By Monika Dutt
A journalist by profession, Suresh Kr Pramar, is presently actively involved in the promotion of responsible business. He is possibly the strongest advocate of the Gandhian concept of Trusteeship and its Westernised version, Corporate Social Responsibility. Over the past ten years he has been actively involved in pushing the CSR agenda among corporates, governments and civil society.
After over 40 years in journalism, he still claims to be a journalist at heart, Pramar in 2004 started the first print publication on CSR in India, possibly in South Asia as well, called CRBiz(corporate responsibility in business). The publication soon caught the attention of the CSR world but failed to impress the advertisers. The publication is presently on hold pending a reorganization.
In 2006 he set up a Trust called the Global Gandhian Trusteeship and Corporate Responsibility Foundation and launched the CSR Essential Training Workshop series, again a first, for middle level corporate management, NGO’s and students.
The workshops have so far been held in seven different locations in the country, including New Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, Nagpur and Raipur. According to Pramar “these workshops have attracted participation from almost all major corporates, both private and public sector. A number of major NGOs have also participated. Over three hundred participants have attended these workshops.
“ The response from the participants has been very encouraging. Almost all of them are people who are actually involved in the implementation of the CSR community service agenda in their respective companies. Unfortunately these, vital employees, have little or no avenues to enhance their knowledge and awareness about the changing trends in CSR.
“ Because of the lack of adequate knowledge these practitioners are not able to contribute very much to the development of the CSR agenda of their companies. We have through our workshops managed to raise awareness levels among these participants and also instill some amount of confidence. Feed back from our participants have been excellent with a majority of them wanting to attend more such workshops.”
Suresh strongly believes that Corporates have a duty to contribute to society. CSR cannot be treated as charity it is a duty which corporates owe to society. Unfortuately most community programmes undertaken by many corporates smell of charity. Even the attitude and body language of the officials of these companies suggest that they are doing a favour to society says Pramar.
There is a very strong business case for CSR. The chief being the fact that it helps their sustainable development. It secures for them the goodwill of the community and provides them a trouble free environment to build and grow.
Though most of those incharge of implementing CSR have little training in CSR and how to go about their work they have developed the heart and the desire to help the society. A majority of them are very dedicated and ground to earth.
“ Unfortunately these persons do not always get the type of support of their seniors where it is most essential. At a recently workshop a participant said that the management expects them to be firefighter and to ensure that there are no public demonstration against the company because it was spending several crores on CSR. CSR practitioners can only create a climate of goodwill for the company among the community. They cannot be expected to guarantee a complete ban on agitations.”
According to Pramar, CSR has still a long way to go in India. While there are examples of excellent work being done these are not adequate. “ There is a need to bring about a mind change among corporate leaders. Among other things they need to learn that they are not doing charity when they undertake CSR. The other important issue is that merely spending money does not ensure trouble free operations. Community leaders expected to be respected and not be treated as beggars.”
While these workshops have help CSR practitioners to raise awareness levels they have also contributed to build bridges between the corporates and NGOs. “We encourage NGOs to participate in these workshops because this helps them to network with corporate participants and also to understand how companies undertake their CSR responsibilities. These workshops have been successful in developing partnerships between corporates and civil society.”
According to Pramar while companies have the money and desire to contribute to the community and society they are handicapped by the fact that there are very few trained and experienced CSR practitioners available. He says surveys have indicated that one of the three major problems facing companies involved in CSR is the non availability of trained manpower. This is particularly so in public sector units where money is not a major issue.
“This an area where we can help. Unfortunately those incharge of training in corporate bodies do not seem to realise the need to training their staff involved in CSR. A major problem is that most corporate HR heads to no give adequate weigthage to CSR training. Without training and experienced CSR teams which have the capacity to contribute to the developing CSR agenda of the company most CSR expenditure would go waste.”
He gave the example of a public sector unit which ran to town claiming that it had provided a modern school building for a village school in its area of operation. The company had provided the school Rs 5 lakh worth of computers which over the past three years were stored in the headmaster’s office cubboard.
Educated in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, Suresh Kr Pramar, comes from a family of educationists. He has a post graduate degree in Economics from the Rani Durgawati Vishwavidhalaya and a post graduate diploma in journalism from Hislop College, Nagpur.
He started his career in journalism with the Indian Express going on to the Economic and Political Weekly and there after The Current, under D.F.Karaka. He did a one year fellowship with the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies. For one year he was with the Ford Foundation and helped in the setting up of the Communication Centre at the Pantnagar Agricultural University.
Between 1970 and 1975 he was with the March of the Nation, a publication edited by the late Piloo Mody. Between 1976 and 1978 he was Editor of Kuensel, a publication of the Royal Government of Bhutan. He later shifted to Sikkim where he started a weekly English publication called Eastern Express. For almost eight years he wrote for a number of national and international publications, including the Far Eastern Economic Review, Hong Kong.
For almost ten years he was press advisor to the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh. Returning to New Delhi wrote for the Business Standard and the Financial Express.
Suresh Kr Pramar is the founder President of the Federation of North East Journalists. Under his leadership the Federation organized over two dozen workshops on journalism for moffusil journalists, including about a dozen on the rights of women and children, in different parts of the Region.
( Suresh Kr Pramar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)