The centre was set-up by Eureka Forbes – an Indian company best known for its Aquaguard water purifiers, a household name in India – in association with the National Society for Equal Opportunities for the Handicapped.
“Where employment is a major issue in India, the condition of those with special needs is obviously worse,” according to a spokesman from EuroAble. “In India there are at least 40 million ‘specially-abled’ people. With social security mostly absent and disability being perceived as a hindrance, the single biggest aspiration among this group is to get a job for financial independence to lead a respectable life.”
Most of the workers at the centre are from low-income backgrounds and many are polio victims or suffer from orthopaedic disabilities.
Customers who phone the operators are never told that the person on the other end of the phone has special needs.
The employees often have to deal with irate customers, explains Vinath Hegde, the head of customer relationship management at Eureka Forbes, who oversees the project. “Each agent takes 110 to 120 calls a day,” she says.
They work seven hours a day, six days a week, and earn about 9,500 rupees (Dh573) a month, plus benefits, which EuroAble says is in line with the industry standard rate.
The call centre currently serves only Eureka Forbes, but the company is keen for other firms to also outsource their business to the centre.
“We’ve been talking to a lot of companies,” Ms Hegde says, adding that Eureka would also be eager to help other firms set up similar centres employing disabled individuals.
She adds that EuroAble is also looking into taking on visually impaired employees.
The project has made good business sense.
“The retention is nearly about 85 to 90 per cent, which is very untypical of a call centre, because the opportunities for such people are restricted and when they get a job there is a lot of pride for each one of them,” says A V Suresh, the president of international operations and chief executive of Forbes Professional, Eureka Forbes. “It’s been a good learning curve for us.”
It is not only its employees’ working lives that the call centre has managed to improve. Three couples met at the centre and got married.
“We provide free matrimonial services,” Mr Suresh jokes.
One of the agents who met his wife at the centre is Ashok Gupta, 30, who is quadriplegic and has worked at the centre since it launched three years ago.
“If I wasn’t here, I’d be stuck between four walls watching television,” he says, adding that he hopes to work at the centre for the rest of his life. “They understand me.”
The company provides transportation to and from the office, which workers cite as an important factor in allowing them to the job.
Mr Mehta, who lives with his parents, is the sole breadwinner in his household after his father was recently left paralysed because of a heart condition. He says that he hands over all his earnings to his mother every month to manage.
“When I worked at the lime juice counter on the street I didn’t get any respect from anyone,” he says. “Now my family are satisfied that their boy is working in a good place.”
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