By Rusen Kumar
Authentic and effective CSR not only benefits the community but also gives a company the power to form connections and stand out in today’s saturated market as a caring and responsible corporate citizen. These are the sayings of Prabhjeet Singh – President, Uber India & South Asia. Prabhjeet is a passionate and innovative leader and has been instrumental in helping build Uber from the ground up and established Uber’s category leadership in the ride-sharing market in the region. Prabhjeet Singh is the President of Uber and he is responsible for leading its Mobility business in three countries; India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He is responsible for overseeing the next phase of its growth and expansion in the region. His unique style of building and leading has allowed him to adapt Uber’s global business model to India, launch multiple new cities and lead several India-first innovations, including scaling up Auto and Moto categories. He is building a truly multi-modal platform that is relevant for other emerging markets and steering it to build back better in the new normal. In conversation with Rusen Kumar, editor, India CSR; Prabhjeet Singh shared about Uber India Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
How are Indian corporates recalibrating their CSR initiatives during the pandemic? What has Uber done to bring about this change in focus in recent times?
During the early stages of the lockdown, we realised there were three pressing challenges that we could help solve – transporting health care workers, enabling essential travel, and facilitating last-mile delivery. To that end, we rolled out a new service called UberMedic and partnered with the National Health Authority to provide safe and efficient mobility options to India’s frontline healthcare workers engaged in battling the pandemic. We also partnered with multiple State Governments in Delhi, Maharashtra, Kerala, Assam, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chandigarh, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu to offer free rides for health care workers and non-COVID patients.
In response to the pandemic, community networks emerged as a lifeline as people stepped up to extend support, volunteer, and offer services to communities they are a part of. During these difficult times, corporations too came together to offer social support in several different ways to protect the health and livelihood of the vulnerable. We announced multiple key initiatives to support local authorities, civil society organizations, State Governments as well as Chief Ministers Offices to help move what matters. Some of our recent initiatives included:
Vaccination Rides Programme
As a part of our commitment to helping communities recover, we have been supporting India’s ongoing vaccination drive by pledging free rides worth INR 10 Crores (US$ 1.4 Million) for citizens traveling to and from authorized vaccination centers. We also partnered with credible national NGOs such as HelpAge India and Robin Hood Army, engaged in vaccination of the underserved and underprivileged elderly.
Emergency Covid Relief during Second Wave
We announced an INR 3.65 crores (US$ 500,000) free rides package for supporting emergency Covid relief efforts during the devastating second wave for facilitating transportation of life-saving oxygen cylinders, concentrators, ventilators, and other critical life-sustaining medical equipment to strengthen India’s healthcare system. We deployed these through our partnerships with credible NGOs like Go Dharmic, American India Foundation, The Good Quest Foundation, National Association for the Blind (NAB) as well as the UNHCR.
Partnering with Red Cross & UNESCO
Our vaccination support is being also channeled through partnerships with global entities like the Red Cross and UNESCO in India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. We are partnering with them for supporting frontline health care workers, the underserved communities, and the teachers and have already pledged over US$ 625,000 for these efforts.
Global Employee Giving
We donated INR 86 Lacs (US$ 118,000) to GiveIndia, India’s largest giving platform for supporting families who’ve lost sole income earners to Covid with a one-time cash grant of INR 30,000 (US$ 407) per family to help overcome their immediate financial needs. We also doubled down with health and hygiene safety initiatives to ensure we were safer for each other; the riders and the drivers.
We are first and foremost a tech company and ever since the early months of the pandemic, a comprehensive set of tech-enabled in-app safety measures have been rolled out. These features include a ‘no mask, no ride’ policy for both riders and drivers along with a Go-Online checklist, industry-first pre-trip mask verification selfies for riders and drivers, driver and rider education related to Covid related safety protocols, vehicle sanitization procedures, and a two-way feedback process.
We pioneered the safety screens in cars with the UberMedic service and installed over 200,000 safety screens in cars and autos, to date.
To step up safety standards for riders and drivers during the pandemic, we distributed over 3 million masks and 200,000 bottles of disinfectants and sanitizers each to the drivers.
Why are CSR initiatives essential for businesses in today’s world?
In today’s world, businesses are well aware that if they sidestep corporate social responsibility, they run a risk to their bottom line and their brand. Having a bad reputation environmentally, socially, or in the corporate governance, a sphere can create serious negative effects on the overall profitability and success of a company. Nowadays consumers want to spend their money on products and services that they believe in and engage with companies that follow ethical practices that match their own beliefs and values. It is also on the radar of employees, regulators, and everyone involved in the ecosystem. CSR and ESG have taken on an even greater significance in light of a global pandemic. Today, companies have the responsibility to accomplish positive climate action, building a more sustainable and resilient future.
We take our Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework seriously and that is why we have integrated our ESG principles into business decision-making to promote long-term value for our stakeholders.
Authentic and effective CSR not only benefits the community but also gives a company the power to form connections and stand out in today’s saturated market as a caring and responsible corporate citizen.
When implemented strategically, CSR becomes ingrained in the values and culture of a company, and positively affects the way the company does business. CSR should become inherent in the mission and message of an organization, and also hold a strong place in marketing and advertising. We are fully cognisant that promoting the CSR model only benefits the company if we are already acting on our plan. In India, we have started taking baby steps and we have a long way to go.
What are the core focus areas for your Corporate Social Responsibility programs in India?
Uber reimagines the way the world moves for the better. This offers a considerable mandate for positive impact as we create value that we believe benefits people and places around the world. We know that the power of movement transcends simply getting from point A to B. Movement is access—to safe spaces, to economic opportunities, and to sustainable futures. Movement is freedom—to thrive and to be empowered to drive your own destiny. Now, in the wake of Covid and its exacerbating effect on inequalities around the world, Uber has laid out the company’s ambition for our technology to help make movement equal for all. To realize this ambition, we’ve looked across the business to connect our purpose and operations to fulfill global and local needs. Globally, our work is focused on 4 pillars:
Economic Empowerment: From drivers and delivery people to small businesses and communities, we’re committed to creating positive opportunities for all.
Safety: Working to improve the safety of our platform through safety features, policies, procedures, and our commitment to transparency.
Sustainability: From electric vehicles to food waste reduction, we’re working to protect the future of our planet.
Equity: Through anti-racism and gender equality commitments, accessible services, and more, we help move people beyond biased systems.
What is the impact you are seeing through your varied programmes?
As vaccination emerged as the only defense against Covid, we realised that it held the key to recovery. Therefore, we played our part by ensuring transportation isn’t a barrier to receiving a jab.
In March this year, we pledged INR 10 Crores worth of free rides to help people get to and from the nearest vaccine center. We have collaborated with the Central Health Ministry to raise awareness about vaccination and fight hesitancy. We have also supported multiple State Governments, and NGOs, such as the HelpAge India and Robin Hood Army.
Lakhs of free vaccination rides have already been utilised and this programme comes to an end on 31st December. HelpAge India alone, for example, has transported and vaccinated over 40k vulnerable and elderly people with the help of free Uber rides. Since its launch, we have received an overwhelming response from our Riders about this programme and Drivers were happy to be a part of helping India get vaccinated.
What are the key social responsibility challenges organizations are facing today?
According to the India Philanthropy Report 2021, CSR accounts for 28% of the donations to the social sector. However, due to a decline in profitability margins for most domestic corporations due to the pandemic, the CSR corpus is expected to decline further by 5% this year.
While these are trying times, like in every crisis situation, there are both risks and opportunities. In the current times, community-focused activities can boost morale and help both employees and employers feel more connected with the world around them. And as businesses recover, I am hopeful that we’ll soon see a turnaround and a boost to the CSR corpus.
What is your advice to have an effective strategic CSR for companies who are just starting with CSR initiatives?
Ever since CSR became a mandate in India in 2015, we have seen plenty of great CSR examples by leading businesses. Having a path that is already paved is very helpful as we are just getting started. I mentioned before, at Uber, we take our ESG responsibility seriously and we have laid down our four strategic pillars. To be effective in the long run, it is essential to have a clearly defined CSR and ESG philosophy – one that is an inherent part of the company’s vision and mission, beyond the brand, messaging. And finally, needless to say, passion, sincere, and authentic efforts remain the key behind any successful initiative.
About the Author
Rusen Kumar, founder of India CSR, popularly known as CSR informer of India.