CSR 2.0 – The Innovative, Collaborative and Un-Conventional Route

13 Jul 2019

The economy is rapidly evolving and changing. Innovation has taken center stage; has become omnipresent; new models of partnerships are emerging; Governments are actively reaching out to engage with businesses to deliver solutions to development challenges.

Yet, India houses over 15 million people living in extreme poverty, which is less than US$1.9 a day. According to the latest report by United Nations Development Programme, India ranks at 130 among 189 countries in the latest human development index (HDI). Within South Asia, India’s HDI value is above the average of 0.638 for the region, with Bangladesh and Pakistan, countries with similar population size, being ranked 136 and 150 respectively.

Such facts further thrust us towards recalibrating the development efforts and finding collaborative, innovative and impactful initiatives to contribute towards an inclusive development of the nation.

Enactment of Companies Act, 2013 by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, the Government of India, was one of the world’s largest experiments of introducing the CSR as a legal provision by imposing statutory obligation on companies to take up CSR projects towards social welfare activities. This being the 6th year of CSR legislation and teething issues settled, the timing is opportune for CSR to catalyze impact in India’s development sector.

While the Government has been providing an enabling ecosystem for the corporates to contribute in nation building, the corporates can adopt the enhanced and new approaches to contribute significantly.

First, companies need to focus on innovative CSR projects, which can be replicated by other stakeholders and scaled up by the Government. The industry sector has been the torch bearer of innovation – in terms of technology and business models. Indian businesses have always found novel and pragmatic ways to reach out to the last mile. In my view, Industry must play the same role in the social sector as well. The last few years witnessed a wave of fresh ideas and insights giving a thrust to the social movement, whether in the form of social enterprises providing inventive solutions to societal problems, innovative models to manage and monitor projects by leveraging technology, rise in the role of media especially social media and IT, emergence of platforms for collaborations, new funding ideas and others.

The companies have all the subject expertise and resources to conceptualize and implement an innovative project model or approach, rather than the tried and tested CSR projects. There are many avenues through which companies can use their core competencies to address social issues such that CSR no longer remains a peripheral activity. Also, companies need to look beyond conventional CSR and leverage their expertise to facilitate and accelerate innovative solutions. For example, Mphasis leveraged its technical know-how and partnered with Uber to launch Uber Assist and Uber Access as part of its CSR initiative. The services provide retro-fitted vehicles to help Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) travel in Bangalore. Now Mphasis is receiving requests to launch the initiative in other cities. The organization also supported policy advocacy which led to passing of Rights of PwDs Act which promotes inclusion and equal opportunities for PwDs.

Also, impact assessment and monitoring have become an intrinsic part of CSR life cycle. There is an increasing demand for real-time updates leading to diverse alterations in the way sustainability is implemented, monitored, and reported. Big data-enabled dynamic, accessible and real time CSR reporting is becoming the norm. Sustainability performance data can now be collected and analyzed by technologies such as Blockchain, Big data and Artificial Intelligence, allowing organisations and consumers alike to understand and find the correlations between what would otherwise be complex and unintelligible statistics.

Second, companies can collaborate for large scale impact. Collaboration between companies bring different expertise to the table and when resources are clubbed together, the scale and impact of the CSR projects increase. The Companies Act permits companies to come together and pool their CSR funds to drive high impact transformational projects. By collaboration, we also mean companies agreeing to work towards addressing a specific cause or having a common goal. Significant scale can be achieved through collective implementation and monitoring. One of the most common instances where we see companies pooling funds is in providing immediate relief in case of natural disasters. We have witnessed similar show of collaborative strength when Industry partnered on specific National Development agenda like Swachh Bharat, Skill India, etc. Collaborating efforts towards Swachh Vidyalaya, CII brought together more than 30 companies and facilitated construction of over 4000 toilets in Government schools in 2015.

Partnerships can be multi-faceted, with collaborations among PSUs, companies, Government and civil society. While PSUs, for example, hold enormous CSR budget at their disposal, they constantly struggle with lack of social development expertise, timely implementation, etc. Recently, eight oil sector PSUs, have jointly set up a model skill development center with all amenities to provide skill training for oil sector jobs and imparting entrepreneurship skills.

CII, through CII Foundation (CIIF), has been playing a proactive role in facilitating collaborative CSR projects. One of CIIF’s recent interventions on Crop Residue Management has particularly seen successful collaborations between Government departments, five companies, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), expert institutions and farmer groups. The project engaged over 3000 farmers across 19 villages in Patiala and Ludhiana districts, resulting in over 12000 acres of land (75 per cent) becoming stubble burning free, compared to 3.5 per cent in the previous season. The fact that more than 80 per cent farmers adopted the alternate technology to burning signifies the impact of the initiative.

Third, focus on the unconventional CSR sectors. Since years, Education and healthcare have been receiving the maximum share of corporate funds. According to the CII CSR Tracker 2017, CSR funds in Education and Health sector amounted to about 60 per cent of the total CSR spends in the year 2017. While most companies continue to spend their CSR funds in the tried and tested areas and approaches, few of them have successfully endeavored to explore the unconventional areas including sports, national heritage, art & culture etc. Reliance Foundation has been leveraging Sports for development. Reliance engages potential children in government schools, identifies talent, provides training and organizes camps at district, state and national level. The Foundation handholds children up to the age of 16 years.

According to the CSR Tracker, FY17 had a substantial increase in CSR spends as against FY16 in the areas of environment (increased by 66 per cent), gender equality (increased by 115 per cent), national heritage (increased by 153 per cent) and sports development (increased by 192 per cent). Also, geography-wise, while the more industrialized states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, continue to be among the top three states to receive CSR participation from companies, there has been a jump of companies (from 67 to 111 companies between FY 15 and 16) investing in North-eastern states.

The coming years are promising, as corporate philanthropy and CSR initiatives experiment with new and more strategic ways to maximize impact on the issues they care about. With more companies following the CSR 2.0, we can positively reimagine how India Inc can significantly contribute to resolve the social development challenges.

Contributed by:

Rumjhum Chatterjee

Co-Chair, CII National Committee on CSR and

Group Managing Director & Head – Human Capital, Feedback Infra Pvt. Ltd.