May 31, 2020
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‘Especially For Larger Firms, CSR Is Now A Board-Level Agenda’

‘Especially For Larger Firms, CSR Is Now A Board-Level Agenda’
‘Especially For Larger Firms, CSR Is Now A Board-Level Agenda’

Priya Naik, founder and CEO, Samhita GoodCSR, in an interview with Lola Nayar, shares changing modes of CSR engagements, with corporates tying up with NGOs, civil society and the government. Excerpts:

What is the quality of CSR on the ground after four years of it being mandatory?

Prior to the Companies Act, 2013, few companies consistently engaged in CSR. The law mobilised, through compliance, a significant amount of resources towards social causes. According to a government website, CSR spending touched Rs 95.64 billion in FY 2015, and later in FY 2016, 19,000 companies collectively spent Rs 138.28 billion on CSR in India.

Especially for larger firms, CSR is now a board-level agenda, with many app­roaching it strategically, aligning it with brand and business, working with stakeholders and focusing on deepening impact.

How does working with the government help in improving outcomes?

The government is the largest driver of social welfare in the country, but struggles with effective delivery. Companies, meanwhile, are aware that alone, they cannot reach millions, and are open to collaborating. Businesses have unlocked improved programme models in areas like WASH (water and sanitation for health) and education. These models are scaled up using government machinery.

One effective partnership is that bet­ween Motorola and CareMother. Motorola provides technology and funding support to CareMother, an app that allows government healthworkers to provide doorstep health services to pregnant mothers. This project has reached more than 12,000 women in the interiors of states such as Nagaland, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.

Reckitt Benckiser India Limited (RB) channelled their knowledge of behavioural trends related to hygiene practices and consumer behaviour to help Andhra Pradesh implement school-level hygiene programs. They supported NGOs working with the government to create training res­ources and teaching aids. Their success has helped them scale up to more states in partnership with governments.

What sort of pulls and pressures do firms face in utilising CSR funds?

Companies and CSR practitioners navigate many challenges, including communicating and engaging stakeholders. Various stakeholders have different expectations from a company—consumers prefer socially conscious companies, board members focus on meeting profit margins and governance, communities around factories and offices expect the company to support them, and so on. Some companies succumb to these opp­osing pressures, leading to multiple dispersed interventions, low-touch impact and diluted outcomes. However, others have prevented a scope creep by defining CSR policies that clearly outline the vision and mission of their CSR, using this to safeguard design and implementation.

Given pressures from various quarters, inc­luding the need to become more ­prof­itable, have CSR activities also ­become a tool for brand building?

Stakeholders are smart; they can see through purely brand-building campaigns where the beneficiary is not the focus. By aligning CSR and the brand, the company can build credibility into the programme, and mobilise more attention and investment. For instance, Samhita and Dewan Housing Finance Ltd (DHFL) created a skill development programme, aligned to DHFL’s business goals, for youth within the sectors of banking, financial services and INS­urance, and construction. DHFL’s knowledge of what skills these sectors look for helped create a robust module.

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