The Changing Perception of CSR in India by Manu Kapoor

By Manu Kapoor

The dynamics of business are changing right before our eyes and whether we acknowledge it or not, we can’t escape its impact. One important aspect of business that has often got researchers interested is the role and representation of CSR or corporate social responsibility vis-a-vis society. Since its founding, it has stirred numerous debates and survived all controversies to finally find its haven in the 2011 Companies Bill. With this India became the first country to mandate corporate social responsibility (CSR) through a statutory provision.

manu-kapoorThe need to have robust public-private partnerships to engineer social change in a growing economy like India has deduced greater significance. Traditionally, CSR existed philanthropically and largely revolved around activities like donations, planting trees, community development, setting up schools and hospitals, and so on. While these are important components, they are not self-sustainable.

Their survival is dependent on the profitability of business. And while they continue to contribute to the goodwill of a company, their contribution in the company’s actual success is limited, if not non-existent. Hence, the need of adopting sustainable practices, that in addition to bringing goodwill helps a company remain profitable, is the need of the hour. The time has come to benefit from alternative thinking – to foster and integrate sustainability into the business process.

As a telecom leader, we are proud to be a part of the industry that kept its promise of a better world and has also improved the standards of living of people along the way. The use of mobile technology for several socio-economic issues like banking, education, health and rural entrepreneurship has brought about a phenomenal change in the way the society operates. In a short span, it has transformed the lives of over 850 million people across the country, thus contributing significantly to the nation’s socio-economic development.

Empirical evidence indicates that mobile penetration facilitates economic growth. A 2009 study by ICRIER estimated that a 10% increase in mobile penetration resulted in State Domestic Product (SDP) rising by 1.2%. Indian states with high mobile penetration were expected to grow faster than those states with lower mobile penetration rates (1.2% points a year more on average for every 10% increase in the penetration rate). Evidence further suggested that beyond a critical mass around 25% penetration rate the impact of mobile on growth is further amplified by network effects.

Today, we have the facts to substantiate this. In the last 2 years, the number of mobile internet users in rural India grew from 0.5 million in 2010 to 3.6 million in June 2012, a 7X plus growth (IAMAI – IMRB).

At Vodafone, the outlook towards CSR is far beyond passive philanthropy. Through products and services, it aims to transform people’s lives and contribute towards sustainable living. The desire to achieve this is by empowering individuals, contributing to wider development goals and reducing environmental impacts.

This core belief led to Vodafone India becoming the first telecom player to publish a comprehensive, annual sustainability report titled ‘Footprints’ since 2011 chronicling its various initiatives undertaken in the ongoing journey towards sustainability. At a strategic level, Vodafone India’s sustainability initiatives focus on two broad categories: delivering transformational solutions and operating responsibly and ethically.

The products and services have created a positive impact bringing about a positive economic, environmental and social change, especially in areas like education, grass-root entrepreneurship, energizing local economies, protecting the environment and promoting renewable energy.

Partnerships such as that with the Gujarat government to launch e-Mamta programme – (a mother and child tracking system) helped lower the high infant mortality rate recorded in many Indian states. The e-Mamta web-based application covers 80% of the population with a database of about 98 lakh families in 26 districts of Gujarat.

Vodafone India contributed significantly in the success of this programme, by connecting the health department with all the accredited social health activist (ASHA) workers across 18,000 villages in Gujarat. All ASHA workers, trained by the company on the usage of cell phones can now access updates on the healthcare requirements of all citizens mapped, thus providing citizens with timely health services.

Corporate volunteerism is today an intrinsic part of CSR in India as companies move away from the traditional ‘cheque book’ approach towards sustainability. Globally, corporate volunteerism is considered to have the potential to increase employee productivity, identify new opportunities and improve brand and reputation while contributing to the community development. More and more companies are tapping into skills, expertise and passion of individuals to make a difference to the society.

Volunteering initiatives like Vodafone Foundation’s flagship programme ‘World of Difference’ mobilise employees to take out time from their work schedule and work for an NGO of their choice. This is a unique approach of tapping into skills, expertise and passion of individuals and to provide them an adequate opportunity to make a difference. Such initiatives not only act as inspiration for the professional and personal development of the employees but also bring back a lot of learning. The employee participation in the ‘World of Difference’ programme is a result of their passion to work for the betterment of the society coupled with the drive to make people self-reliant and independent in life.

Community development is an important catalyst for business growth. Businesses will succeed only when they operate in vibrant and thriving societies. Vodafone India firmly believes that a responsible business is one that is good for people, good for the environment and good for our stakeholders.

More than 85% of Vodafone India’s over 1, 14,000 base stations are located in regions where electricity from the grid is unavailable, partially available or unreliable. These base stations are therefore heavily reliant on diesel generating sets to ensure round-the-clock availability of communication services.

As a part of its sustainability project, Vodafone has deployed hybrid solutions at 2,435 sites. Installation of variable speed diesel generators at 234 sites has helped reduce diesel usage by 35%. Deployment of fuel catalysts at 1,182 sites has increased the combustion capability of fuel resulting in reduced carbon emission by 8-10%.

Replacing 3,000 desktops with laptops to reduce carbon emissions; working closely with suppliers to curtail plastic packaging for SIM cards, and several similar initiatives are being undertaken to support a cleaner and healthier environment.

For sustainable, long term progress, steps taken today should continue to inspire tomorrow. Vodafone remains committed to play its role as a conscientious corporate citizen in creating a better India.

(The author is Director – External Affairs, Vodafone India)

Article First Published in Economic Times.

Sourced from Economic Times, 12 March 2013



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