Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is fast becoming the central theme of the growth narrative for business houses in India both on accounts of tighter and stricter CSR norms being rolled out by the government and the business houses’ growing conscientious conviction of giving a part of their wealth back to the society that helped them grow in wealth.
Though in the past highly visible sectors such as education, health, sanitation etc were the core areas that caught the attention of responsible corporate citizens in their social impact efforts, of late the pivot has been shifting to more complex and compelling areas of helping the lesser fortunate in the society to sustain their livelihood without causing any further damage to the wider environment and to curb their migration.
In other words, the growing concerns about ever heating earth thanks to increasing carbon footprint leading to tidal shifts in climate changes, ensuring a sustainable livelihood for dependent communities while protecting the flora and fauna and, while ensuring their life is not disturbed, are turning out to be the shared concern of business.
This shift in the corporate thinking stems from the fact that environment is one among the important factors in creating a sustainable future for the upcoming generation. Arguably, the realization that protecting environment especially virgin forests without hurting the livelihood of a population depending on them has nudged many leading business houses in India to roll these two aspects of sustainable development into one and make it the centre-piece of their CSR activities.
Many India companies have launched well crafted CSR initiatives with an aim to provide sustainable sources of livelihood to the tribal communities and economically backward population through tree plantation. Such programs ensure a wider outreach to a large number of families from under-developed and tribal regions and improving their socio-economic condition while not only preserving the fragile forests but also enhance the green cover to save the future generation from the perils of carbon emissions.
Such a broader approach to CSR is turning out to have a better success in terms of its social, environmental and economic impact since such projects reach out to a wider section of the forest-dependent population by helping them to earn a sustainable livelihood without depleting the forest cover further.
Such projects empower communities by involving them in planting trees that provide sustainable livelihoods to the communities concerned and curbs migration. For instance, fruit-bearing trees add to the family income when the produce is sold in the market place.
Therefore, such projects not only help the communities concerned earn a sustainable livelihood but also increase the green cover, reduces carbon impact, provides income generation options and mitigates rural migration. The underlying principle is to empower rural families so that they can participate in the growth and development story of the mainstream society. Single family can make upto INR 50,000 per year.
The key learning from such initiatives for the future is that a project which ensures the participation of the beneficiaries in the project cycle management is crucial for the success of the project. Perhaps the co-opting communities who are perceived beneficiaries of such projects will upend the outcome of the entire episode. Having decentralized project activities encourages community to participate actively in the project with positive impact.
Timeline and beneficiary’s selection and their ability to devote time are really vital. Integration of the project and convergence with government schemes can add significant value in addressing reducing pattern of migration. Going forward, therefore, corporate India should anchor their socially responsible activities on participatory models to ensure the desired impact of such projects.
This may trump other models of CSR in terms of their impact – socially, economically and politically though their impact may be felt only from the next generation.
Though the country still has miles to go in enhancing corporate spend on community development and environment protection while shrinking the carbon footprint, in a short span of time with tight fisted Government policy the country has made rapid strides in CSR activities.