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The Path towards Greater Impact for CSR Initiatives

By Rahul Choudhury

The year 2016 has been a transformational year for several economies with change of guard and economic crisis making things difficult for usual business to flourish. The world economy is currently experiencing a slow down, while the global political and business leadership agrees to go through a transformational phase for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and a better future for the coming generations.

At present, climate change or global warming is a major threat to the world economy, especially the livelihood of the people. It is expected that during this transformation phase, there will additional costs leading to as much as $1 trillion to limit the global warming by 1 degree Celsius as targeted in the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

However, 2017 comes with new hopes and aspirations to achieve higher growth, create more livelihood opportunities and uplift the marginalised communities. India, which is growing rapidly over the last 2 decades, will look to continue its momentum owing to its demographic advantage. There has also been a push from the central government to increase ease of doing business to attract more investments, amidst global slowdown. According to the global think-tanks, India is the only bright spot among the BRICS economies. It is also understandable that India will look to attract as much investments as possible to meet the increasing demands of its population. Soon, the nation will be the most populous one and will require rapid growth to provide livelihood opportunities for millions of people.

Keeping stakeholders interests in mind, the CSR law passed in 2013, was to ensure breeding of a new culture of giving back to the society. Despite several criticism, CSR expenditure has grown with major focus on education and healthcare. On the part of the government, it has been sincere enough to send show cause notices to business entities who have fail to comply with the existing CSR law, highlighting good governance. Even, several CSR surveys have highlighted the top spenders who have contributed more than what they had to, suggesting the importance of CSR in today’s businesses.

The law is not just about the 2 per cent mandate, rather it is an opportunity to promote inclusive development and also enhance the brand value of the organisation. It is therefore, required that the corporations do not differentiate efforts for non-profit activity and for-profit activity. This means the amount of efforts and due diligence put in to successfully implement a business operations should be replicated for even social initiatives.

Hence, businesses should engage in CSR initiatives with thorough analysis of the implementation area and its requirements, rather than a mere obligation. The study will help in analysing the real need of the community and what is suitable to the corporations. It is moreover crucial that the initiatives by the corporations is monitored and evaluated on regular intervals. One cannot undermine the role of the implementation agency, keeping in mind that the local bodies at times are taken into confidence for smooth deliberation of the initiative. Understandably, these exercises help in breaking the ice with the local communities, building rapport and gathering information through Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) activities regarding the prevalent problems in the area which is required to be addressed ensuring positive impact on the local community.

Once, the CSR programme is decided, it is important to plan the execution effectively understanding the need of the stakeholders. Identification of the right implementation partners, development of detail project proposal, capacity building of the implementation agencies, linkages with local government and other governance authorities, discussions with the resource persons, etc. are some of the activities which follows. Once the execution of the programme has started, it is crucial to continuously monitor the progress to keep track of the deviation from the set objectives. If things are not according to plan, it is recommended to incorporate adequate strategies to fall in line with the objectives and maximise the impact.

CSR is not just a tick-box activity for the corporations, rather it is a strategic business instrument which has the potential of providing long-term benefits to the corporation as well society at large. Therefore, at the end of the CSR programme it is vital to do a audit, as done in the case of business operations. A comprehensive audit of the CSR initiatives provides adequate information about the impact being created. It can be said that CSR Audit is a mechanism to analyse the social return on investments and rightly communicate to the stakeholders in the best interest of all.

The entire process of CSR is to create an impact on the community as well as other stakeholders with the main factor being proper execution of the programme assessments and evaluations. When the beneficiaries and implementation area reap the benefits/advantages of the CSR programme, there is increased faith in the organisation. It is understandable that good reputation keeps the consumers and other stakeholders interested in the organisational activities. With so many businesses engaging in social initiatives, especially after the CSR mandate, impact of the CSR activities will be a determining factor of the competitive advantage in the long-term. In future, it is expected that businesses will look to focus on the creating a shared value and also promote inclusive, holistic and sustainable growth in the backward regions of the country.

Rahul Choudhury works with Fiinovation as Manager Media from the past four years. He has done his MBA in Rural Management and has 6 years experience in the social development sector.

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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.

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