Upasana Kamineni Konidela’s warm greeting at her office in Jubilee Hills is a reflection of the calm self that she says she is. Dressed in a green salwar-kurta, the Vice Chairperson of CSR at Apollo Hospitals settles to talk about Arrjava and the plantation drive they have undertaken to make a green corridor for elephants in Chittoor district, Andhra Pradesh.
Talking about when her grandfather Pratap C Reddy handed her the CSR of Apollo, the entrepreneur, social media star and celebrity wife says, “My grandfather told me to do something meaningful. He said ‘don’t look at feeding people once as a CSR activity. Instead, teach people how to live with dignity and handle it with empathy and dignity.”
Arrjava, a green-skilling initiative from Apollo Foundation, works with indigenous tribal communities to create locally-sourced products and thereby provide them with a livelihood. Towards this end, the Foundation trained the Chenchu tribal communities of the Amrabad forest reserve in Telangana to utilise their craft and make products that meet urban needs and designs. Upasana says, “The word Arrjava means pure at heart. It helps tribes establish market linkages to keep their traditional skills alive while they continue to live and work in the spaces that nurture them. This is to ensure a sustainable livelihood for their financial well-being.”
Another initiative has been the plantation drive at the Aragonda village in the Chittoor district which hasa lot of elephant movement from Kaundinya Wildlife Sanctuary, an elephant reserve. “The trees will be planted in the periphery of forests and villages so that the elephants don’t stray into their farms. We, along with the Andhra Pradesh forest department, have adopted the Miyawaki method, so the trees planted are not random ones,” she explains.
Interestingly, Upasana says through the green skilling initiative they have been able to help the young tribal members to come up with product suggestions and designs of their own. “I was thrilled when the members working with us came up with the idea of making everyday products with the sabai grass that is usually cut and discarded to avoid jungle fires. They even had a suggestion on scents of the jungle for the candles. We realised that given an opportunity, people can do a lot more with whatever they find in their surroundings.”
Does her work-life pressure and new projects stress her out? “No, never!” pat comes her reply. “Every morning I prioritise my work and I make a list of things I need to deal with that day. Taking up one thing at a time, I make sure I complete my tasks. Because my grandfather once told me ‘when I ask you what you achieved today, the reply should be something that makes you proud.’ It can be a simple task but if I have listed it, I will complete it. And to do so, I don’t overload my plate.”
She stresses, “If you need help, ask for it. It will make your life at work and at home easy. I am thankful to my various teachers and coaches who have helped me lead a balanced life.” Upasana says she is not scared to get self-help guidance and that investing in good coaches is one of the luxuries she had.
The young entrepreneur spells out her take on the word ‘business’. It should provide employment, should not have a negative impact on the environment, should make one happy and eager to come to work and enhance financial well-being. “The same goes for the concept of luxury. For me, luxury should be guilt-free and conscious of the creator of the product. I should be assured of the financial stability and well-being of the maker,” she stresses.
Away from her CSR work, Upasana was seen accompanying her husband Ram Charan at the Golden Globe awards ceremony, wearing an indigo ajrak silk sari “I was not prepared to be present at the ceremony. I had to prepare at short notice. I got a few pre-stitched saris from Manish Malhotra. Given my condition (Upasana and Ram Charan announced they are expecting their first child on social media), I wanted to get something that would be quick to wear and still look elegant and flattering. So to put the whole look together, I borrowed some jewellery from my family in the US. I am glad I was there to cheer and support my husband for such a big achievement.”
We could not resist asking: can she do the world-famous ‘Naatu Naatu’ steps’? “Of course, I do! I was in Ukraine during the shoot of the song. So I have seen it from the time they started filming it. I can do the steps as fast as both the actors. I hope my baby comes out dancing to the song,” she smiles.