Our CSR projects are planned with approach of sustainability & community participation: Upendra Sontakke, Head – CSR, Astarc Group

Written By Rusen Kumar

MUMBAI: Upendra Sontakke is the Head – CSR (KMCT) at ASTARC Group. In conversation with Rusen Kumar, Editor IndiaCSR, Upendra shared views on his companys’ CSR journey, success and trend in CSR in India. Here is the edited excerpts of the interview:

Upendra-sontakkeWhat are the key responsibilities that you are holding at your company?

I am leading CSR programs at Astarc Group under umbrella of Kishore Musale Charitable Trust (KMCT), a CSR arm of the group. Ensuring progressive success of CSR program in line with the vision and mission of organization is responsibility I have along with my team at KMCT. Present programs are focused on sustainable module in areas of Livelihood, Education, Health Sanitation and Environment.

Tell us about ASTARC Group journey and its business philosophy?

Astarc groupASTARC Group is a diversified group with businesses focused on Infrastructure, Automobile & Electronic Solutions, Angel fund, Dairy and Agriculture, Retail Display Solutions, Automobile and Ports. Group business philosophy is driven by its vision: “Astarc Group is committed to be dynamic, diversified, global group offering innovative solutions with a drive to excel in the interest of its customers, employees, shareholders, business partners and the society at large”.

Group’s journey started back in 1936 when Shri Manohar Laxman Musale alias Tatyasaheb, an enterprising young man from Kankavali comes to Mumbai with the dreams of catching up stars in eyes. He established metal label manufacturing unit in a small room of 10’x10’ in Lalbaug with just one assistant staff. Through sheer extremely dedicated hard work, innovative mind combined with honesty, integrity and total concern for all the stakeholders of business, a never ending journey to meteoric success and glory begins. Today under the leadership of our Chairman Shri Kishore Musale, Astarc Group has a state of the art manufacturing plants, seven stories administrative building and presence in India and abroad. The atmosphere and culture in the company clearly reflects the sense of belonging and proprietary interest of all the family members in the Astarc Family.

Can you discuss your company’s CSR journey?

Our Chairman Shri Kishore Musale a visionary seeking our motherland progress thru a self-propelled CSR activities is always concern for development of less privileged people, he believes that sustainable growth can be achieved only when we take care and develop the Society / Environment around us. Hence a committed and devoted KMCT was launched in 2003. KMCT is committed to the ASTARC GROUPS Corporate Social Responsibility towards Educational, Health Care, Environment, Socio – Cultural, Self Reliance upliftment of the less privileged people – especially Tribal communities for their overall well-being and self-development.

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

At present we don’t have CSR policy; however our all programs are planned with focus on the need of the people and are discussed by team of company management. Very soon we will have our CSR policy in place. Our projects are planned with an approach of sustainability and community participation. Focus program areas are Education, Livelihood, Health & Sanitation, Environment and Agriculture.

Brief our readers about Foundation and its mission.

CSR arm of Astarc group Kishore Musale Charitable Trust formed in 2003 with a mission to take up various people centric activities in the areas of Education, Healthcare, Environment, Socio-cultural, Self-reliance upliftment of the less privileged people- especially tribal communities for their overall well-being and self-development.

What is your CSR team strength?

We have team of professionals who have vast experience in the field of development. Presently there are 7 people in the team including three senior level professionals.

What is the implementing method of CSR at your company?

Yearly program plan is discussed with Directors and Management team. Planning is done in consultation with project participants, PRAs and need assessment is done in project village by our team. Based on assessment suitable project activities are planned with focus on community participation and sustainability.

What are key CSR projects initiated at your company?

Under Education we have Scholarship program, Cycle for Education, Soft Skill Development, Educational & Sports material support to Government schools, Ashram School project, E-learning Centres in schools, E-teach (English Teaching) project and Digital Education project. Under Health and Sanitation we have Toilet construction project, Preventive healthcare project, Blood donation camps and individual health assistance for most needy ones. Under Environment Tree plantation and awareness projects are taken in various villages and schools. Livelihood project is focused in 20 villages of Palghar and Vasai areas. Also we have started organic farming project in one village recently. Apart from this we support individuals as per the need. Some of the NGO programs are supported by us like Mai Adhar Kendra who works on HIV AIDS, Swayam Rehabilitation Trust Thane for Children with special need, White Army of Kolhapur for disaster response. Our three schools in Konkan and Karnatka are providing education free of cost to thousands of needy children

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

Yes, we are supporting Manjara River rejuvenation project in drought affected area of Latur district. This will benefit more than 1000 families post monsoon as water will be percolated through river bed which will recharge the ground water table.

What are the communication strategies to inform stakeholders at Astarc Group?

We accept that effective and timely communication is key to success of any project. Our program updates are shared regularly with stakeholders through our quarterly newsletter. Also during various meetings updates are shared, we have volunteer program for employees whom we call our Associates with whom program updates are shared. Our annual company booklet “Outreach” reflects CSR activities and its impact.

Do you have annual CSR budget?

All our projects are planned on the real need in targeted areas; funds are made available for such interventions.

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?

I strongly feel that CSR programs need to be planned with focused approach of community participation and it should be result oriented rather than just activity oriented. The recipients should also feel that they have certain level of responsibility in the CSR work hence planning itself should include the active participation of people. CSR should wipe out the giving-taking approach and focus on how community take ownership of the project, if this happens I am sure the CSR will have sustainable impact of the projects.

After CSR act the sense of social responsibility has come in corporate and people around it which is a good sign. However more focused approach towards CSR spending is needed, as you see last year CSR spending reported at lower side. Challenges this field is facing of skilled man power, when I say skilled means not only social graduate from reputed institute but people with passion, interest to work in needy areas and experience of working for outcome based programs than activity based one. Another challenge is lack of common understanding among management and CSR people, this situation consumes lot of time in getting projects on ground. Third major challenge in CSR field is lack of coordination among CSRs as I see everybody is busy in their comfort zone hence cross learning is not happening up to the mark. In various platforms CSR community talk’s lot about new things, approaches and so on but after that particular conference or workshop everything is at same line. I feel somewhere CSRs should come together to share and learn.

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

I feel everyone who lives on this planet need to understand that he has some responsibility towards the society and natural resources. When students are growing and roaming in the surroundings definitely there is contribution of nature, people around him and other living creatures. This has to be understood and accepted by students at early age so that they will be more responsible towards natural resources, people and things around them. I would advise students to join CSR field only if you have interest and passion to do something for those in need, do not enter to just do a job. People working in CSR should not take it as a “Job” it is a commitment and that comes from own interest. While working one should aim the developmental change in needy person than just completing working hours in office.

How do you see the evolution and future of corporate social responsibility in India?

Indians are always extending helping hand for those in need, earlier it was happening more as philanthropy but now with focused CSR programs. CSR has bright future in India; people are more inclined towards the development of less privileged people. Now corporates and Government have started taking CSR seriously which is a good progress. It is important that corporate World should look it beyond just Company Act.

Does CSR require a paradigm shift?

As I said earlier there is need of change in approach for CSR programs and people working in CSR

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

Yes, there are number of good CSR programs. In India itself some of the corporates are doing excellent work through their sustainable programs. Also in Countries like Kenya, Philippines, Zambia, New Zealand good programs are being implemented under CSR. Good thing about these programs is that company employee takes greater part as volunteers which makes program more responsive.  In India states like Rajasthan, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, MP and Tamilnadu some of the major corporates have done effective projects where we can witness the positive impact on community.

What do you say about IndiaCSR.in mission and initiatives?

The best and very valuable thing INDIACSR has done is bringing CSR together where information and knowledge has been exchanged. I could see during last four years of my association with it, many people know each other work and have started referring the good work. INDIA CSR is doing excellent work by keeping CSR people updated about happening in development sector, Government policies and events. My day starts with CSR updates from INDIA CSR’s energetic and dynamic founder Rusen Kumar, he has done marvellous job by this initiative. I request CSR people to contribute more and more in further development of our INDIA CSR.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR.