MUMBAI: Subrata Mukherji, President of ICICI Foundation has over 30 years of experience in the financial services industry and a keen understanding of the various facets of the Indian economy. He was earlier Managing Director & CEO of ICICI Securities Ltd., the largest integrated securities firm in India covering the needs of corporate and retail customers through investment banking, institutional broking, retail broking and financial product distribution businesses.
In an exclusive interview with Rusen K, Editor of INDIACSR, Subrata Mukherji shares his views on ICICI Foundation projects and passion towards Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Mr. Mukherji says, CSR needs to be embedded into the core of the business strategy. Below is a edited transcript of the interview:
Welcome to INDIACSR, Could you please introduce yourself and your involvement in social developmental activities highlighting the importance of CSR in your personal life?
My name is Subrata Mukherji and I am the President of ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth. CSR has always played an important role in my life and in 2010, I got the opportunity to develop this passion with ICICI Foundation.
Tell us about ICICI Bank’s role in the development of country and its vision?
ICICI Group has been a partner in the nation’s growth for over five decades. Since we were originally started as a development finance organisation, our commitment to India has always been one of inclusive and holistic growth. We strive to make our products and services have a positive impact on the lives of everyone they touch, and our social initiatives fall in line with this mission.
Being a CSR leader, how will you define the CSR in modern context?
CSR is more important now than ever. There is an increasing awareness about corporates and their impact on society. When implemented well, CSR not only brings improvements to the communities the initiatives benefit, but also enhances the morale and awareness of employees and the brand loyalty of customers.
CSR needs to be embedded into the core of the business strategy. What do you think?
I agree that CSR needs to be embedded into the core of the business strategy. However, being a part of the core business strategy can be interpreted in many different ways for different organisations. It will always be in a company’s best interest to make sure the people in their community are in good health and receive quality education, since these people will ultimately contribute to the workforce and functioning of an organisation, and often are the market for their products as well. By getting your employees involved, you are guaranteed that your CSR aligns with your business strategy, since it will automatically enrich their lives.
At ICICI, we make sure our social initiatives enrich the lives of those who bank with us, or have the potential too, so that we have a mutually beneficial relationship. For example, we have recently begun an employee volunteering programme in which ICICI Bank employees train underprivileged youth in basic financial concepts. We designed the modules to be engaging and fun for the youth, so that they would absorb the concepts easily. This initiative matches perfectly with our core business strategy since it ultimately enhances the bankable market, but also gives our employees a chance to give back through their core competencies (financial understanding).
Community initiatives will benefit Indian society but can also lead directly to increased productivity, profits, and innovation. There is a way for every business to help contribute to society and to social and economic growth without compromising on profitability or efficacy, no matter how large or small the business is, or what product they sell.
Not only can social initiatives help solidify your company’s core values in your customers’ minds, they can also drive top talent to your organisation, increase your current employees’ engagement levels, and develop new markets for your products.
One of the best ways to demonstrate the mutually beneficial goals of community initiatives is through inclusive and exceptional recruitment practices. For example, ICICI Manipal Academy for Banking and Insurance (IMA) is a joint venture of ICICI Bank and the Manipal Group. IMA identifies talented and motivated youth who may come from remote, rural, or marginalized backgrounds, and provides them with rigorous training. With emphasis on application of knowledge and overall development of personality, upon completion these young people are prepared to embark on fruitful careers with ICICI Bank. Through endeavours such as this one, we are ensured that the very brightest talent will always have a route to personal success, while we enrich our own talent pool. ICICI Bank bears the entire course fee for the programme, since we consider IMA an investment into cultivating a talented and dedicated workforce.
Other practices like rural BPOs have demonstrated exactly how the needs of the rural underprivileged and the needs of the large corporate can be met simultaneously through innovations and socially conscious thinking.
Customers and shareholders are now realizing that companies have a responsibility to engage with their communities, and are increasingly scrutinising those who do not. A global study found that 68% of consumers would stay loyal to brands during a recession if they support good causes and 52% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand that supports a good cause over the one that does not. Increasingly, consumers will link brands to social initiatives or lack thereof.
How much importance is attached to corporate social responsibility within ICICI Bank?
We already have a large focus on CSR, and we are increasingly trying to expand the reach of our programmes, both internally and externally. While we have always used our resources to develop and nurture organisations doing important work, through ICICI Foundation we are now able to implement our own programmes and get our employees and customers to play a greater role in these endeavours. We are increasingly focusing on bringing about systemic change by partnering closely with the government on a variety of education and health related issues.
What is vision of ICICI Foundation and when it was established?
ICICI Foundation was founded in 2008, and carries forward a long legacy of social initiatives. Our vision is to create a world free of poverty, in which every individual has the freedom and power to create and sustain a just society in which to live. We feel this will be accomplished through empowering the poor to participate in India’s growth, and ensure that we take holistic action to include every segment of society
ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth has launched a pioneering youth leadership program “ICICI Fellows”, what is the aim of the program?
We feel that in each and every sector, India needs talented young leaders who have had exposure to India’s broader realities, who understand the challenges of diverse environments, and who have the skills and determination to discover and implement new ideas. Through ICICI Fellows, bright young people get on ground experience working with the community in different parts of the country interspersed with management training and skill building sessions. The lessons they learn there will inform their decisions for the rest of their lives.
Why such kind of program is required in India?
India has the largest population of young people in the world. Many of these youth know they want to contribute to their country, and learn more about the reality of the world around them, but have no platform on which to begin. This programme gives them the opportunity to work at a grassroots level on real development issues, as well as provides the support they require to make a significant contribution and develop their personal leadership skills.
What is your view on role of youth in development?
I believe that the youth are the drivers of development. Today’s youth will be the leaders of tomorrow. They need to be sensitised to the issues facing the country so that they can invest their energies and creative talent in developing the necessary solutions. Youth can play a huge role in driving development in many different capacities. Obviously their enthusiasm and creativity lends them naturally to careers in the development sector, but even those who want to pursue other careers can still have a large impact. Because many youth have free time or flexible schedules, they make great volunteers or contributors to social causes. Given their close proximity in age to children, they can often contribute greatly to causes working with children or other young people, often better than adults can.
What are the various programmes currently managed by ICICI Foundation?
We work in four focus areas: elementary education, primary health, sustainable livelihoods and access to finance. While we have been involved in dozens of programmes since our inception, one of our current cornerstone projects is our six-year programme for school and teacher education reform in Rajasthan Since there has been an important shift in how the government approaches teaching and learning in the classroom, we are helping them implement this new vision.
Do you have annual budget for ICICI Foundation activities?
Our activities are funded exclusively by the profits of ICICI Group companies, and our annual report contains more details.
What are the thematic area in which program of the ICICI Foundation are focused?
We work in four focus areas: elementary education, primary health, sustainable livelihoods and access to finance. In these areas, we mainly focus on long-term efforts to strengthen public delivery systems, in partnership with the government and other independent organisations.
Do awards and recognitions in CSR encourage you to make your CSR activities better?
I think CSR activities need to be evaluated from a range of criteria and perspectives. I think awards can definitely help bring awareness to good work and organisations that are trying to make a difference. However, just like any organisation, transparency, good governance, and monitoring need to be strictly evaluated to determine the value of the work. If the awards reflect this effort, than they are worthwhile, but the criteria need to be clearly communicated.
CSR activities help company in building image. What is your opinion?
There is a lot of research that strongly correlates positive brand image with socially responsible practices, and vice versa (lack of social initiatives with negative brand view). I think companies are becoming aware of this, which is great. But CSR needs to be carefully thought out if it is going to have the maximum possible impact, and organisations should not rush hastily into social work without properly evaluating their plan like they would any other aspect of their business.
Are there any motivational stories or achievements of the foundation which, you would like to share?
In primary health, we have helped train over 40,000 community health workers in Jharkhand. Through our partnership with the government, we have developed modules for the community health workers’ leadership and community mobilisation skills. One community health worker we met, Baby Devi, said that she is now optimistic about the development of her village, and that she is glad she can now help her village understand about the various facilities available from the government. We are also piloting a unique micro-insurance product for people below the poverty line that will provide them with free outpatient health care. The product has been developed to complement the the government’s RSBY inpatient health insurance programme and has already been launched in two districts in Odisha and Gujarat.
In education, we have several long-term state-wide partnerships with government that have been showing impressive results. As a result of our efforts beginning in 2002, four million children across Chhattisgarh are now learning with the help of new child-friendly textbooks and curriculum we developed in partnership with the government. In Rajasthan, we have just recently begun a state-wide school and teacher education reform project, which will revamp the textbooks, curriculum and teacher training programmes for classes 1-8. This will ultimately impact around 7.4 million children in government schools.
Our most recent batch of ICICI Fellows have also been accomplishing great work on the ground at their placements across India. In addition to the innovative and impactful projects the Fellows have been undertaking, their personal transformation is also quite inspirational. One Fellow designate, Divya Titus, said, “I think the biggest impact this programme has had on me is to look beyond the differences, and focus more on the commonalities that bind people.” It’s an outlook on life that more people should aspire to. These are some examples of our programmes and we will continually strive to make a difference in the lives of the poor and needy.