Interview with Mr. Santanu Mishra,

Co Founder & Executive Trustee Smile Foundation

 

How would you define corporate social responsibility (CSR)?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), in the 21st century, has evolved as a practice in which business organisations voluntarily integrate social and environmental concerns into their business operations and into the interaction with their stakeholders. In India also organizations are leaving behind the traditional concept of philanthropic engagement and have started integrating CSR into a coherent and sustainable business strategy, adopting the multi-stakeholder approach.

Philanthropy is somewhat synonymous with CSR to an extent.  What according to you is the opposite of CSR?

Philanthropy and CSR are not similar, they are two different things. Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR is done in society either by choice or many a times government mandates makes you follow and implement CSR activities. When a corporate wants to operate with the intentions of having profit in a community or part of society, it is expected to do voluntarily its part of social responsibility .CSR is no longer a charity or philanthropy ,in current scenario it is more of a business need. Corporate now understand that beyond capital charity they need to form a meaningful engagement with the stakeholders. They know that good and responsible CSR practices not only establish them as credible enterprises but also give them business benefits like cost saving, increasing revenues, gaining good human capital and reputation. In short CSR is different from corporate philanthropy.

Philanthropy is more of intention driven or more individual in comparison to CSR. For example if by a mandate or CSR a company is supposed to benefit 10% of population with a certain sum allocated for CSR activities and then by philanthropic spirit if it wishes it can go beyond CSR and benefit 20% people. There are no limits for philanthropy, it can go beyond CSR.

What is Smile Foundation?

Smile Foundation is a national level development organisation that works towards the education and healthcare of less privileged children and youth in the country. It currently benefits over 200,000 underprivileged children and youth directly across 25 states of India through more than 185 welfare projects on subjects such as education, healthcare, livelihood and girl child & women empowerment.

The uniqueness of Smile Foundation lies in its working model – Social Venture Philanthropy. With SVP, it seeks sustainability, scalability, accountability, transparency, credibility and effective leadership. Through the SVP model, Smile Foundation makes an effort to broad-base investment in order to maximize its reach and optimize returns by approaching and strengthening a large number of like-minded individuals and organizations globally.

The entire management process of Smile Foundation is based on the principles of Good Governance. While policies and decisions are made through a four-tier system – namely board of trustees, advisory body, executive committee and departments and decisions, it also has a four-tier audit system to ensure that funds are optimized. This system includes process audit, project audit, statutory audit and external evaluation. Smile’s governance structure has made it partners with many a corporate bigwig and also one of the most sought for charity brands today.

Smile Foundation is an organisation in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations since 2012.

Smile Foundation has been conferred with a few prestigious awards.Smile Foundation is empanelled with National CSR Hub, an initiative by the Central Public Sector Enterprise (CPSE), Department of Public Enterprises, Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, Govt. of India. We are also accredited to Development Foundation of Overseas Indians under the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Govt. of India.

How Smile Foundation is contributing towards betterment of society?

As stated above Smile Foundation works on four thematic areas of  education, livelihood, women empowerment and health. Under these Smile works with a life cycle approach with the four major programs:

Mission Education(M.E) is a national level programme of Smile Foundation which focuses on basic education and healthcare of underprivileged children. Through the programme, Smile Foundation promotes universal education and creates the process required to streamline the underprivileged children into the mainstream schools in a more sustained manner. SMILE works with under-privileged children under difficult circumstances such as child labour, children of poorest of the parents, children inflicted and affected with HIV/AIDS, street and runaway children, children with rare disability [Autism, Deaf & Dumb, Blind, and Spastic etc.], disaster struck children and slum children etc. At present, 93 Mission Education projects are functional across 21 states, reaching out to 16,500 beneficiaries.

The Smile Twin e-Learning Programme (STeP) is an employability programme of Smile, for the underprivileged youth living in urban slums and rural areas. The programme aims at creating a pool of young and independent people, from the marginalized section, through skill enhancement in tandem with market requirements. It is an effort towards bridging the gap between demand and supply of skilled manpower in the fast emerging services and retail sectors of modern India. Smile Foundation has so far trained and employed over 9,000 youth in retail and service sector jobs across the country.

Smile on Wheels(SoW) is a mobile hospital programme bringing healthcare services to the doorsteps of people living in urban slums and villages. These mobile hospitals bring quality health care services to the doorsteps of the needy and also promote healthcare awareness and contemporary health care services seeking behaviour among the underprivileged. This programme has so far benefitted over 5,00,000 people directly, across the country.

Swabhiman is an initiative of Smile for the healthcare and empowerment of women and girls. The programme empowers adolescent girls and women from urban slums, enabling them to lead dignified lives and transforming them into individual change agents. This programme has over 150,000 direct beneficiaries.

Our main goal and objective is to bring sustainable change in this society as a catalyst. As a person and also in our organization we believe that if you want to change lives, no one can stop you. If you don’t, no one can help you. Our vision and mission circulates around bringing changes in the lives of millions of children, youth and women, who are not privileged, by addressing the real need at the grassroots level and also enabling the civil society to engage proactively in this development process.

You must have faced with some initial challenges while communicating the mission of Smile Foundation. Would you like to share with us?

Excellence does not come without its share of hard work and discipline. If you want to change lives, no one can stop you. If you don’t, no one can help you.

When we started things were not easy but our determination, commitment and hard work paid. Thankfully, Smile Foundation is born in the 21st century with forward-looking work culture, business ethics and inclination towards innovations. There are challenges, but we have to convert them into opportunities, because we have to reach at the TOP. As they say, there is less competition at the top

We know that the basic problem is not just developing society but how to develop it. That is why Smile Foundation designed special program by deploying the best possible methodology and technology for achieving ideal SROI (social return on investment).Along with it by adopting the highest standard of governance we emerged as a leading knowledge and technology driven, innovative and scalable international development organisation from India.

When we started at that time the biggest challenge was to find right partners. Development is a slow process; in this sector input is not always equal to the output. Secondly in India, the giving culture is not so inclined towards development work, it is more towards religious causes. So connecting people with resources and need is always a challenge. Thirdly, we found that the development sector was not ready for so many things. When we started Smile Foundation, from the day one we realized a grave challenge – this sector had been struggling with trust deficit. Perception management was a big task in itself initially.

How do you educate your people about the work on CSR? After all, it needs a big behavioural change, isn’t it?

NGOs / CPOs have better understanding of society with respect to its developmental need. We feel that CSR cannot be done without the help of NGO partnership. In India we have a trust deficient community that does not believe in any private or public body blindly even though they claim to develop them. It is here that an NGO or development organization plays a major role. We understand the behaviour of that community and also understand the corporate that is not cosmetic and genuinely wants to work towards the uplifment of society. So playing the role of a catalyst we make that society understand and accept the change and on the other end utilize the resources by the organization in the correct way.

Out of all the social activities that Smile Foundation is carrying out, which one according to you has been receiving better response from the sponsors and the beneficiaries?

It is not possible to pick out the one project in comparison to others as ours is a complete life cycle approach. When we started in 2002 our core focus was child education so we started with our

Mission Education(M.E) programme. But as we started working in the sector and understanding it we realized that a child needs to be healthy first if we need to educate him and for a child to be healthy his mother needs to be taken care of. This lead to the conceptualization and implementation of our women empowerment programme Swabhiman in 2005.Under this programme health of the women is also taken care of along with empowering them and teaching them to be self sustainable.

Then came the most important question of where will a child go after basic education if he is not employed that lead to the birth of Smile Twin e learning programe(STeP) where a special 6 month curriculum is designed for the 10th and 12th pass making them efficient in market skills with a basic training in computer education and English which help them in further getting a job in IT &  Retail sector. Among this entire scenario nothing could have happened or keep on moving smoothly if health is not there. So our Smile on wheels, a unique mobile hospital came into existence for the remote rural areas and urban slums.

Though all the programs work on different thematic areas but all of them are interrelated with each other so it’s very difficult to choose one over other as all are special with each of them have a unique identity.

What are the biggest challenges that you see for Smile Foundation in the next 5 years?

The biggest challenge in terms of CSR and development sector is the lack of understanding. Majority of people do not understand what is the value of social investment and those who understand it are clueless about how to do it. Gradually this understanding will come in our country. A biggest challenge is distinguishing between what to do and what not to. Size of involvement of people in this sector will increase, the expectations of corporate would also increase to keep on pace with the requirement of excellence in the sector will be a big thing. Development organization with good quality and credible work with good governance will only stay in the long run.

The issue of corporate and their social obligations has been rising in prominence.  So, what is your take on the current status of the improvements in the corporate mindset towards their social obligations?

Development is very complex, serious and long term subject. Sustained efforts bring lasting changes in the lives of the needy. Now philanthropy is transforming into strategic partnership as meaningful CSR is a necessity now in changing times. Corporate now take CSR very seriously and works towards it with full seriousness. At times the funders being from the corporate sector lacked the proper understanding on the development sector. Corporate sector works in almost perfect models. In development sector, input is not always equal to the output in developmental terms. There are so many subjective processes and outputs which one needs to understand and appreciate.

But now more and more national and international corporate are coming who not only know what exactly they want but are also perfectly professional in terms of their CSR activities. They work in a completely responsible manner with keeping an account of the money spent and the progress done in term of development. Corporate now understand that beyond capital charity they need to form a meaningful engagement with the stakeholders. They know that good and responsible CSR practices not only established them as credible enterprises but also give them business benefits like cost saving, increasing revenues, gaining good human capital and reputation.

Does CSR require a paradigm shift?

Yes up to a level. Large numbers of corporate do not understand the value of social return on the investment. Most of them still have a mind constraint of seeing CSR as expenditure and not as an investment. They should do CSR not as a mandate but as value adding exercise/activity to their brand. Paradigm shift is required in the thought process.CSR in present situation should be seen as a tool to retain quality for your brand, when everybody is same you have to be responsible and different. Earlier there were only selected players and they used to differentiate themselves by the quality but now quality has become a privilege as there are numerous players offering quality. So CSR is a tool of differentiating themselves and positioning as a responsible brand with the trust of stakeholders along development of society as well.

Can CSR according to you, become a new discipline for the younger generation to pursue a career in? How?

CSR has already become a career option for the younger generation. It is no longer a second option when it comes to choosing a profession. The development sector of India today is much more organized in comparison to what it was a decade ago and is coming out of the transition phase. NGOs are ensuring good practices in terms of communication, accountability, governance and of course work culture. Moreover this sector is open to professionals from all the education background be it MBA, Finance, Communication, Branding or marketing or HR . Many people working in Smile Foundation comes from a corporate background. Every day we get volunteering request from students of prestigious institutes like IIT, IIM for internships. Many of them have worked with us on project basis also.