The most immediate consequence of a state-mandated CSR framework is a boost to
public-private partnerships. However, for the sake of reaching a proficient partnership,
phase two shall enact necessary controls. I would like to see regional governments sitting
at the table with major corporations assigning areas of investment and intervention.

By Ilaria Gualtieri

I would like to start this article by
making a heartfelt confession. As
you may well know by now, I am a
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
and sustainability freak. However, you
may not be aware that I am deeply in
love with India, its profound culture,
history, natural richness, its fascinating
diversity, so much that I have recently
started learning Hindi.
I particularly value this month’s topic
since I follow with great interest the
developments that contribute to a
prototypical change to one of the world’s
largest and most promising nations.
prime minister Narendra Modi’s
address at United Nations Sustainable
Development Summit in 2015
summarises much of the country’ spirit:
“We are committed to a sustainable path
to prosperity. It comes from the natural
instinct of our tradition and culture. But
it is also rooted firmly in our commitment
to the future. We represent a culture that
calls our planet Mother Earth.”
The Sustainable Development Goals
(SDG) set by India along with the
leadership undertaken within the Paris
Agreement demonstrate an ambitious
and purposeful plan: renewable
energy, afforestation, transport,
health, public service reforms, human
rights, empowerment of women, Blue
Revolution, waste management and
smart cities.

Above all, I appreciate that the country
sustainable path to prosperity
is not acquiescent to a western-style
development model which proved
inherently unsustainable. India has
incorporated a forward looking, lessonlearned-
based approach that could
potentially transform not only the vast
country, but also potentially influence
the development of a continent and the
rest of the world.
Within the CSR panorama, the 2013
Ministry of Corporate Affairs’ Companies
Act is an interesting precedent.
Its greatest outcome is the
establishment of a state-mandated CSR
system. The innovative element is that
the state did so not only in terms of
requiring a financial commitment, but
asking companies to drastically change
the way they do business by integrating a
range of CSR principles and ― mostly ―
management practices. The act mandates
companies to set a CSR vision, policies,
a project execution plan, especially, a
road map for achieving long-term goals,
requiring the creation of a dedicated
team and frameworks, while disclosing
information on company’s website.
The Indian Government has been
accused of setting technocratic
sustainability. To begin with, I personally
disagree that this is about sustainability.
The principles are more about CSR, or the
set up of a management system to include
responsibilities beyond regulation
and ethics. Sustainability includes and
mostly details the same set of principles,
however, looking at the future armed
with a set of KPI’s and measurable steps.
The nine CSR principles do not elucidate
how sustainability is mapped; they do
not establish measurable targets for the
corporate sector to help furthering the
state’s agenda.
Yet, India had to start somewhere.
Sincerely speaking, we cannot wait for
corporations to decide when it is the right
time, we cannot just endorse the western
voluntariness principle according to
which corporations shall grow and
thrive by first doing bad and then
start cleaning up.
State’s carrot and sticks intervention
to promote responsible practices is
not new. If it wasn’t for regulations,
European Union would not have
achieved certain remarkable results in
terms of reporting and environmental
performance. The other side of the coin,
however, is that CSR is not a franchise,
it cannot be imposed: it shall mature
within a receptive environment where
the need to put in place certain practices
has naturally evolved. Nevertheless,
research shows that sustainability or
CSR reporting is often the first action
implemented upon kicking off a real
integration process.
Modern India clearly sees the
economic sector as a partner. Thus it
not only wants, but requires a change.
A drastic CSR-economic revolution finds
in regulation the best way to ensure the
message is received. The government
needs allies to achieve its ambitious
goals, the private sector is now bond to
substantiate a social responsibility often
blathered but seldom demonstrated.
There is no right or wrong in developing
such an immense task. There are a plenty
of frameworks and national CSR indexed
around the world, it is all about choosing
the right fit to the current needs. So,
this is a bold state-led public-private
partnership educational attempt. It all
depends on its implementation.
A mandated transparency and
accountability framework poses the
likely risk that companies rush their
commitment to comply, creating a
superficial strategy as a tick-box exercise.
The act in fact mandates companies to
create and disclose a CSR vision, mission
and overall philosophy (98 per cent
top 100 listed companies complied, 90
per cent provided details), create a CSR
committee (64 per cent exceeded the
target, 55 per cent include women, 82
per cent have two or more members),
expound how the 2 per cent of average
net profit has been spent in reference to
the policy disclosed.
The top 100 companies delivered very
well on the strategy and committee
creation. However, only 57 per cent
presented policy links on their website
while just 46 per cent published a
detailed road map. Setting a CSR
strategy is not an overnight exercise. It
requires awareness, maturity and the
inclusion within corporate decisionmaking
of societal and environmental
concerns, a deep comprehension and
prioritisation of stakeholders, awareness
of market- and work-place best
practices, and especially appropriate
governance and processes.
Overall, the positivity stands into
forcing a “CSR mindset” into companies.
The first three to five years will be
learning ground; real framework
and road maps shall naturally
come after this period.
The data on the companies’ ability to
explicate the CSR spend contribution
to the overall plan further confirms the
muddle: 42 per cent failed disclosure,
21 per cent did not refer to policy;
moreover, only 40 per cent provided
details on focus areas and 25 per cent on
the stakeholders’ impact.
This further demonstrates an early
stage of CSR integration, revealing
the lack of a fundamental element
within corporate sustainability:
the materiality principle.
Materiality is defined by GRI as
the ability of a report or strategy to
reflect the organization’s significant
socio-environmental impact. It is an
evolving process made of identification,
prioritization, assessment and review.
This principle asks companies to assess,
comprehend, evaluate and include in
their decision-making a wide set of
responsibilities — governance, society
and environment. Companies require
time to gauge the situation, pinpoint
their strengths, build and test internal
processes, and identify partners and
focus areas where they can provide the
best results to both the society and the
company itself.
Among the positive notes is the
increased average spend, involving 70
per cent companies, with 18 per cent
committed to carry on the spend this year.
Similarly, the major areas of intervention
reflect some of the state’s priorities:
health, education, environment and
rural development, with philanthropy
relegated at 3 per cent.

Above all, I appreciate that the country
sustainable path to prosperity
is not acquiescent to a western-style
development model which proved
inherently unsustainable. India has
incorporated a forward looking, lessonlearned-
based approach that could
potentially transform not only the vast
country, but also potentially influence
the development of a continent and the
rest of the world.
Within the CSR panorama, the 2013
Ministry of Corporate Affairs’ Companies
Act is an interesting precedent.
Its greatest outcome is the
establishment of a state-mandated CSR
system. The innovative element is that
the state did so not only in terms of
requiring a financial commitment, but
asking companies to drastically change
the way they do business by integrating a
range of CSR principles and ― mostly ―
management practices. The act mandates
companies to set a CSR vision, policies,
a project execution plan, especially, a
road map for achieving long-term goals,
requiring the creation of a dedicated
team and frameworks, while disclosing
information on company’s website.
The Indian Government has been
accused of setting technocratic
sustainability. To begin with, I personally
disagree that this is about sustainability.
The principles are more about CSR, or the
set up of a management system to include
responsibilities beyond regulation
and ethics. Sustainability includes and
mostly details the same set of principles,
however, looking at the future armed
with a set of KPI’s and measurable steps.
The nine CSR principles do not elucidate
how sustainability is mapped; they do
not establish measurable targets for the
corporate sector to help furthering the
state’s agenda.
Yet, India had to start somewhere.
Sincerely speaking, we cannot wait for
corporations to decide when it is the right
time, we cannot just endorse the western
voluntariness principle according to
which corporations shall grow and
thrive by first doing bad and then
start cleaning up.
State’s carrot and sticks intervention
to promote responsible practices is
not new. If it wasn’t for regulations,
European Union would not have
achieved certain remarkable results in
terms of reporting and environmental
performance. The other side of the coin,
however, is that CSR is not a franchise,
it cannot be imposed: it shall mature
within a receptive environment where
the need to put in place certain practices
has naturally evolved. Nevertheless,
research shows that sustainability or
CSR reporting is often the first action
implemented upon kicking off a real
integration process.
Modern India clearly sees the
economic sector as a partner. Thus it
not only wants, but requires a change.
A drastic CSR-economic revolution finds
in regulation the best way to ensure the
message is received. The government
needs allies to achieve its ambitious
goals, the private sector is now bond to
substantiate a social responsibility often
blathered but seldom demonstrated.
There is no right or wrong in developing
such an immense task. There are a plenty
of frameworks and national CSR indexed
around the world, it is all about choosing
the right fit to the current needs. So,
this is a bold state-led public-private
partnership educational attempt. It all
depends on its implementation.
A mandated transparency and
accountability framework poses the
likely risk that companies rush their
commitment to comply, creating a
superficial strategy as a tick-box exercise.
The act in fact mandates companies to
create and disclose a CSR vision, mission
and overall philosophy (98 per cent
top 100 listed companies complied, 90
per cent provided details), create a CSR
committee (64 per cent exceeded the
target, 55 per cent include women, 82
per cent have two or more members),
expound how the 2 per cent of average
net profit has been spent in reference to
the policy disclosed.
The top 100 companies delivered very
well on the strategy and committee
creation. However, only 57 per cent
presented policy links on their website
while just 46 per cent published a
detailed road map. Setting a CSR
strategy is not an overnight exercise. It
requires awareness, maturity and the
inclusion within corporate decisionmaking
of societal and environmental
concerns, a deep comprehension and
prioritisation of stakeholders, awareness
of market- and work-place best
practices, and especially appropriate
governance and processes.
Overall, the positivity stands into
forcing a “CSR mindset” into companies.
The first three to five years will be
learning ground; real framework
and road maps shall naturally
come after this period.
The data on the companies’ ability to
explicate the CSR spend contribution
to the overall plan further confirms the
muddle: 42 per cent failed disclosure,
21 per cent did not refer to policy;
moreover, only 40 per cent provided
details on focus areas and 25 per cent on
the stakeholders’ impact.
This further demonstrates an early
stage of CSR integration, revealing
the lack of a fundamental element
within corporate sustainability:
the materiality principle.
Materiality is defined by GRI as
the ability of a report or strategy to
reflect the organization’s significant
socio-environmental impact. It is an
evolving process made of identification,
prioritization, assessment and review.
This principle asks companies to assess,
comprehend, evaluate and include in
their decision-making a wide set of
responsibilities — governance, society
and environment. Companies require
time to gauge the situation, pinpoint
their strengths, build and test internal
processes, and identify partners and
focus areas where they can provide the
best results to both the society and the
company itself.
Among the positive notes is the
increased average spend, involving 70
per cent companies, with 18 per cent
committed to carry on the spend this year.
Similarly, the major areas of intervention
reflect some of the state’s priorities:
health, education, environment and
rural development, with philanthropy
relegated at 3 per cent.