Leveraging CSR through Partnerships for a Common National Agenda
In the midst of information overload, social media overdrive and a fashionably aware society, while obligatory philanthropy forms the core of a large number of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, there is a need to imbibe the triple bottom line approach at a strategic level for organisations. This ideology has identified three dimensions of impact that a firm should focus on, namely, people, profit and planet. Corporates should focus on profit making in a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable manner. As value creation gains importance in corporate circles, large enterprises like TATA and Reliance Foundation have pioneered the concept of building a socially and environmentally conscious workforce to strengthen their triple line strategy. TATA and Reliance are amongst the highest spenders on CSR with 171 and 760 crores spent respectively. These organisations along with 23 other companies have surpassed the call for the spending of 2% mandated in the Companies Act 2013, by incorporating CSR into their mainstream business activities. This vision of CSR needs to be replicated by the ever growing Small & Medium Enterprise (SME) sector, to ensure that CSR is not limited to being a Government thrust initiative, but a means for the firm to achieve long term prosperity and sustainability. Out of the prescribed 6.635 crores, 1.729 crores are still left unspent, due to a lack of plausible CSR projects and the inability of SMEs to undertake CSR in a cluster approach.
Although, the passing of the Companies Act 2013 has propelled CSR spending exponentially, perceiving CSR as an obligatory engagement has led to ad-hoc and misdirected spending on CSR initiatives. The lack of effective guidance and collaboration opportunities has led to the inefficient implementation of these initiatives. With 410 million people living below the poverty line and India being home to 1/3rd of the world’s poor population, it is imperative for CSR initiatives to have clear objectives and deliverables. For example, a village where a majority of the population defecates in open spaces, hygiene and sanitation is often mistakenly viewed as a supply side issue. The obvious answer to the issue usually is the building of toilet infrastructure by corporates in collaboration with the Government, to fulfil the 2 % CSR mandate. However, the toilets go unused and rapidly deteriorate due to the lack of maintenance. In reality, it was the lack of demand on the part of the beneficiaries that resulted in a large number of toilets being left abandoned. Such a demand can only be generated through targeted awareness programmes and behaviour change initiatives that focus on helping people understand the risks of open defecation and utmost need of using toilets. While infrastructure development is the most basic CSR activity, without cognitive changes in the thinking of the community and regular maintenance of the infrastructure, it shall not have the desired effect.
This example highlights the need to systematically structure and plan any CSR initiative for its effective implementation. A CSR activity should ideally start from the bottom of the pyramid, by understanding the demand of the community and a conducting a detailed need analysis. The planning should involve due diligence and division of the project into various implementation phases. As the project starts, it is important to integrate targeted awareness and behaviour change communication to ensure attitudinal changes within the community to make the CSR activity a success. Also for effective implementation, it is imperative to forge strong alliances between the government, the private sector, philanthropic organisations, NGOs/civil societies and the community itself. The government’s provision of an institutional framework within which CSR activities could be appropriately executed, the technical expertise of the private sector firms, the experience of civil societies and NGO’s within specific areas for effective communication and co-ordination with the local population, the financial support and co-ordination of philanthropic groups and donor agencies and the involvement and ownership of the local communities would aid and propel effective and efficient implementation of CSR initiatives. The structure for the implementation of an effective CSR activity would then include 1. Pre-project survey 2. Project identification 3. Partner selection & collaboration 4. Awareness programmes 5. Infrastructure construction 6. Community ownership 7. Monitoring & Evaluation. Therefore, these partnerships between the various stakeholders highlight the absolute necessity of leveraging the creation of social infrastructure within an institutional framework to achieve tangible results in the national development agenda.
The longevity and sustainability of effective CSR programmes can be ensured through the aforementioned approaches and measures. However, it is important for industry experts like CII and FICCI to pave the way ahead by creating a common platform that acts as a good practice repository and helps in shortening the learning curve for organisations engaged in CSR initiatives. Such a platform can further enable SME’s to collaborate and undertake impactful CSR initiatives. A means to facilitate this platform can be the collaboration between think tanks, strategic consulting firms and government agencies to create menus of programmes and initiatives that the government is inclined to implement in different parts of the country. This list of CSR initiatives required within the country will enable organisations to pick a suitable activity from an available menu. Such a menu of CSR initiatives will ensure that the activities undertaken are aligned to the core competencies and overall business strategy of the company.
But collaboration without ownership is much like a dart without aim and could potentially do more harm than good. A successful CSR initiative can only be delivered by ensuring the ownership of all stakeholders. As mentioned above if the needs of the community are aligned to the activities undertaken by the corporates, implemented by NGOs and supported by the Government, the CSR initiatives shall be sustainable and impactful. As the Government takes ownership of a programme, it would ensure longevity, while ownership by the corporate in the form of technical expertise and monetary contribution, shall ensure the preservation of this longevity. The users, too, need to express a sense of ownership for the CSR initiatives, to propel adequate usage and outreach of benefits. Ideally, it is only when there is ownership by all stakeholders can a programme be viable, impactful, useful and sustainable.
Disclaimer: The blog represents the views and opinions of the author. IPE CKD does not take responsibility for the views expressed in the blog