The expenditure on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects in the financial year 2017–18 was 8,365 crores, which included 41 percent spent on education and livelihood; 21 percent on health, eradicating hunger, poverty, and malnutrition, safe drinking water, and sanitation; 13 percent on rural development, and 12 percent on environment and conversation of resources.
More CSR funds are likely to flow into water conservation and saving with the launch of Jal Shakti Abhiyan by Government of India in 2019. With a large percentage of funds spent on creating public assets, skill building, and livelihood, the crucial question is: Are these projects sustainable?
The speed and scale at which CSR projects are being implemented in different parts of India make this question pertinent for discussion. A large number of such projects focus on building visible assets/infrastructure with little allocation for community awareness, capacity building of communities, and creation of institutions for maintaining these infrastructures. Even projects on livelihood, rural development, and health do not include interventions on community and panchayat engagement. Soon such projects are likely to run out of steam and the situation may look similar to the baseline when the project started.
In order to make the projects sustainable, it is important to integrate community and panchayat engagement, and converge with government departments right from the beginning.
Before discussing the model of sustainability, it is important to define sustainability. “sustainability as a dynamic and continuous process to build the capacity and ownership of community during the project period, making it self-reliant to fulfill the project objectives after the project is over.”
Sustainability is not one-time exercise, rather it is a dynamic and continuous process which needs to be carried out for certain period of time in the project area. It includes capacity building of communities on a vision of development in the village, planning development activities, and identifying actions for achieving the plans. The process includes a series of discussion cum training sessions with the community that would build their capacity and motivate them to take ownership of development in their village.
Such community engagements can take some years as dependency on government for village development plans, technical support, and funds have consistently harmed the initiative and ownership of community as villagers are convinced that the entire responsibility of development in villages lies with the government.
As a result, they do not take an interest in maintaining the village infrastructure (roads, drains, schools, panchayat bhawan, aaganwadi centers), hence these infrastructures decline very quickly. CSR projects will meet the same fate if the investment is not made in capacity development of the communities; thousands of crores spent on creating better infrastructure, facilities, and livelihood opportunities could go to waste.
The VCCS model of sustainability (V: village development committee, C: capacity development and convergence, C: community awareness, and S: sustainability) proposed here has the objective of building the capacity of communities and the convergence with government departments over a period of time, so that communities will own the projects, and benefits of the projects will accrue to villagers for long period of time.
VCCS model has four components:
Formation of village development committee (VDC): Twenty community leaders are chosen with the consent of communities for a Village Development Committee. The representation of all sections of society, especially women and deprived sections and elected representatives of village institutions such as gram panchayats and school management committees should be ensured in the VDC. Community leaders who can give time, have a passion for village development, and are trustworthy should find presence in the VDC. VDC should have critical mass to influence changes in the village.
Capacity development of VDC and convergence with government departments: Capacity building should focus on building the perspective of development and ownership, benefits of the project, maintenance of created infrastructure, themes of the project, convergence with relevant government departments through regular meetings, and organizing visits of government officers to project locations.
Community awareness, funds, and support from government departments: Focus is on making community aware of the benefits of projects, motivating community to support the project, and enabling panchayats to access funds and subsidized government schemes to maintain the project from government.
Sustainability of the projects: Projects continue to work well even after project is completed, community owns them and pools resources to maintain improvements; panchayat in collaboration with VDC get funds for maintenance of projects and invites resource persons from government department for capacity development of communities.
The VCCS model may face challenges as capacity development, community awareness, and trust building take 3–5 years depending on the context. While CSR projects are mostly for two years, it is advisable to keep some funds for sustainability in the post-project period. In addition, convergence with government departments is not an easy task and requires lot of time, energy, and the patience of the VDC and panchayat to link up with government departments.
Community leaders spend time and money doing the rounds of government offices; and when officers get transferred, the linkage process starts all over again. Hence, the VDC should have a very passionate group of community leaders based in the village and have a goal of making their village a better place to live.
The growing importance of the VDC may not be appreciated by the elected institution as a gram panchayat, but it should be clear that VDCs are not formed to challenge elected institutions such as a gram panchayat but as a support group that is aware and technically equipped to make plans and mobilize the support of villagers. Hence the VDC must work in collaboration with the gram panchayat, in fact giving a leading role of gram panchayat only when overall turnaround in the village is possible.
The challenges underscore the point that sustainability of projects is not an easy task; and it may not run on its own unless efforts are made during and post-project period to achieve the goal of sustainability.