India Inc Takes CSR Route to Expand Business

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MUMBAI: Nineteen-year-old Purshottam Malvi from Tarana in Ujjain district of Madhya Pradesh recently landed a job as a sales representative (SR) in Navbharat Fertilizers with a monthly income of around Rs 9,000. The job has brought in a steady income for his six-member household, which includes his parents who work as labourers. And Malvi, who is doing his graduation from Jai Jawan College in Tarana, credits the job to a course instituted by Godrej Consumer Products (GCPL). The course in question, which Malvi completed earlier this year, provides certain skills in sales to enable rural youth to get employed as SRs – the demand for whom is only going up.

Since skilled workforce is in short supply and existing distributors have little patience to impart on-the-job training to newbies, GCPL rolled out ‘Project Vijay’ with the intent of absorbing a significant number of the trained youth for its own requirement. The rest are assured placement in other companies with an average monthly salary in the Rs 5,000-7,000 range. Over 4,500 students have already been trained, around 30-40% of whom have been placed across FMCG sales, agri-sales and sectors like security, hospitality and retail.

Although the programme is being offered free of cost, GCPL maintains a bench of about 90% who would be certified at the end of the course. “After getting certified, there is a dramatic change in the confidence levels of the individuals. It also creates a lot of positive ‘word of mouth’ about GCPL itself,” said Rahul Gama, VP (HR), GCPL, which is keen on setting up a future-ready sales organization.

From basic communication skills to customer interaction and personality development, students are taught how to deal with customers and the intricacies of making a sales call. The project has been rolled out in three states – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa – and will be scaled up to 10-12 states by next year.

Godrej is not the only company keen on a corporate social responsibility (CSR) role with a clear business objective in mind. Others leveraging CSR for business benefits include Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M), Hindustan Unilever ( HUL), Marico and Procter & Gamble (P&G). M&M’s watershed project covering 32 villages in Damoh district, Madhya Pradesh, was set up with the primary goal of conserving water and soil. The dam covers about 10,000 hectares, 4,000 households and 20,000 people. M&M feels overall household income is expected to almost double as a result of the project.

So what’s in it for M&M, which will bear all the management and CSR-related costs of the project? “It is expected that farmers in the area will purchase tractors for cultivation and that farmers will adopt micro-irrigation for their fields. As the project involves high levels of construction activity, it is expected that local entrepreneurs will adopt construction equipment and work on projects locally. Local businessmen are expected to purchase commercial vehicles to cater to the needs of the area,” said Anirban Ghosh, VP, strategic planning and new business development, farm equipment sector, M&M.

A growing number of corporates are looking at CSR as a do-good practice that will eventually help improve sales. In its eighth year now, P&G ‘Shiksha’ is structured to directly link its core cause (providing access to education to underprivileged children) with the business. With a simple purchase, Shiksha empowers consumers to lead the social change. “Shiksha is resourced with a dedicated team and measured just as any other P&G brand. The initiative helps drive trial for all our brands. Our latest consumer study tells us that 51% of the consumers who are aware of Shiksha are influenced to purchase the P&G product that would help them contribute to the cause,” said a P&G spokesperson.

Similarly, Marico’s CSR initiative linked to Nihar Shanti Amla has proposed that every time a woman buys a Nihar bottle, 2% of the proceeds will be contributed to the cause of children’s education. The initiative will be fund 19 projects across Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and other regions, where each project will touch 25-30 villages within these geographies. “The initiative is expected to draw a lot of empathy among our target group, especially the Hindi heartland where average literacy level is slightly lower. The positive rub-off will not be restricted to the brand alone. It will also help in our rural expansion programme,” said Saugata Gupta, CEO (consumer products), Marico.

For those companies which started on the journey of marrying CSR with business objectives a decade ago, the results are visible. HUL’s Project Shakti, which started as a rural distribution initiative in a few pilot villages of Andhra Pradesh in 2000, today has 45,000 ‘Shakti Ammas’ across 15 states. It catalyses rural affluence even as it benefits business. Shakti, it is understood, contributes 15% to HUL’s rural sales today, which would be roughly about Rs 1,500 crore.

(Times of India)

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