What is good for the planet and society is also good for business : Ruby Thapar, Dow India

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By Rusen Kumar

Rusen Kumar, Editor of India CSR Network talked to Ruby Thapar, Director – Corporate Affairs, Dow India on Corporate Social Responsibility. Ruby says, “At Dow India, we believe that what is good for the planet and society is also good for business. We embarked on our sustainability journey over two decades back”. Enjoy the reading the interview:

Tell us a little about the CSR philosophy for Dow India.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is integral to Dow India’s strategy. Our CSR programs reflect our core mission, vision and values. The core principles that underpin our CSR activities are: Partner with projects for the long term, seek opportunities for technological collaborations and pro bono employee volunteerism and engagement.

We have a two-pronged strategy to CSR: Marquee pan India partnerships such as the Jaipur Foot, Habitat for Humanity, Agastya Foundation, Mann Deshi Foundation and Multiply the Message and and Need based activities in the vicinity of our plants.

Is sustainability one of the major drivers for CSR activities for chemical companies?

The awareness around responsible utilization of resources is more than it ever was now. Consumers are increasingly wanting to associate with brands that are responsible both socially and environmentally.

At Dow India, we believe that what is good for the planet and society is also good for business. We embarked on our sustainability journey over two decades back. Taking a strategic and structured approach we integrated sustainability into our products, processes and people policies. Dow businesses have proven the worth of investments in sustainability research and innovation in terms of competitive market advantage. Some of our Company’s most successful business units are meeting increasing demand, driving revenue, increasing profit and fostering growth from sustainable products and solutions.

Beyond using resources more efficiently, today we are working towards innovations that enhance the quality of life of current and future generations.

Through our journey from 1995-2005 we focused on enhancing the Environment, Health and Safety footprint of our own operations and communities.  Globally, we were able to reduce solid waste by 1.6 Billion pounds, water use by 183 Billion pounds and save over 900 BTU of energy in the given period.

From 2005-2015 we built on the foundation of safety and efficiency to focus on providing sustainable solutions for our customers which we called our handprint. While these goals continue to deliver results even today, the 2005 and 2015 Goals are responsible for significant returns of $ 5 Billion on investment of $ 1Billion for the company, globally. Our third generation 2025 Sustainability goals our blue print effort will address the toughest environment and social challenges. The blueprint is a collection of best practices and effective collaborations addressing the most pressing global challenges today. Currently, we are working on blueprints in water, energy, and workforce development that reflect our experiences and collaborations to address these challenges.

All our work around these well-defined and championed goals is monitored and documented on our website every quarter. We have a Sustainability External Advisory Council (SEAC) that brings a diverse outside-in perspective on environment, health and safety, and sustainability issues for the company.

Which are your key CSR projects in India – how have they fared over the years?

Over the last 15 years, Dow India has focussed on long term projects with the clear objective of making a sustainable impact in the communities we operate. Our key focus areas are women empowerment, low cost housing, differently abled and environment & education We support five marquee pan India projects – Jaipur Foot, Habitat for Humanity, Multiply the Message, Agastya Foundation and Mann Deshi Foundation.

Habitat for Humanity:  As a global partner to Habitat for Humanity, Dow India helps build affordable homes in rural communities since 2006. Dow India has directly aided Habitat for Humanity in funding more than 1500 homes across rural, under privileged sections in India.

Multiply the Message: we are committed to improve environmental education in schools. Dow India has partnered with Trailblazers in the conceptualization and implementation of this initiative, where teachers are given means to communicate environmental terms and concepts through hands-on activities.

Agastya Science Lab: In 2015, we collaborated with Agastya foundation to introduce mobile science labs with easy, affordable scientific models and experiments. The Mobile Science Lab aims to reach schools without access to a science lab, in rural, remote or underprivileged areas and impact over 10,000 children in the age group of 6-15 years every year.

Jaipur Foot: The Jaipur foot is a prosthetic foot for people who have lost a limb. It was originally an artificial limb, handmade, from vulcanized rubber. In 2005, we partnered with our key customers – Pinnacle Industries and Indian Space Research Organisation to develop an enhanced version of the Jaipur foot – The Polyurethane (PU) Jaipur Foot. The new prosthetic thus designed ushered a new era in comfort and rehabilitation of survivors. Over the last eleven years, we have transformed lives of over 70,000 people by organizing 25+ camps and funding.

Mann Deshi Foundation: Last year, we partnered with the Mann Deshi Foundation to encourage and empower women entrepreneurs from rural areas of Maharashtra. The partnership kick-started with the launch of a ‘Deshi B-school’ in Chiplun, Lote (Maharashtra). In a span of six months, over 300 women entrepreneurs have registered themselves to obtain first-hand business training at this facility. Strengthening this collaboration, Dow India also supports Mann Deshi in setting up their annual ‘Mann Deshi Mahotsav’ in Mumbai. The festival was a platform for more than 90 women entrepreneurs to reach out to over 30,000 customers.

Along with these marquee initiatives, we are working with the communities in and around our sites and local offices on need-based projects. Through our NGO partners, we have collaborated on projects such as civic sensitization, hygiene camps, infrastructure setup- support to local schools, heath check-ups for families and relatives of its extended workforce. There is a keen focus to empower children to study with aids such as stationery sets, school bags, notebooks, geometry boxes, and sports equipment and programs such as vocational training including computer courses, tailoring and beautician courses is equip them with livelihood skills.

You have been associated with Jaipur Foot for over 10 years. Talk to us about the journey of the programme and the ripple effect created in communities and with your employees.  

Every year, thousands of people in India lose their limbs to diseases, accidents and other hazards. Inflicted by poverty, many do not have the necessary means to access healthcare or rehabilitation services. The Jaipur Foot is a prosthetic foot for people who have lost a limb. It was originally an artificial limb, handmade, from vulcanized rubber. Skilled workforce had to labour for hours to make each foot.

In 2005, Dow India partnered with NGO Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata (BMVSS), vehicle interiors manufacturer Pinnacle Industries and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to develop an enhanced version of the Jaipur foot – The Polyurethane (PU) Jaipur Foot. The new foot allows greater flexibility to the users, enabling them to not only walk comfortably but also to squat, kneel, crouch and even sit cross-legged. It is recommended by leading orthopaedics in the country.

The idea of using polyurethanes demonstrates concept and product innovation. The integration of the material properties to the application demonstrates technical creativity. In addition to the limb being cosmetically close to the natural human limb, the new-foot is more durable, 20 percent lighter and the costs 25 percent lesser. Using Dow India’s technology and expertise 8 superior moulds can be developed in the same time that was earlier required to produce one foot.

Since, the onset of this initiative in 2005, Dow India has empowered over 70,000 lives in the 25 camps hosted near company’s sites and offices.  Dow India employees volunteered during the camps contributing over 10,000 hours over the past decade. Last year, the company celebrated ten successful years of partnership with BMVSS and expanded the project to Bangladesh in 2016.

The Dow India – Jaipur Foot partnership has been recipient of the ET Now CSR Award for Best Innovation 2013, Da Vinci Award in 2014, IACC- CSR Award for 2015, FICCI- CSR 2016 and India CSR Awards 2017.

How does Dow India define employee volunteerism? How has it evolved within the organization?

Over the years the employee volunteerism at Dow India, has evolved from being a philanthropic, nice to do activity to a mission and urge to make a difference even if it is in one life.

The scope of volunteerism beyond spending a day in the community has expanded to build capacity of the NGO partners and the communities we collaborate with. Christened as DowCorps, this program is the company’s conduit for the employees to directly apply their passion and expertise to making human lives better. Today, our employees nominate themselves as champions of a project and contribute towards needs such as technological development, sourcing activities, others to complement and enhance our NGO partners. They also deliberate on topical issues that they are passionate about and to which they wish to contribute. The engagement has progressed massively in terms of scale over the years.

While there is a sense of satisfaction and contentment that employees gain while engaging in these pro bono engagements, the company has over the years seen enhancement in the proficiency of two of our competencies: 1. collaboration esp in cross functional teams and 2. empathy & respect for each individual and job irrespective of levels, defining a new culture for us.

You have recently associated with the Mann Deshi Foundation. Give us the details of this association and how it aligns with the overall CSR strategy of the company.

Our partnership with Mann Deshi Foundation kick-started in October 2017, with the launch of a ‘Deshi B-school’ in Chiplun, Lote (Maharashtra). The centre imparts vocational training as well as courses on financial literacy and inclusion the core tenets of this Deshi-MBA curriculum.

In the first six months itself, over 300 women entrepreneurs registered themselves to obtain first-hand business training at this facility. This partnership is an outcome of the shared vision – to empower and transform lives. With Mann Deshi’s track record and passion, we believe we found the right partner.

Strengthening this collaboration, we also supported Mann Deshi in setting up of the annual ‘Mann Deshi Mahotsav’ in Mumbai. The festival was a huge hit with a footfall of over 30,000 people over three days.  It was a platform for more than 90 women entrepreneurs to showcase arts and crafts, culture and cuisine from rural Maharashtra.  We also leveraged this wide-reach platform to generate awareness around plastic segregation and plastic waste management.

What are the current trends in CSR. Leave us with thoughts on how other organizations can make the most of CSR and what should be the next course from a policy point of view.

Corporations will continue to invest in CSR because it is important for the business. We have already seen a shift in the approach to CSR from defensive to charitable to promotional and finally strategic.

The next generation practice of CSR will be transformative and for social impact. With new challenges and changing regulations, companies won’t just uphold their commitments to CSR, but will step up as advocates and problems solvers to address larger world challenges, bringing CSR out of the limited framework of community work to a purpose- driven model. Additionally, cross-sector partnerships will be on the rise – with companies bringing their core competencies and skills to collaborate with their extended value chain both for impact and scale.

There will be increasing mapping of the UN SDGs to the company’s operations and values and thus actions defined around it – making the agenda aligned and seamless across the world.

Companies will also become story tellers and will do two things differently- firstly tell compelling, multidimensional human stories about who they are, and the social Impact created and secondly, take advantage of exciting mediums like virtual reality (VR) to increase empathy and understanding.

I also believe, that the role of the CSR leader will continue to grow more sophisticated, akin to something like a social risk officer, raising the bar for CSR leaders and expanding their influencer pool.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the interviewee in this feature are entirely her own and does not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.

Terms & Conditions: India CSR Network does not permit other Websites/Agency to copy or reproduce or reprint the above article/feature in any form or means.

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