Responsible business is the foundation of CSR, says Rohit Rao of Kotak Mahindra Bank

Interview with Rohit Rao for India CSR Leadership Series with Nayan Mitra

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India CSR News Network

NEW DELHI: Responsible business practices or business responsibility is a philosophy that may often end up in debates like the one on chicken and egg! Here we present before you the interview of this month’s CSR Leader, Rohit Rao, who speaks of the various philosophies and practices of Kotak Mahindra Bank’s CSR policies and offers a glimpse of the roles and responsibilities of a CSR leader. Interview was conducted by Nayan MitraHappy reading!

What is your idea of a CSR leader? Why?

Organisations, for profit, government bodies and also not-for-profit, play a vital role in society as enablers of wellbeing for an array of stakeholders – citizens, employees, consumers etc. CSR is the process by which the organisation thinks about and works with various stakeholders for the common good of the society.

A CSR leader – whether it is a company or an individual, demonstrates commitment by adoption of appropriate business processes and strategies. In my opinion, CSR is not charity or mere donations. This even holds true in the context of the present provisions on CSR in the Companies Act, 2013.

The CSR leader should demonstrate action to create societal returns. Additionally, the leader should be cognizant of the direct, indirect and unintended consequences his/her actions (business or CSR) can have on various stakeholders while pursuing the vision of creating social impact. At Kotak Mahindra Bank (Kotak), we believe in not just giving back to society, but also building a responsible business culture.

What is your take on the CSR mandate under the Companies Act, 2013?

India has probably the world’s richest and oldest tradition of social responsibility. Though the term CSR is comparatively new, the concept itself dates back to over a thousand years. CSR in India has evolved through different phases, such as community engagement, socially responsible production and socially responsible employee relations.

There are various examples to cite:

  • Kautilya (Arya Chanakya) on CSR: Kautilya stressed on ethical practices and principles while conducting business.
  • In the pre-Independence era, the pioneers of industrialisation, names like Tata, Birla, Godrej, Bajaj, recognised the importance of CSR for the communities’ wellbeing. They set up charitable foundations and trusts for education and healthcare and community development voluntarily.
  • During the Independence struggle, Mahatma Gandhi urged the rich to share their wealth and Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s Bhudaan movement are some fine examples of driving the CSR agenda.

Thus, charity or social responsibility work clearly predates the CSR mandate under the Companies Act, 2013. The statute gives CSR a legal and institutional framework which until recently evolved organically. In the long run, the CSR framework under the Companies Act, 2013 will institutionalise CSR, widen and deepen the function and importantly, all stakeholders will become collectively responsible for the common good.

What kind of CSR projects have Kotak Mahindra Bank undertaken in recent times?

Kotak’s CSR focus areas as defined in the bank’s CSR policy, are as follows:

  • Education
  • Enhancing vocational skills and livelihood
  • Healthcare and sanitation
  • Reducing inequalities faced by socially and economically backward groups
  • Sustainable development
  • Relief and rehabilitation
  • Clean India
  • Sports

Who are your implementing partners?

Kotak undertakes CSR programmes both directly and through implementation agencies. Education is Kotak’s primary CSR focus area. Kotak endeavours to provide accessible and affordable quality education to the underprivileged sections of the society. Kotak Education Foundation (KEF) is Kotak Group’s primary vehicle to implement its CSR programme on education.

Founded in 2006, KEF operates largely in the M-East and M-West wards of Mumbai (Deonar and Govandi) – areas that rank lowest in the Human Development Index (HDI). Through its eight education centric programmes, the foundation attempts at providing holistic solutions to eliminate poverty from these urban slum areas. As on September 30, 2017, KEF has partnered with 43 schools benefitting 48,823 students, 3,597 parents, and over 700 youth. We have success stories where students from our partner schools have got admission in government engineering, medical colleges and even the prestigious IIT on their merit.

We also run many CSR programmes by partnering with NGOs such as Teach for India, Olympic Gold Quest, N. M. Sadguru Water & Development Foundation, CanSupport, Dhanwantari Medical Trust to name a few.

Further, Kotak implements several CSR programmes with its partner NGOs through employee engagement and volunteering initiatives such as building homes for the poor and need with Habitat for Humanity. Under Kotak Payroll Giving Programme, employees support NGOs such as The Akanksha Foundation, Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA), National Association for the Blind (NAB), Dignity Foundation, Make-A-Wish Foundation of India, SOPAN (Society of Parents of Children with Autistic Disorders) and Humane Touch Trust. Besides, Kotak and its employees support NGOs via the Marathon route.

Over the past many years, employees run to support Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA), Indian Council for Mental Health, SOPAN, Kotak Education Foundation and Action for Ability Development and Inclusion (AADI). I am proud to say that year after year we get acknowledged as either the highest or second highest fundraising corporate in the corporate challenge category.

What measures have you taken for impact assessment?

KEF is our primary CSR vehicle. The impact assessment is done not only at the quantitative level i.e. number of lives positively affected, but also at the qualitative level. Various parameters such as ASER test to gauge scholastic improvement (learning outcomes) among students, school drop-out rates, behavioural changes from “I can’t” to “I can” in school leadership, reduction in anaemia, bringing families out of poverty etc. are measured to assess our impact.

Do you comply to some industrial standards and reporting guidelines like ISO 26000, 14000, GRI? If yes, what? If no, why?

At Kotak, environment, social and governance (ESG) practices are integral components of its business functions and are embedded in its systems and processes. Through disclosure of these practices in the public domain, Kotak not only ensures compliance with statutory requirements but also showcases the bank’s efforts to go beyond what is mandated by law. While doing so, the Bank has identified the means by which it can improve internal management systems, products and services to make a more positive impact on society and the environment.

Business operations and activities at Kotak are conducted in a transparent and accountable manner, supported by a policy framework and Code of Conduct. Suitable monitoring mechanisms and controls have been delineated to ensure adherence to ethical business practices.

Kotak initiated the process of disclosing information on its triple bottom line performance in FY 2012-13 when it published its first Business Responsibility Report (BRR). The disclosures cover the Bank’s own operations and are directly aligned to the nine principles of the National Voluntary Guidelines (NVGs) on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business released by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs in 2011. Additionally, the report is in accordance with clause (f) of sub regulation (2) of regulation 34 of Securities and Exchange Board of India (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015. It is also compliant with Section 135, Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013, and the subsequent relevant notifications issued by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India.

How important is it to communicate ones CSR activities to the general public?

At its heart, CSR is really about how an organisation engages with its stakeholders. Transparency / Disclosures i.e. being open to public scrutiny is one of the important aspects of the Corporate Governance framework and is a requirement for the institutionalisation of CSR programmes, which is why the Companies Act, 2013 has defined the disclosure framework as well.

Communicating CSR activities to the general public, in a manner that is easily understood by them and is easily accessible by them, is equally important as the general public is unlikely to access the mandated channels of disclosures – website and annual reports. The larger objective of institutionalising and bringing CSR under the statute is to make CSR programmes effective and efficient with a long term objective of all stakeholders become collectively responsible for the common good of society.

About Rohit Rao
Rohit Rao heads Corporate Communication, Business Responsibility and Corporate Social Responsibility at Kotak Mahindra Group, India’s premier banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) conglomerate, since May 2011. In this role, he ensures that the group’s communication is in alignment to its corporate promise of a responsive, rewarding and customer friendly brand at all times. He has led the process of consolidating and integrating the group’s communication, business responsibility and CSR functions, into a cohesive and agile unit, helping the group significantly leverage the many winning synergies that exist between them.

Rohit is among India’s most seasoned communication and outreach professionals with close to three decades of distinguished experience spanning Banking, Business Journalism, Corporate Communications, Sustainability Reporting and CSR. With an illustrious career graph spanning multiple industry segments such as Media, BFSI, Manufacturing and Consulting, Rohit has played a stellar role in institutionalizing strategic communication and outreach in the organisations he has worked and consulted over the years, which among others include global names such as RIL, ABN AMRO, AIG, and UTI among others.

About Nayan Mitra
Nayan Mitra comes with a rich mix of diverse professional experience of over sixteen years. She straddles seamlessly between academics, social and corporate sectors. As a Developmental Consultant and Researcher, she works closely with some of the eminent Corporations and not-for profits of India as well as being in their Advisory and Board level capacity. She has conducted several social researches for multi-lateral agencies; the findings of which have become important bases for sustainable action.

She has been a resource person in eminent Institutions of higher learning in the areas of CSR and Corporate Governance and has important peer reviewed research publications to her credit in double blind peer reviewed national and international Academic journals and books as well as delivered at key Conferences. Her book, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility in India: Cases and Development after the Legal Mandate’ alongwith co-editor Dr. Rene Schmidpeter is a first book of its kind that charters the development of mandated Indian CSR from a multi-stakeholder perspective, that has recently received the coveted India CSR Author Award, 2017. She spearheads the India CSR Leadership Series. She was a finalist of the prestigious Chevening Gurukul Scholarship for Leadership and Excellence – 2013, as conferred by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the British Deputy High Commission.

Disclaimer: The thoughts captured in the interview is solely that of the interviewee. The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his/her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR.

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