Do we need CSR Managers?

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In many companies in India, particular in Public Sector Units, the CSR Manager does not even have the authority to speak to the media or those interested in the Company’s CSR activities. The CSR Manager’s role is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Suresh Kr Pramar argues that CSR Manager role is likely to be further strengthened with the enactment of the New Company Law Bill which includes strong provisions for Corporate Social Responsibility.

By Suresh Kr Pramar

In the last, less than a, decade the number of persons designated as CSR Managers has increased manifold in India. Almost every company which wants to project itself as a responsible company has one or more persons designated as CSR Managers or CSR Executives.

As in India, so also abroad, the number of CSR Managers have increased substantially. There are at the same time a number of organizations who claim that they practice Corporate Social Responsibility and yet do not have any individual designated as a CSR Manager. Such companies believe that they do not have any need for any person as a CSR Manager since their CSR activities are controlled directly by the Board and through them the entire organization.

(1) So do company’s need to have CSR Managers or as some companies call them CSR Professionals?  

CSR experts say every company professing to practice CSR needs to have a CSR Manager. According to these experts the corporate social responsibility professional provides the perspective company requires to identify the opportunities and risks that can help build value or threaten assets, even before their impacts show up on a spreadsheet.

Tim Mohin, in his new book ‘Changing Business from the Inside Out: A Treehugger’s Guide to Working in Corporations’ says “Today, large companies realize that they must have someone in charge of CSR. It’s not a new department per se but builds upon the community, public affairs or environmental teams and adds on other parts of corporate citizenship.”

According Seb Beloe, vice president for research and advocacy at environmental consultancy SustainAbility,“it is important for companies to have a CSR Officer as a point person who can work with external stakeholders on sustainability initiatives. The best CSR officers will realise they have to have an internal as well as external facing role.”  

A survey report by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship says  “the corporate citizenship professionals provides the necessary perspective for companies to avoid too closely focusing on today’s bottom line and blurring the big picture of tomorrow’s risks and opportunities.”

In an article published a few years ago Molteni and Pedrini pointed out that “the CSR manager can play diverse roles in CSR implementation. In some cases they are directly in charge of the management of one or more CSR practices and assume the role of a professional. In other cases they coordinate the activities related to CSR issues that have an impact on internal processes or on external stakeholder opinion.

“Although the role may vary, it is clear that his job determines the efficiency of CSR implementation. The CSR manager’s role is fundamental for transforming executive strategy into operational activities, and, in other words, in establishing a new stakeholder culture in the firm.”

Highlighting the importance of CSR Managers Molteni and Pedrini reveal that the CSR manager is required to perform three key roles:

He has to be the sensor of social and environmental changes both locally and nationally. The CSR manager weighs sustainability issues in decision making and aids strategy makers in thinking about their industries ongoing social and environmental trends. The manager has to collaborate with the board and CEO in strategy development

(2) He is needed as the integrator of the CSR implementation team. The CSR manager provides the cohesion between the multiple internal actors involved in CSR implementation. He or she assures that diverse members of the firm contribute to a unique strategic plan. And where the implementation path requires a team composed of experts from each of the firm’s functions that work in close contact with the senior management; and

(3) He or she is the expert in CSR issues and practices. The CSR manager needs to be an ‘expert’ in those practices which translate into expressions of responsibility towards their stakeholders and the community.

Despite the crucial role CSR Managers are required to play to ensure the success of any company’s CSR strategy a majority of managers with Indian companies complain that their have little authority in drafting or  implementing all aspects of the company’s CSR policy. In India the influence of a majority of those designated as CSR Managers is very restricted. Because of this they are not able to take decisions on many vital issues without looking behind.

In many companies in India, particular in Public Sector Units, the CSR Manager does not even have the authority to speak to the media or those interested in the Company’s CSR activities. This writer has witnessed this on a number of occasions and in many companies.

In one instance an officer designated as General Manager in Charge of CSR expressed his inability to provide any information without proper authorization from his seniors. As a concession he fished out a printed write up, wrapped it in an old newspaper and handed it over to be. “Please open it only after you leave the building,” he told me.

Because of the CSR managers lack of authority CSR departments are not strong enough to lead the CSR programmes effectively. Working at the grass root level with stakeholders the CSR Manager is more in tune with the needs and aspirations of the various stakeholders. He or she is in a unique position to provide necessary inputs to the senior level management about various issues which impact on the company’s CSR Programmes.

Unfortunately in India the role of the CSR Manager is considerably diluted because a majority of the companies practice PR CSR. Most of the programmes taken up by companies are mainly for gaining PR mileage to strengthen the company’s brand image. “CSR is generally a bolt-on, almost by definition. At best it is seen as a risk management or reporting exercise and integration with the rest of the business can be pretty limited.” In such a situation the role of the CSR Manager is restricted to collecting crowds and handing out snacks and tea.

The CSR Manager’s role is here to stay for the foreseeable future. This role is likely to be further strengthened with the enactment of the New Company Law Bill which includes strong provisions for Corporate Social Responsibility.

Companies will need to rewrite the CSR Policy to lay out their CSR Agenda in more precise terms. This will make the role of the CSR Managers more crucial.   Companies need to provide the CSR Managers/Departments the necessary dignity, status and respect required for effective planning and implementation of their CSR programmes.

CSR relates to all aspects of a business activity and behaviour, from sourcing its raw materials to disposing of the final product and addresses the need for businesses to identify and manage risks, support reputations and brands and prepare for the future in such a way that they are able to meet both civil and regulatory expectations. It follows therefore that the CSR Manager’s role in companies will have to be rewritten to ensure that they are able to place a stronger and more decisive role in the company’s CSR programmes.

(Suresh Kr Pramar, Trainer, Writer,  CSR Consultant and the Executive Director, Centre for Training & Research in Responsible Business is a veteran journalist presently actively involved in promoting CSR through his publication CRBiz and by conducting workshop on Corporate Social Responsibility. He can be reached at suresh.pramar@gmail.com, Mobile No: 09213133042/9899305950)

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