In India, the CSR, particularly after 2013 legislation presents a powerful and meaningful conduit to deal with basic yet important issues such as; poverty, malnutrition, low productivity in agriculture and unemployment to name a few. CSR needs to evolve and put a strategy in place that will expand opportunities for the poor and protect the poorest and the most vulnerable. Let us discuss what can make CSR an effective instrument in the present and future diaspora.
No single silver bullet or panacea
Emerging economies such as India face a plethora of social, economic and environmental problems and challenges. There is no single silver bullet or panacea that will solve these problems or the herculean challenges of poverty and inequality in India. Hence, there can be no single Corporate Social Responsibility strategy or approach. Given the diversity and level of development in different parts of our country, CSR cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach.
While development experts, industry leaders and CSR experts must look at issues that are relevant to different regions. At the same time, they must ensure that companies look across India and not concentrate on a few pockets, as the country badly needs the scale of operation. We have to develop and adopt multiple approaches and combinations of strategies while developing customized solutions to diverse and magnitude of problems.
CSR: Medium of urban corporate India to support rural Bharat
There is a paradox in our country. As if different parts of the country are living in different centuries. It has rural Bharat on one side that is steeped in illiteracy, poverty on the one hand and a literate, rich, extravagant, corporate, urban India on the other. It is a surplus society in the world of deficiency. If we have to achieve growth, harmony and peace then the urban India and corporates and rich have to support and give hand to rural India to come up.
CSR is one of the most effective media for doing that transformation. Through CSR, the private sector can extend the good work to rural areas by meeting the infrastructure requirements in government schools and PHCs, CHCs and similar institutions that provide services to rural settlers. Companies can adopt specific blocks or districts for such intervention or take up holistic development as Lupin Foundation has done. This can be synergized with efforts to tackle malaises that have crippled our rural communities.
Doers and thinkers required
The country needs doers and thinkers but not only talkers. Mere talking or articulating is not enough. As the famous author, John Charles Salak says, “Failures are divided into two classes — those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought.” We need to act and act fast but with proper thought behind it. Plunging into the act without thinking can lead to catastrophe while thinking without acting can lead us nowhere. CSR practitioners, therefore, should be both thinkers and doers at a time. Further, CSR leaders should be transformational. They should be able to make a meaningful difference.
Innovations: Key to effective CSR
If CSR programmes are to be effective going ahead, the leaders, the managers and field staff need to have creative thinking beyond normal. There is a need for idea generation at every level. Only innovations and out of box thinking can keep pace with the challenges we face. We at Lupin Foundation have made innovations/new initiatives, a hallmark of our strategy. In collaboration with the institution of excellence such as IITs, we have developed different designs of furnaces or machines to facilitate safe and efficient working benefitting many artisans.
But technological innovations are not enough. We must find out innovative solutions to problems. When we found that the seepage of canal water going to Gurgaon destroyed farmland at Jeeraheda village, we decided to turn waterlogged farmland into water bodies for fisheries. Thus, the problem was converted into an opportunity with a simple idea. For CSR to be effective to solve issues and address challenges we need such inventive thinking and disruptive social and technological solutions. It would be key to effective CSR going ahead.
Technology application: Effective CSR strategy
Along with innovations, technology infusion and application are equally important. We are in the age of technology-driven society. Technology is a major enabler going ahead. Hence, application of apt technologies developed by academic, technological institutions and industry can be an effective CSR strategy going ahead. We at Lupin, have a lab to land approach over the years. Infusion of technologies in agriculture, animal husbandry or health can create miracles. A single neonatal respirator machine at PHC can save thousands of new-born babies every year and reduce the IMR in the area drastically.
Not just innovate, but replicate and go for Next Practices
While innovation and technological applications are critical, we have the opportunity to replicate what others have developed. We need not waste resources and time to develop solutions and practices that are already well established. We need not reinvent the wheel. We should learn from others. We should scout for best practices developed by different CSR organisations and replicate the same.
We should become future-oriented and look for next practices, as the future is uncertain.
Partnership, Collaborations to achieve scale
The scale is important in addressing issues. It is beyond CSR organisations to address gigantic problems that India have today and will have in future. The overall CSR expenditure in the country is only about 5 percent of the nonprofit sector’s spend in India, and about 1.5 per cent of government expenditure on social programmes. So partnership and collaboration are going to be a key to achieving scale.
In this context, CSR cannot match government funds and therefore cannot avoid partnership and convergence with it. Further, partnership and collaboration with other corporates are not yet fructified. It can create an enormous synergy that is required to achieve the appropriate scale. Partnerships let us draw on the competences of others who have expertise in diverse areas. Connecting with partners can enable us to design and implement programmes faster, with less individual resources, than doing things on our own.
Achieving more with less resources
The fundamental problem of economics has to deal with, as the great economist Robbins put it in the 1930s, a greater number of wants to be satisfied with fewer resources. This is still and will always remain valid. In CSR too, we are faced with the same question. We always have more demand than the resources to meet those. Hence, it is imperative that we achieve greater scale, reach more and achieve deeper impact in less resources. For this, we need passion, motivation, innovation, partnerships, adoption of technologies, agile management and similar optimisers.
Going ahead, those organisations who can achieve greater, wider and deeper impact in less investment will be preferred and will therefore thrive. Currently, India Inc spends around Rs.15,000 crores on CSR programmes. Though, this is a sizable figure, it is miniscule compared to the magnitude of challenges we are facing. The gamut of the problems and the size of available resources with us makes it imperative for us to utilize the resources not just efficiently but also imaginatively to achieve the required scale within the same.
In Dhule district of Maharashtra, we were able to lift more than 1 lakh families from above the poverty line with less than 100 crores of our own investment. We also mobilised resources from NABARDA and various government schemes. But the strategy and approach were keys to achieve the feat. We are not only required to give Value for the money but also values through accomplishing more in fewer. If we do that then CSR can be ‘today’s opportunity and tomorrow’s story’.
Long term commitment but with an Agile approach
Temporal scale is also critical in CSR practice. One cannot be short-sighted for sure. However, long term planning may not work as shown by Covid-19. It is said, man proposes, God disposes. One single disease and the whole paradigms are changed overnight. Just as we cannot have one single uniform solution for the diverse country, we cannot have long term plans for an unpredictable future. We all live in a dynamic society where the change is the only constant and inevitable. Hence, what we need is long term commitment but agile approach and capability to respond to changing situations.
CSR Agenda going ahead
More than a decade back, ex-President Abdul Kalam had invited 500 thinkers in the country to prioritise development areas of action earlier. During the deliberations, first was health followed by education and the third was agriculture. Even now these sectors are quite important, particularly in this COVID 19 period underlined it further. Health has become a national priority even ahead of national security as can be seen from the government policy of reducing the defence expenditure in the wake of the financial burden to respond to the COVID 19 related challenges.
During the same meet, forefronts were IT, construction and infrastructure. Pharma biotechnology and nanotechnology sectors were figured, which today are the most critical need of any country in the world. These above sectors are going to be major disruptors going ahead and CSR in future will have all these thematic areas on its agenda.
Passion to compassion
At the end of the day, CSR is not just like any other dry economic programme with no emotions involved. Rather, CSR involves people, communities, persons, their behavioural changes and responses and therefore it is full of emotions. CSR leaders and professionals must have passion for the country, for the poor, for the marginalised. But along with motivation and passion what is most required is compassion, sensitivity and empathy towards those at the bottom of the pyramid.
Finally, we have to come to Gandhiji. In 1959 when Martin Luther King (Jr) visited India a journalist questioning the relevance of Gandhiji asked him “Where is Gandhi today?” implying he was nowhere to be seen. King (Jr) replied to this aptly, “Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of social order and peace. We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk.” CSR in India included the concept of corporate philanthropy and the Gandhian Trusteeship model. Even in future, his thoughts are going to shape and guide humanity and the world in this critical period.
CSR in India, Challenges and Prospects of CSR, Rusen Kumar, Sitaram Gupta, Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR
About the Authors:
A renowned name in the Indian CSR sector Sitaram Gupta, Executive Director, Lupin Human Welfare and Research Foundation (Lupin Foundation) has, for the past three decades, successfully created replicable development models to improve livelihoods at the rural and district levels.
Rusen Kumar is the founder and managing editor of India CSR. He regularly writes on CSR and Sustainability. He is a renowned name in CSR in India.