Interview with Rishi Pathania, Head CSR at UPL Limited

By Rusen Kumar

MUMBAI: Rishi Pathania is the Head CSR at UPL Limited, a global generic crop protection, chemicals and seeds. In conversation with Rusen Kumar, Editor, India CSR, he shared how his company is changing the lives of thousands of people under corporate social responsibility interventions. Exited excerpts:

What are the key responsibility that you are holding at your company?

Rishi Pathania - 3I am heading the CSR function at UPL Limited and my major responsibility is to develop the strategies which is in line with UPLs long history of doing good work for society. The responsibility includes conducting research, understanding needs, prioritizing needs, generating ideas, making detailed CSR plans, execution/implementation of plan which will have range of activities and initiatives, regular monitoring and reporting. Apart from CSR, I am also responsible for UPL’s sustainability initiatives. I am coordinator for UPL Sustainability Council to take forward Sustainability reporting in UPL Limited.

We work in partnership with NGO’s and GO’s so building relationship with partner organisation is an important responsibility to ensures convergence and create a sustainable impact.

Tell us about UPL Limited’s journey and its business philosophy?

UPL Limited (formerly known as United Phosphorus Ltd), is a global generic crop protection, chemicals and seeds headquartered in Mumbai, India. UPL, Advanta and UEL, the three companies in UPL group, are listed on the Indian stock exchange, with a combined market capitalization of approx $2.5 billion. The revenue of UPL has grown at a CAGR of 26% over the last 5 years.

UPL Limited operates in every continent and UPL has a customer base in 123 countries with own subsidiary offices in Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Italy, Turkey, Spain, South Africa, Taiwan, USA, UK, Vietnam, Zambia, Shanghai, Columbia and Netherland. UPL Limited ranks amongst the top 5 post patent agrochemical industries in the world. UPL Limited has 24 manufacturing sites (10 in India, 4 in France, 2 in Spain, 3 in Argentina, 1 each in UK, Vietnam, Netherlands, Italy, China).

Can you discuss your Company’s CSR journey?

UPL’s CSR initiatives got started even before UPL made profits. UPL is donning the mantle of the socially responsible corporate since 1969 with the inception of first manufacturing operations at Vapi, Gujarat.

  • What is now the Sandra Shroff Gyandham School, begun as a humble institution started in 1972, in the unused guest house of GIDC, for the benefit of the indigenous populace and the factory workers of Vapi town. Mrs. Sandra Shroff (Vice Chairman, UPL Limited) took a Personal Overdraft from the Bank to provide working capital for the day to day running of the school.  Today it is one of the best school in South Gujarat.
  • UPL started Maa-No-Dava-khana in B type quarters which was 8 bedded hospital grew into Niramay Hospital, and then the name was changed to Haria Rotary Hospital. Over the years this has transformed into a 250-bed multispecialty hospital and is one of the best in the region.

From supporting and running Schools, College of management, College of Chemical technology, Hospital and Nursing college…   From the treatment of effluents to solid waste management for environmental care…From conducting Farmers’ Training Programmes to establishing and running Farmers’ Field Schools… Each of UPLs effort was and is in line with needs of the society.

Do you have a CSR policy? What are the key focus area for CSR projects?

Yes, we have a well-defined CSR policy and its uploaded in our website  

The CSR Vision of UPL is “To be a catalyst for a more equitable and inclusive society by supporting long term sustainable transformation and social integration”. The CSR Mission of UPL is

  • Implementing need based projects through participatory approach.
  • Focusing on building capacity to make community Self-Reliance
  • Developing partnership.
  • Transferring knowledge.

The values that will govern to achieve our vision are Care, Excellence and Sustainability.

Brief our readers about Foundation and its mission.

The S. R. Shroff Aajivika Trust (SRSAT) is working to create sustainable livelihood and the strategy envisaged for sustainable livelihood has three pillars.

  1. Skill development
  2. Entrepreneurship
  3. Agriculture development

Three pillars at SRSAT have evolved out of the need to diversify incomes of the poor and to cater to the occupational aspirations of youth

Skill Developnent through UPL Niyojaniy Kendra

“Niyojaniy” is a Hindi word meaning employable. The Niyojaniy Kendra is a skill training centre that aims to make youth employable, hence the name. We have started UPL Niyojaniy Kendra to provide comprehensive skills training on industry specific skills (welding, fitting etc) and prepare the participants for job opportunities in the surrounding industries. We have started 4 Niyojaniy Kendra and trades are- welding, fitting, electrical, Chemical Plant Operator and Instrument Operator Chemical Plant.

Entrepreneurship through UPL Udyamita Programme

“Udyamita” means entrepreneurship. The project has been rightly named as it aims to benefit the rural women through formation and strengthening of Self Help Groups and by promoting entrepreneurship through these groups. This project has been started in partnership with Utkarsh Mahila Association (Valsad) which is an NGO working for the overall development of tribal population in Dang.

Agriculture development through UPL Khedut Pragati Programme

We have adopted Dang district to increase income through Agriculture Development as 88% of the population in Dang is directly or indirectly dependent on Agriculture and allied activities for their sustenance. 66% of the agricultural land is situated on slopes with uneven terrain, which determines the agricultural production pattern.Majority of the farmers depend on rain fed irrigation.

The agriculture production pattern is slowing changing from traditional coarse grains like Ragi, Kharsani and Tuver to Rice.

Given this scenario, multiple agri projects have been taken up under the umbrella of “UPL Khedut Pragati Program. The framework of UPL Khedut Pragati Programme is on

  • Capacity building
  • Lab to Land
  • Technology intervention

What is the implementing method of CSR at your Company?

Our faith in what we do, gives us the courage to work against all the odds. We believe in standardization of processes and transparency in implementation. Our efforts are supported by a strong CSR team, motivated UPL volunteers and interns and the community itself. The 5E CSR process

ENGAGE with community to understand needs and priorities.

EVOLVE the key community need by facilitating community to identify its prioritized need.

ENABLE community (individuals and groups) by providing them skills they need to effect change in their own life & surrounding.

ENRICH life of people through CSR initiatives.

EVALUATE our initiatives for learning from past experiences, improvising the service delivery system, systematic planning and optimizing resource allocation and demonstration of results.

What is your CSR team strength?

The CSR efforts are supported by a qualified, experienced and passionate team. There are 9 members in CSR team and the average experience of our CSR team in the development domain is 15 years, with the range being 5- 25 years. The team members have expertise in specific domains like Sustainable Livelihood, Environment Conservation, Agriculture Development, Water Conservation, Social science/ work, Gender & Child development, Rural Management etc. Each team member brings along a specific expertise which helps in designing and implementing CSR plans effectively.

What are key CSR projects initiated at your Company?

The CSR projects are divided in 6 focus areas:

  • Agriculture Development
  • Employability and Entrepreneurship
  • Education and Empowerment,
  • Environment and Nature Conservation
  • Health and Sanitation and
  • National and Local area needs

You can check complete detail at

Did you launched or supporting people of drought affected areas under CSR?

UPL responds to national need of relief or rebuild which can arise from any natural calamity in country. Our response to disasters depending upon where they have occurred and our ability to respond meaningfully. The works that we have done to support people of drought affected area are:

  • Supported students of Agriculture College in their fees through Vasantrav Naik Marathwada Agriculture University.
  • Supported a NGO called Adhartirth Adharashram at Trimbkeshwar, which is working with orphan children of farmers who have committed suicide.
  • Working on creating a demonstration plot with a farmer to demonstrate water conservation and rainfed agriculture development in Latur district
  • Supporting work carried out by Mr. Mayank Gandhi and his team for drought relief in Beed district

What are the communication strategies to inform CSR stakeholders at UPL Limited?

The communication to inform stakeholders about work we are doing in CSR is through UPL’s annual report and a separate yearly CSR report which gets uploaded in UPL website:

Do you have annual CSR budget?

Yes, UPL has a detailed CSR budget which is higher than 2 percent requirement as stipulated by law.

The process for CSR budgeting starts with CSR Policy which is aligned with the requirements of the Companies Act, 2013.The CSR plan coming from CSR Policy lays down the target group that we seek to work for (disadvantaged and the marginalised sections), the geography (local area surrounding manufacturing locations and offices) and the sectors where we focus our efforts.Inputs for project planning come from different sources- Vision and Mission, Community needs, Business Imperatives and the various studies that we conduct like the Need Assessment Study conducted in 2014-15. The entire objective of the planning exercise is to prioritize the actions based on expected level of impact, level of effort and investments required and the key needs of the community. Based on this we identify key indicators to help us measure progress against the set goals.

All this translates into a 3-year CSR Strategy Plan, which is reviewed every year. The 3-year plan percolates into annual plans, which forms the basis of yearly budgeting.

Could you tell us what is your opinion of the current phase of corporate social responsibility in India? What are the main challenges that the field is facing?

It’s been around 2 years since the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) law came into effect on April 1, 2014. Within such a short period, the entire landscape of CSR in India has taken a radical shift. Companies eligible for CSR spend as per law have embraced the law and initiated a number of CSR projects across the entire spectrum as defined within schedule VII of the Act.

The Companies like UPL Limited that traditionally undertook CSR anyway–with or without the law–needed to only streamline whatever spends they made. Here challenge wasn’t so much about increasing spends multi-fold, but rather a chance to review and re-strategies what we have already been doing in order to fit into the requirements of the law.

According to me the main challenge is with big companies to massively multiply their CSR spend as compared to what they were spending previously and ensure sustainable impact.

What advice would you give to a young graduate wanting to enter the corporate responsibility field?

Get your hands dirty in field. There is simply no shortcut in development sector / CSR. If possible, clear the mind of pre-conceived ideas and get ready to create first-hand experience based on field realities. Only field-based approach/person creates impact in development sector/CSR.

Does CSR require a paradigm shift?

I think the section 135 of the Companies Act 2013 is the biggest paradigm shift happened in CSR and development space of country. I personally think it’s time to work and create impact and then think of new paradigm (May be after 10 years).

Are there any programs in the world of CSR that you think are spectacularly awesome?

There are many spectacularly awesome CSR projects happening in India. I will quote one that we are implementing in UPL. Under Environment and Nature Conservation we are implementing UPL Vasudha Programme. Vasudha in Sanskrit means “mother earth”, the giver of all wealth. The programme is an integrated nature conservation effort that involves all the stakeholders.

Sarus Conservation Project: There are 15 species of cranes found in the world today. Out of the 6 that are found in India, only Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) is a resident species. The Sarus Crane is nearly six feet tall with a wings pan of eight feet and it is the world’s tallest flying bird. These are known to use wetlands and agriculture fields and live in association with human beings. In Gujarat, they are found in Ahmedabad, Anand, Baroda and Kheda districts. We are working on Sarus conservation.

Eco Club: This initiative is to make the young generation aware about the importance of protecting nature and maintaining ecological balance. These clubs are formed in schools and students participate in environment related activities through these clubs.

Green Ganesha: The importance of having a viable environmental friendly alternative to the current Ganesha idols produced from Plaster of Paris has now become imperative. In collaboration with Parisar Asha, UPL helped bolster this eco-initiative by organizing Green Ganesha Workshops in schools. This sustainable substitute is colloquially known as Shadu Mitti or river clay and was traditionally used to create Ganesha idols. The workshops helped to reinstate the lost art of making Ganesha statues with Shadu Mitti back into society and create awareness for environment.

Tree Plantation: We have started Tree plantation project with community in a big way to help reduce carbon footprint by planting native trees best known for their properties of purifying the polluted atmosphere and providing a clean and healthy environment.

What do you say about mission and initiatives?

IndiaCSR under, Rusen Kumar is doing wonderful work by being one-point source for all information related to CSR in India. I appreciate the way it has grown steadily in last 4-5 years to become an inspiring network of business people working towards the common CSR goal. IndiaCSR is well on their mission of supporting practitioners and organizations in building responsible and sustainable business in India and in this way they are contributing to sustainable development of societies at large in India. My best wishes to the IndiaCSR team.



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