2014 a watershed year in the history of CSR: Bibhuti Pradhan, IOC

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pradhanIn a freewheeling tete-e-tete, Bibhuti Pradhan the Chief Manager – CSR of Indian Oil talks about the new CSR law, Indian Oil’s initiatives and other CSR related themes. Bibhuti brings a vast experience in CSR on the table having been responsible for a range of CSR and sustainability initiatives at Indian Oil. He was part of the committee that drafted the CSR & Sustainability guidelines for Public Sector Companies. He is also part of the expert group on Responsible Business, Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs.

1) 2014 was the year when mandatory CSR became a reality. What are your thoughts on the year gone by?

India is perhaps the only country in the world to make a statute on CSR. 2014 would be remembered as a watershed year in the history of CSR. In my opinion, 3 best things, that this statute has done for Indian industry are: 1) CSR has been brought from the fringes to the forefront of Boardroom discussions; 2) It has pressed for structural & systemic intervention in CSR; and 3) It has set the ball rolling for companies/consultants to aggressively leverage ‘CSR & Sustainability’ for ‘brand building’ and ‘long term competitive advantage’.

Though we hear mixed feelings about the mandatory spend and related documentation requirements, I believe this statute is the beginning of a process towards ‘Mission Responsible Businesses’. The believers of ‘market forces’ have a right to question the rationality of mandatory 2% of PAT for CSR. To be fair, many corporates, e.g. IndianOil, TATA group, SAIL, etc., have been effectively doing much more than the ’2% CSR spend’, long before the statute came into force. However, many others are yet to make a head start. In fact, collectively, we have a long way to go to bring the environmental and societal bottom lines anywhere closer to the financial bottom line.

2) What areas does your company focus on in the CSR space? Do name a few successful interventions. What worked?

After promulgation of the Companies Act in Aug-2013 and release of CSR Rules/clarifications through Feb-2014 to June-2014, our Board has approved the new CSR Policy in Nov-2014. Out of 45 odd domains listed under 10 heads in Schedule-VII to the Act, we have chosen seven domains as IOC’s CSR thrust areas viz. drinking water, healthcare/ sanitation, women empowerment, education/vocational skills, national heritage, rural development & environment sustainability.

One of the successful CSR interventions of IOC launched in Jan-2012 is ‘IndianOil Sachal Swasthya Seva’ for rural primary healthcare. Under this project which is a collaboration with Wockhardt Foundation, Mobile Medical Units, are stationed at our rural petrol pumps. Each one has a 4-member team comprising of a qualified Doctor (MBBS), a pharmacist, a driver and a community mobilizer, who acts as a link between the villagers and the medical team. These travel to the nearby villages to provide free primary healthcare and free medicines to the poor and needy. We have stationed 52 medical units ; 27 in Telengana, 13 in Andhra Pradesh & 12 in Uttar Pradesh. Under this scheme each village is visited 52 times in a year, which helps in repeat & continuous health check-ups. So far, more than 40 lakh patients have been treated by these 52 medical vans.
Another small successful CSR project launched in 2012 in Digboi-Assam, christened ‘Sarve Santu Niaramaya’ (‘Good health to all’), aims for well being of both human beings and livestock population and provides free health consultation and medicines/ vaccination in villages near IOC’s Digboi Refinery. So far, more than 5000 poor patients and more than 41,500 cattle/poultry have been treated in 7 villages near Digboi.

3) What are your thoughts on brands, customer and society working together. Any examples where you see meaningful impact?

This question reminds me of a quote by American Ecologist Herman Dally: “What is the use of a sawmill without a forest?” The sawmill, which is likened to the corporate or ‘brand’, will survive & thrive only if the forest, i.e. the society, survives. Therefore, corporates/ products/ brands need to look beyond ‘just fulfilling needs’ of customers and society. It is the responsibility of the brand to educate and enlighten customers and society for long term sustainable living. Unless brands & customers/ society work together for the common good, there is no doubt, they may perish together.

An apt example of “product-customer-society working together” is marketing of solar lanterns to rural Indians from IOC’s petrol pumps to substitute kerosene-based rudimentary lighting devices. While this project cannibalises IOC’s own sales of kerosene, it lends immense benefit to the society: reduced emissions, reduced lung-related diseases, reduced subsidy outgo for Govt. and above all, far better quality of lighting.

4) What in CSR needs immediate attention? Is your organisation looking to address these in the coming years?

Without continuous funding support & commitment, most of the CSR projects are non-sustainable in the long run. Therefore, I think, the biggest challenge for corporates is to spend the CSR funds ‘well’, i.e. projects and its operations/management systems should be such that they are self-sustainable. The litmus test of ‘self-sustainability’ is that after funding is withdrawn, project should be able to stand on its own feet. Such models can then be replicated & accepted by entrepreneurial administrators/ marketers/ NGOs/ corporates across India. The critical need of replicability can be ingrained, only if we realise that Indian corporates, as a whole, have only about Rs.10,000 crore to spare annually, which is peanuts compared to more than Rs.1 lakh crore available annually with the Ministry of Rural development alone! Self-sustainability of projects is difficult as compared to philanthropic projects or infrastructure projects like roads, schools, healthcare, etc., as they involve change of mindset/attitudes. Over the next few years, we are planning gradual steps towards identifying and implementing new self-sustaining initiatives, which would typically include livelihood projects.

5) Are the goals of a CSR programme better addressed at a brand level or its parent organisation or a group of organisations?

I think most of the times, it is CSR, which provides a perfect leverage for better brand building, be it product branding or corporate branding, rather than the other way round. When CSR is undertaken at a strategic level, it is likely that CSR would be as long term a plan as any other Strategic Business Unit and thus CSR goals would be better served. E.g. a fossil-fuel based energy company may aim for ‘energy inclusion’ for the have-nots through renewable energy, OR a soft drink / liquid beverage company may aim for water neutrality in its operations or to make drinking water available for the water-starved people. Such business-linked CSR initiatives not only create a potential future customer base, it would also provide a great recipe for a perfect storyboard.

6) What are the top 3 things that need to be done in 2015? Your goals?

The key objective would be to sensitize the Boards and CSR fraternity, who are responsible for CSR expenditure, that we do not have enough to assuage all our woes. Therefore, let us try to develop ‘models of excellence’ rather than aim for improved aggregate impact. Let us be prudent CSR spenders and maximize no. of projects, which are livelihood oriented and hence likely to be self-sustainable. I think this one objective, if done well, can have a great positive ripple effect on peers to emulate & succeed in making India a great CSR lab of the world.

Source > http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/ResponsibleFuture/33920/

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