Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a buzzword with the government making it mandatory for companies to spend 2% of their net profit on the social upliftment of people. In an interview, Deloitte ’s William D. Eggers , co-author of The Social revolution: How Business, Government and Social Enterprises Are Teaming Up to Solve Society’s Toughest Problems, said if a company uses CSR activities to also promote its business, it should be applauded and not frowned upon. Edited excerpts:
How do you define CSR activities in current times when various governments are coming out with regulations around them?
I think it can be everything from providing pro bono assistance to non-profits and social enterprises to making sure that you don’t have human trafficking, bad labour practices within your supply chain. It is to make sure that you are not spoiling the environment. When you are looking at double, triple bottom line, your social impact, your environmental impact and how can you use your core strengths, one of the examples that come to your mind is (Hindustan) Unilever’s “Project Shakti” in India, where they wanted to move to villages in order to expand their marketplace but at the same time teach people how to use soaps and shampoos so that they could actually reduce chances of diarrhoea.
Isn’t it unethical to leverage the CSR activities to strengthen your brand?
If your company is doing a lot to help your environment and that’s part of their core values, I don’t think there is anything unethical about that. This is what we stand for. If you look at Whole Foods supermarket chains, their social mission is doing good for the planet and also providing healthy food, which is locally sourced. This is at the core of what they are all about. So their advertising really emphasizes that because that’s where their soul is. This is something that should be applauded and not viewed as something unethical. Now if a company is trying to use CSR purely as a branding exercise without actually doing anything, then I think that’s a different story.
So, what are the areas where you can do good social work and make money out of that as well?
It’s just about everywhere because there are so many unmet needs in India right now, such as in education, water, low-cost healthcare, sanitation, recycling, reducing traffic congestion. It’s about looking at problems as opportunities, which is what social entrepreneurs do. It’s how you create a business model by serving those unmet needs. We have millions of people around the world at the base of the pyramid, who 15 years ago were excluded from the economic system, consumer markets completely because businesses did not believe that they would ever buy anything. But that has started to change.
How is it picking up in other emerging markets?
There is no doubt that (with) impact investing funds on social infrastructure, more is happening in India than any other emerging market because India is a bigger marketplace. This has been going on for 10 years out here. So in Brazil, there are over a million NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who are operating in many respects but they are fairly traditional ones. You do now have some impact investing funds like Vox Capital. So we have started to see that develop in other countries, but India has a number of years of headstart over other countries. So I think there is a lot to learn from here.