Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the strategic approach toward sustainable community development and the key to inclusive growth. With an excellent sustainable economic development taking place in the country, the Indian industry has the responsibility of getting connected with the community by sharing its economic growth through various community based programmes. It is equally important for the industry to get their employees sensitized on social issues and get them engaged in community work through volunteering programmes. This gives the employees and the management an opportunity to get connected with each other as also with their target audience, i.e. the community in their immediate operational space or with those connected in the supply chain. CSR is a major initiative, which engages with multi stakeholders i.e. the employees; who apparently are the most important stakeholders, the investors, the community and others in the supply chain. Whoever is the target of engagement, the bottom line in the realm of CSR is to engage and connect with people by speaking the ‘language of the heart’ and making honest endeavor in fulfilling needs of the community through a community based participatory approach.
It is therefore important to reiterate that Corporate Social Responsibility is a sustainable development of internal and external environment through various activities and programmes planned over time. Although, the methodologies vary with the Corporate strategy, area of implementation and the situation, yet the aim of CSR remains the same i.e. ‘To provide a platform to build upon and empower a group or a community through repeated processes making the target self reliant and sustaining’. The aim is achievable only when as CSR professionals, we develop need-based programmes through a process of direct intervention with the community. What do they need should be the question and not what we think they need. It is only after analyzing the need assessment should projects / programmes be initiated as there may be a real difference between perceived needs and the actual requirements.
There are a number of methods for programme implementation, however for ease of understanding I would categorize these methods under two basic approaches i.e. the indirect approach or the direct approach. The indirect approach is running a programme through an external agency, like an NGO, or a private organisation, or some other body, which has the requisite expertise and skills of programme implementation, on a partnership model. In such an approach the onus of running the programme lies with the partner organisation, and a periodic feedback is received from them. To validate the processes, the Corporate visits the project, though usually these are planned visits and therefore the exact status of the project at times gets blurred. This model is essentially a cheque book philanthropy model; with a feel good attitude as it gives a reasonable free ship to a Corporate in running the programme and yet it would qualify under a CSR focused Corporate. The indirect approach is when a Corporate engages directly with the community, having the advantage of connecting with people in a real way and seeing the community develop in line with the overall corporate strategy. This direct intervention programme is again carried out with the support of external resources, to include Government bodies etc. but the onus of running the programme lies with the Corporate CSR staff recruited for the purpose. (You could also have a mix of both the models).
Both models are good, however, the advantages of the later are rather significant and advantageous as the Corporate has a direct connect with the community, and the employees get sensitized to various social issues. The former model is a tricky business due to uncertainty of an NGO’s credibility and in today’s environment the problem gets further compounded as it gets extremely difficult to identify a good NGO, which follows best practices on the ground and not merely in boardrooms and presentations. The exercise becomes more difficult when an NGO dons the mantle of a Corporate. Hence the rules of engagement for a good implementation strategy are clarity of aim, good monitoring systems and transparency in all transactions.
While the former model follows the ‘Charity Welfare Philanthropy (CWP) concept’, the latter model is the real ‘CSR concept’ engaging directly with the community. The CWP model is usually momentary and has a short shelf life of little recall value, while the CSR concept is the real bonding between the supporter and the supported. An NGO engaged to carry out a programme has a time line for support and moves elsewhere. This at times creates a void in the area, and the sudden de-link results in negative vibrations amongst the community. Hence it must be understood that charitable initiatives lack sustainable development, unless the programme has sustainability built into the programme. Hence we need to be careful with enormous fund flow coming in the social sector especially with the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet investing billions of dollars in the areas of health care, education and other programmes.
There has been a lot of talk on the Social Charter and Corporate Citizenship. We need to take a note in the paradigm shift in Government’s policies toward social engagement of Corporate from a community perspective. The 10-point Social Charter announced by the Hon’ble Prime Minister reflects that CSR is centric toward Inclusive Growth and becomes even more relevant in today’s context of high economic returns and development and now the Company Bill, which is likely to be passed by the Parliamennt. The main reason for such interventions at the highest level is because of a lack of distribution of this growth. Have we questioned ourselves as to why such a gap exists with unequal economic distribution and what can Corporates do in giving back to the community especially in areas where they have their presence either because of their manufacturing apparatus or because of some strategic interests. It is in this context that we need to think of having a collaborative CSR model, a Private-Private-Public-People Partnership, where Corporate amongst themselves, as also Corporate with the Government / others initiate joint programmes and facilitate in transforming society and strengthening the common agenda through a process of integration and joint-man-ship.