RBS to increase social change activities in India

The bank's social activities arm in the country -- RBS Foundation -- said it is also working on developing an eco- tourism project in the Sundarbans, in West Bengal, and wants to help villagers in Maharashtra's Melghat region join the carbon trading business through tree plantation and forestation drives.

"Our bank aims to grow its business five-fold in India within the next five years and along with that, we are also committed to expand our social projects at the same speed," RBS Foundation Head N Sunil Kumar told PTI here.

He said a part of this will include increasing funding from the RBS global office for social projects in India five- fold. The bank currently funds projects to the tune of Rs 16 crore annually in the country.

"Besides, it will also be our endeavour to increase our micro-finance campaign and livelihood programme in rural areas by the same level," Kumar said.

RBS Foundation operates 37 MFIs across the country and over 1.14 lakh people have benefited from these. The bank also funds 11 livelihood projects, mostly for villagers living in proximity to tiger reserves and national parks, including Kanha, Ranthambhore
and Jim Corbett.

Kumar was in Sawai Madhopur with a group of volunteers from RBS for a field trip to villages in the vicinity of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. The bank is engaged in promoting sustainable livelihood in the agro, agro-industry and education sectors among villagers of the area, besides taking part in tiger censuses and the government's conservation programme.

RBS Foundation has been involved in livelihood and MFI programmes since 2006. It started as the ABN Amro Foundation. The projects were continued by RBS after the bank took over ABN Amro's global business in 2008.

"The micro-finance and livelihood programme have been very successful and now our effort would be to replicate them in other parts of India," Kumar said. In most places, the foundation works with local NGOs and authorities and state governments.

"We are now looking at developing an eco-tourism spot in Tridibnagar island, in the Sundarbans of West Bengal. This would entail the local villagers and fishermen... operating a commercial project," he said.

RBS Foundation will fund the project, but the profits will go to the locals that operate and manage the eco-tourism site. It is already operating one of its livelihood projects in the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve.

"Along with that, we are also helping local villagers in Maharashtra's Melghat region develop a 2,500 hectare area for forestation for the purpose of carbon sequestration and trading," Kumar said, adding that the RBS Foundation will provide funding to the tune of Rs 2 crore.

Over 1,200 families are a part of the project, for which the RBS Foundation has already been accorded host country approval by the Indian government to enable recognition as a Clean Development Mechanism project by the United Nations. Fruit trees would also be planted in the area to give the villagers additional income.

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