Find sustainable, cost-effective solutions
CSR has the potential to make a significant contribution towards the development agenda of India not just by bringing financial resources but also offering technology, skills and management practices to the development sector.
By Meenakshi Batra
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in India has opened up new sets of opportunities for India’s citizens, businesses and not-for-profit sector. Newer forms of partnerships have emerged between corporates and the not-for-profit sector, coming together to address complex challenges of our society. Corporates are increasingly taking keen interest to understand the complexities of our social development problems and the not-for-profit sector is also engaging proactively with for-profit world, sharing a common agenda of addressing development gaps. Needless to say that many companies have been engaging with the development work for decades, however the inclusion of CSR in the revised 2013 companies Act, has given a huge momentum to this engagement. Conversations on CSR have found a place in corporate boardrooms and their CSR committees with the intent to find sustainable solutions to address some of the most critical social development problems The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) India has been working with many corporates on CSR and other giving products for the past two decades. Section 135 and Schedule VII of Companies Act, 2013 (referred as CSR Act) has provided a progressive and enterprising framework to the corporates to link their CSR work with the mainstream development needs of the communities, who are also directly or indirectly their stakeholders.
Learning from its experience of working on CSR, CAF India has aligned some of its work to meet the emerging needs with high quality and comprehensive support portfolio for both the corporates as well as the NGO partners. We have added a number of new products and improvised some of the existing products to meet the needs of Indian corporates to comply with the CSR Act. Today our range of activities includes CSR policy development, training CSR committees, baseline and thematic research, design and development of CSR projects in accordance with law (locations, activities, budgets and identification and validation of NGOs) and management of projects including monitoring, learning and evaluation. CAF India has adopted a thorough and strategic CSR approach that generates awareness, identify opportunities for businesses for exponential impact and create an ecosystem of responsible social engagement.
Our advisory function has grown significantly to include: CSR policy, CSR committee’s training, sustainability and SDG advise, CSR programme design, research, reporting and programme impact and evaluation work. Through our flagship initiative—the SDGs Drivers Forum—we have initiated intensive engagement with India Inc. on priority SDGs and its targets, we have mobilized business to work on specific SDGs targets, leverage resources and instil impact.
In addition, CAF India provides innovative communication management solutions that includes stories of impact, volunteering, employee engagement, social media, CSR events, NGO partners training in relation to CSR project-related communication and CSR reporting. Our “Give As You Earn” Program, which is an employee-giving programme, adds value to our CSR work. Often employees donate to their companies CSR agenda or vice versa and they volunteer for the CSR projects, which bring additional skills to the development sector. Our new technology initiative—Give4Good- Transforming lives through online giving— has been another major milestone in promoting the culture of ‘giving’ and social engagement in India. Through Give4Good we have been adeptly managing more than 1.3 crore hours of volunteering initiatives pledged both by corporate as well as individual volunteers.
CAF India strongly believes in and supports through its systems highest levels of accountability and transparency. A part of the responsibility of maintaining high standards of delivery and accountability lies with the NGO partners, who play a crucial part in working with communities and delivering project activities. We select NGO partners for CSR project delivery after thorough study to ensure that they have enough capability to implement the programme. In order to strengthen our NGO’s diligence we have added antimoney laundering, counter terrorist financing checks, as well as intensified FCRA checks to ensure full compliance with other laws of Government of India that relate to the work of CSR Act. This provides an assurance to corporates that their work and partnerships meets all legal requirements. We also invest in capacity building of our NGO partners. This includes either oneon- one advice or structured training and knowledge sharing meetings. Our focus is on strengthening the NGOs as an institution.
To ensure highest levels of accountability we have set up a nationwide network of auditors as well as have a full-fledged Program Finance Unit in place, that regularly monitors projects for financial and legal compliance as well as build partner capacity. In specific cases, handholding support is also made available to NGOs where we feel that with a little training and system review, the NGO can enhance its performance. Since the enactment of the new CSR Act, we have supported over 750 CSR projects, implemented by CAF India validated NGOs across India. Based on our experience, we have worked closely with BSI, Government of India, as convenor of a committee to draft CSR standards for the country, which will soon be released for stakeholder review.
While a lot of efforts have been undertaken to build an understanding of the CSR Act by various agencies, including Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA), a lot of work still remains to be done. A large number of smaller companies are still trying to understand what they need to do to comply with the CSR Act. However, many of the large size companies have undertaken tremendous amount of work to address some of the critical social and development issues. The additional financial support, planning, skills and management approaches have started to show its impact on the social development issues. More needs to be done to reach out to rural and vulnerable areas and coordinate responses of various corporates with common agenda for scale up impact. One good example of joint effort of many companies and NGOs is for the sanitation sector, while no doubt more needs to be done, or better could be done, the call to action by the Prime Minister, did give the sector a huge momentum resulting in construction of millions of toilets, open defecation free (ODF) villages, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) education and technology application in the field. A lot of this work has been supported under CSR by a large number of companies. This is a good example of upscaling an activity.
CSR has the potential to make a significant contribution towards the development agenda of India not just by bringing financial resources but also offering technology, skills and management practices to the development sector. The first few years of implementation of the CSR Act has provided significant learning to both the corporates as well as the not for profit sector agencies. Boardrooms are increasingly seeking information, research and baselines so that they can make informed decisions on their company’s CSR policies and approaches. NGOs are increasingly playing a significant role in delivery of CSR projects with impact. There is an increased focus on measuring impact, sustainability, stakeholder coordination, working with governments and participation of citizens.
It’s the need of the hour that the CSR projects take into account the deeper understanding of grassroots reality, social and economic inequities and vulnerabilities. Given the flexible nature of decision-making, it will serve our society well if investments are made in finding sustainable, innovative, locally relevant and cost-effective solutions to the social-development problems.
The writer is the CEO of Charities Aid Foundation India (CAF India).