Attitudinal change is the biggest challenge for social responsible business, feels Arun Raste

Interview with Arun Raste for India CSR Leadership Series with Nayan Mitra

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Arun Raste heads the Partnership Bharat Banking IDFC

India CSR News Network

MUMBAI: After a year of intellectually engaging its audience with the views and perspectives of over 14 CSR Leaders from various walks of life – practitioners, policy-makers and academicians alike, India CSR Leadership Series is happy to present to its audience a tete-a-tete with Arun Raste. Nayan Mitra met Raste in her recent visit to Perth, Australia in mid-2016 to present a rather interesting paper on CSR Communication at an Academic Conference and as she got talking, she realised, he had a very hands-on approach to CSR. This is also evident through his interview as follows. But, before we move to the interview, We wish all my readers a very Happy New Year! Excerpts of interview:

What does CSR mean to you?

Although there are various CSR definitions, meanings and parameters, for me, it means how companies manage their business processes to generate greater good and create overall positive impact on stakeholders.

You have a background in Banking and communication, how did you enter the field of CSR?

My first brush with CSR was way back in 1996, thanks to my stint in ACC Cement. This cement giant, under the leadership of the then Chairman and legal doyen – Mr. Nani Palkhiwala, had a policy to take care of the needs of the populace in the 9 km. radius of all ACC factories. However, it was called rural development then. The intervention consisted of providing facilities like school, roads, water sanitation and even medical facilities to the population in remote factory locations. Later, I was fortunate to have a 6 year long stint in a non-profit NGO, whereby, I had the opportunity to do some CSR project monitoring/ ideation and consulting. This experience helped me when I joined the financial behemoth Kotak group – to set up their CSR functions and also head their corporate communication in 2008.

What do you think is one of the most important challenges of CSR in a private sector company? How can one overcome it?

Consumers today are looking for more than brand attributes, quality, or customer service. They want to know how a brand and/or company deals with its workforce, the community and environment. In today’s world of intense media scrutiny, if a company does not imbibe CSR as a philosophy, and embed it into its business strategy, it will not be perceived as a responsible corporate citizen. As a result, besides reputation loss, such corporations would risk losing valuable employees, and market share.

Attitudinal change is the biggest challenge for socially responsible business, be it for a line manager or top management. While CSR might have buy-in among top managers, unless CSR is embedded in the business goals, its impact will be minimal. And this requires a strong organization culture of social responsiveness just like quality consciousness and the realisation across the company that CSR adds business value.

What should be the various qualities that a CSR practitioner must possess?

Passion – CSR is not a job, but passion and it requires the same dedication at the beginning as at the end of the career. The zeal to learn, to empathize, to make impact and to work for greater good is what drives a true CSR professional.

Curiosity – The breadth of this role can be frightening as well as interesting. Frightening, because one can be asked to present the corporate viewpoint in a challenging scenario on anything; and, interesting because, in order to do so, one learns about all those aspects.

Listening ability and empathy – A CSR practitioner needs the ability to listen. It is essential in engaging the stakeholders and understanding how they are affected by the corporate. One has to engage stakeholders in order to assist the company in its decision making. Therefore, much of stakeholder consultation has to generate from genuine empathy.

Marketing skills – A corporate can be quality conscious, can have excellent product, but unless it has an image of a caring corporation, it does not catch the imagination of stakeholders. Therefore a CSR practitioner should be a good marketing person, who understands his own product, and processes and communicates a positive message to diverse stakeholders.

A recent empirical study shows that CSR has a significant relationship with Communication. Do you agree? Why?

Yes, I agree 100 per cent. In fact, no other single skill is as important as communication for the success of CSR. A corporate needs to develop long term relationships with its stakeholders who may have apprehensions about the company’s operations. The ability of the CSR manager to empathize and communicate is essential in such a situation, as is the ability to condense complicated issues into simple and convincing messages and presenting them deftly to a varied audience. Thus, this skill can be a critical differentiator between a responsible corporate citizen and an also-ran corporate.

Be it the shareholders who care for companies that form membership of FTSE4 or BITC CR index, to a management trainee who does not just consider a pay package but is bothered about the image of the company or an existing employee who wants an opportunity to volunteer; unless the corporate communicates the right message, none of the stakeholders will buy into the story.

How do Banks and financial institutions make an impact through CSR?

While institutions in banking and financial services (BFSI) sector do get involved in traditional CSR activities like supporting basic and social infrastructure – education and health services, and employee giving; in a country like India, they also offer opportunities to the people at the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) through financial inclusion. The financial literacy programmes run by the various players in the BFSI sector go a long way in helping the BOP population to fulfil their financial aspirations. They not only promote a habit of saving, but also encourage people to inculcate a culture of optimum utilization of resources, as well as financial and social security through insurance. And since most of the beneficiaries of such interventions are women, all the members in the family benefit.

What are the different CSR programmes run by IDFC? How are these programmes implemented?

The CSR initiatives of IDFC Group are implemented through the IDFC Foundation. Besides the normal interventions in health and education, IDFC has some unique programmes that help bridge the digital and technological divide. Some of them are as follows:

Digishala – Helping families in underprivileged communities by being a part of the digital revolution – by promoting digital literacy among their children.

Shwetadhara – A cattle care programme meant to empower small and medium farmers. This programme focuses on cattle breed improvement, development of high quality veterinary infrastructure and in enhancement of cattle productivity.

 About Arun Raste

Arun Raste heads the Partnership Bharat Banking IDFC.  He  has over 30  years of experience of working in the corporate and social development sectors including in marquee names like ACC, NABARD etc. Prior to joining IDFC, Arun set up the CSR vertical at Kotak. He was instrumental in the launch of a multi-stakeholder domestic Fair Trade initiative in his NGO avatar. He also tried his hand at entrepreneurship, operating in the direct marketing and customer care arena.

Arun was Asia’s representative to the International Fair Trade Forum and chaired the think tank of Asian forum for CSR in SMEs. A Post graduate in Marketing, and Economics, Arun is an alumni of International Visitors Leadership Programme and have presented papers in or spoken at various global forums. He advises a Mumbai based organization working on woman’s rights, was a trustee of another not for profit operating in livelihood sector, and is a visiting faculty at   leading management institutes.

About Nayan Mitra
Nayan Mitra comes with a rich mix of diverse professional experience of over sixteen years. 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.

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 Network and its Editor.

Copy Right & Conditions: India CSR Network does not permit other websites/Agency to copy or reproduce or reprint the above article in any form.

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