Toyota Kirloskar Motor’s CSR is guided by the Toyota Way: Naveen Soni

Interview with Naveen Soni for India CSR Leadership Series with Nayan Mitra

Naveen Soni, Vice President, Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt Ltd

BANGALORE: A company that has sustained over 75 years and evolved from a family run business to a large global multi-national and still remains vibrant and youthful has indeed gained the authority to enlighten us on its years of sustainable practices. More so, if the company is TOYOTA which has its own ‘Way’ to bring in the desirable differences & sustainable improvements for the overall societal well-being. Let us hear it from Naveen Soni, the Vice President of Toyota Kirloskar Motor!

What is your opinion regarding the effectiveness of voluntary versus mandated CSR?

We at Toyota strongly believe that CSR is deeply connected with values, not with laws. The voluntary CSR is more connected to commitment of the company and its employees to do good to the society and stakeholders. Every Corporate’s CSR ideology needs to be in line with the way they conduct business and own the sense of social responsibility imbibed in the company philosophy. We do realize that companies in India are giving major thrust in the CSR area after passing of the Companies Act, 2013. We personally feel, mandated CSR will bind the companies to execute their CSR projects merely for the sake of compliance. As in CSR – R stands for Responsibility, Corporates should be sensitive in terms of the commitment towards the society as we are responsible for sharing the resources and are committed to return it.

At Toyota, CSR has been voluntary in nature, being initiated from 2001 onwards. Infact, irrespective of our profits, our spending has been consistent, aiming at creating an impact in the society. Toyota believes in playing a greater role than just manufacturing world class cars. Thus, in true sense, the effectiveness of such CSR should reflect to bring in a big difference in one’s life, nurturing the well-being.

Our philosophy is –

We believe not only in executing CSR, but in executing sustainable CSR with optimal resource and high impact approach.

As an MNC, what are the challenges you face in adapting to the CSR statutes of the various countries where you operate?

CSR is a very complex functional area. It involves a lot of stakeholders like the government, local community, NGOs, various community based organizations, to name a few. Synergy of the corporates and stakeholders in terms of thinking and understanding of the actual CSR benefits varies from stakeholder to stakeholder. Bringing them in one common page to execute the activity is one such challenge faced during implementation. Every stakeholder can influence each other and can always create an impediment to execute the activity. Toyota Business Practices and Toyota Way, have always come in handy to solve the societal issues in the non -business areas as well. We are motivated to “challenge the impossible”.

Some of the key challenges faced during execution of the projects are –

Challenge 1- Changing the mind-set of the community to understand and make a mention of those activities/ projects which benefits them.

Challenge 2- Make them take the ownership for the social assets created and involving them in the whole change process to create sustenance.

Stakeholder engagement in taking ownership of the projects implemented towards the societal development is essential for the success. We always believe in the 3E’s- Engage, Empower and Enlighten. We ensure that, Stakeholders are part of our end to end implementation process.

Did you have to make any organizational changes to adhere to the CSR statute under the Companies Act, 2013 in India? If yes, what are these changes?

As indicated, we have been doing CSR from 2001 onwards. And from then on, we have been conducting activities in 5 thematic pillars – Education, Skill development, Environment, Road safety and Health & Hygiene. We aligned to the afforementioned Companies Act with no major changes. Our focus has always been strategies with sustainable components embedded during our project planning. From 2014 onwards, we brought in the following adjustments in our approach to implement the programs:

  • Focus on behaviour change
  • Child -> Community approach
  • Expand Toyota Kirloskar Motor’s (TKM’s) CSR footprints across the social value chain.

We have been consistently working to adopt outcome and impact oriented approach in our projects.

Tell us about the Toyota Way. What is it?

Our long-term mission is to become a company that is admired and trusted by society through ensuring that all employees recognize and act on our CSR Policy with the support of all stakeholders and business partners.

The key principles of “Toyota way” is Continuous Improvement and Respect for People. Our every action is well aligned with such attributes for creating an ever better society.

With respect to CSR practices, as a part of Toyota Way, we follow PDCA cycle – Plan, Do, Check and Act, which is the DNA of ‘Toyota’. The special focus is to improve the interventions every time (termed as Kaizen in Toyota) and revisit the approach considering the larger benefit to the community by making a big difference in one’s life through sustainable projects.

We follow the Toyota way and the Toyota Business Practices in non-business areas like CSR:

  • Consensus building and stakeholder engagement
  • Team work
  • Kaizen
  • Genchi Genbustu [Seeing is believing]
  • Plan, Do, Check and Act
  • Problem solving [Toyota Way]

From a family owned business in 1937, Toyota has sustained the multifarious pushes and pulls of various countries to become an MNC. What is Toyota’s secret to Sustainability?

Businesses today are social institutions, that must strive towards development of technology and innovations to solve societal issues and to build a sustainable environment for the future. At Toyota, we believe sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility are as important as profits. We focus on a few areas and try to ensure that we do the things right. We aim to perfect what we do on a small scale and over the period while assessing the socio developmental impact, we scale them up.

Last financial year, the automotive industry underwent a lot of disruptions beginning from regulatory changes to demonetization leading to major impact on the business. We have however continued to sustain with our core philosophy of CUSTOMER FIRST. Together with our business partners, we continue to deliver automobiles with best in class quality, safest cars with lowest maintenance orchestrated even today by the Qualis plying on the Indian roads despite stopping its production more than a decade.

In our endeavor to integrate business and sustainability, we have globally announced “Toyota Environment Challenges 2050” which focuses on moving towards Zero CO2 and minimizing the impact on environment from our business. In India, we are confident and are investing our best efforts to achieve a significant portion of such challenge well before the targeted time period [by 2025]. To highlight few of our initiatives, reducing our dependence on grid power by installing a 3.2 MW solar power plant and establishing rainwater harvesting facilities in our manufacturing plant are some of the recent testimonies to our commitments.

To enlarge our overall sustainable contributions, we have enhanced our touch points by deepening the understanding of our philosophies amongst our stakeholders. To bring in the alignment, we handhold our stakeholders by educating and providing tools like green purchasing guidelines and eco dealership guidelines. These best practices implemented at TKM are showcased to our stakeholders to encourage them to adopt them. We are creating an Ecopark at TKM where we would like to involve all stakeholders to promote environment awareness in a unique ‘experiential’ manner.

At Toyota, we believe contributing to an ever-better world is a part of our DNA. As we continue our meaningful journey in India, we are excited to be driving our agenda to become sustainable and socially responsible business covering a larger society through integrated approach in our eco-socio endeavors in a phased manner.

How involved is the leadership in this process of perpetuity?

CSR has never been a function of ‘new thinking’ at Toyota. Right from the inception, Toyota management were visionary towards societal development. We started our first activity in the education domain and slowly we started to venture into various thematic pillars based on the need of the community and national priorities.

Our leadership team have been very encouraging in terms of implementing the projects and this commitment has been proved in the way CSR amount is spent consistently to social development from 2003 onwards.

At Toyota, PDCA forms the DNA of any projects. As a result the thinking way has always emerged and evolved. We have started our journey from ‘philanthropy’ to ‘CSR’ and is now focusing on sustainable CSR.

We always have a vision to differentiate ourselves with the creation of unique social models through implementing the Toyota Way. This is an attempt to set and standardize the process of implementation, thus enabling easy collaboration by other corporates. The beauty of the Toyota Way is that, it is understood by all the employees in the company, but I am happy to inform you that our stakeholders also follow this and that is where we see the success in our projects. Growing in harmony with nature involving our stakeholders is the key to sustainability at TKM.

Please share with us some of the CSR projects that are unique to India.

We, at TKM undertake various CSR initiatives as sustainable projects for the eco-socio development of the society at large, across India. Highlights of some of the key unique CSR initiatives of TKM, are as follows:

  1. a) Construction of Sanitation units

Objective: Protect girl child privacy and support her to continue the education

Objective: Protect girl child privacy and support her to continue the education

Sanitation has been the focus for Toyota. Toyota has been striving to provide 100% sanitation facilities at schools and communities. Special focus was given to girl children from 2014 onwards, where, the need of approx. 700 units was identified in Ramnagara district, 40 kms. away from Bengaluru city, Karnataka. While most of the need has been met, approx. 200 units are yet to be provided. In line with our long term vision [by 2020], TKM’s focus is not only to provide sanitation units for girl child, but also to achieve 100% sanitation at schools of Ramnagara district.


Particulars 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
# of units 450 176 118
# of schools 127 55 11
# of school children 16056 6604 4710

Area: Ramnagara district and Bangalore in Karnataka.

  1. b) Sanitation: ABCD [A Behavioral Change Demonstration]

TKM believes that providing the physical infrastructure is not only the solution to the problem but maintenance of the facility, changing the mind-set in overruling the age old practices, bringing the behavioural change in the community to have good hygiene practices have to go hand in hand to get the success in the project. Till date, as a result of the ABCD programme, children have been motivated to have units at home and more than 9,000 household sanitation units have been constructed and 90 villages have been declared 100% sanitation [as of 2017-18]

Particulars 2016-17 2017-18 [till Feb’18]
# of ABCD schools 167 317
# of school children 18,500 28,190
# of community members reached 70,623 95114
# of household units constructed due to motivation 2755 5311

Approach: Child -> community

  1. c) Road Safety (TSEP – Toyota Safety Education Program)

Toyota has been continuously striving to create road safety awareness to school children from 2007 onwards. We have adopted new thinking for implementing the roads safety know – how with an objective to bring about behavioural change in school children. With the roll out of new module, we have reached out to 30,000 school children in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. This current module was able to increase the awareness to 70% among the school children. Under the new module, the students undergo training through – Classroom methodology [Audio visuals, interactions, Booklet and interactive session] that are conducted to class 5th – 8th students, and demonstration on road safety via projects that are conducted by class 9. The Module is focused not only in creating an awareness but a sustained effort to slowly induct know- how on road safety in young minds through fun learning. The Class 9th student’s efforts in terms of bringing the awareness to general public was captured by the media with an intension to amplify the efforts of children in contributing to the noble cause. In 2017-18, for the first time, TKM provided the platform for the children to showcase the projects under TSEP club activity as a part of recognition and motivation. As on date, we have reached more than 7,00,000 school children.

In collaboration with TKM’s business partners, TKM introduced Team Toyota Activity. Under this activity, we create safe model school wherein, Safety Park will be created and training to school children and bus drivers will be conducted. Safety park constitutes of all those safety elements pertaining to any real road environment [signal, speed breakers, zebra crossing, safety messages and sign boards, etc…] . The main objective is to provide an experiential learning to school children on road safety etiquettes in various road safety scenarios. This activity is an extension of TSEP [Toyota Safety Education Program], more weightage is given for action learning.

Other interventions focus on areas such as:

Education: Books & Bags Distribution, Reconstruction of Schools & Orphanage Hostels, etc.

Environment: Lake rejuvenation, Green-me Project to enhance eco-awareness amongst school children and connected communities and Eco –park, creation of theme based park.

Health & Hygiene: Mobile Medical unit.

Skill Development: Skill Training through Toyota Technical Training Institute [TTTI] for underprivileged students at free of cost, Toyota Technical Education Program [TTEP] tie-up with various Government Training Institutes to impart technical training in automobile field to make the youths employable.

About Naveen Soni: Naveen Soni who is currently the Vice President at Toyota Kirloskar Motor Private Limited (TKM) has been with the company since 2001. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Business Administration.

Soni started his career in Toyota Kirloskar Motor as the Regional Manager for West Region (posted at Mumbai), a post which he held till 2005. In his next role, from 2005 till 2010, he spearheaded the rapid expansion of Toyota Dealer Network to facilitate the launch of the Toyota Etios & Liva. In 2010 Soni was posted to Toyota’s regional headquarters in Singapore where he was responsible for the business development of Singapore and Philippines. He was posted in Singapore till 2013. In 2013 he came back to India to head the Toyota Training Initiative (Toyota Institute) and in 2014 he moved to become the Vice President of External Affairs & CSR. From 2015 Public Relations responsibilities of the company was added to his portfolio.

He started his career in 1992 with Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. (Indian Utility Vehicle Manufacturer) and worked in various areas of Marketing & Sales, including Overseas Markets (South East Asia) till 2001.

Soni has been the Co-chair of the environment and sustainability panel of CII Karnataka for 2014-15 and 2015-16. He is also the Chairperson of the CSR Panel of SIAM for 2015-16, 2016-17 & 2017-18 & President of SAFE (Society for Automative Fitness & Environment) Council of SIAM for 2017-18. Also, Soni represents the CII Southern Region as Governing Council Member for the year 2018-19. Born in Jaipur, India, Soni enjoys travelling and spending time with family and friends.

About Nayan Mitra: Nayan Mitra comes with a rich mix of diverse professional experience, in which she straddles seamlessly between academics, social and corporate sectors. As a Developmental Consultant and Researcher, she works closely with some of the eminent Corporations and not-for profits of India as well as being in their Advisory and Board level capacity. She has conducted several social researches for multi-lateral agencies; the findings of which have become important bases for sustainable action. She has been a resource person in eminent Institutions of higher learning in the areas of CSR and Corporate Governance and has important peer reviewed research publications to her credit in double blind peer reviewed national and international Academic journals and books as well as delivered at key Conferences. Her book, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility in India: Cases and Development after the Legal Mandate’ alongwith co-editor Dr. Rene Schmidpeter is a first book of its kind that charters the development of mandated Indian CSR from a multi-stakeholder perspective, that has recently received the coveted India CSR Author Award, 2017. She spearheads the India CSR Leadership Series. She was a finalist of the prestigious Chevening Gurukul Scholarship for Leadership and Excellence – 2013, as conferred by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the British Deputy High Commission.

Interview was conducted by Nayan Mitra.

Disclaimer: The thoughts captured in the interview is solely that of the interviewee. The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR.

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